Do you remember choosing teams in middle school gym class or for games of pickup basketball on the playground? With my short height, lack of coordination, and two left feet, I’ll admit, I was usually chosen last! Fortunately, as an adult, I’ve had the privilege to be chosen for a very different kind of team: the team that parents and families choose to help them achieve their goals for their child who is deaf or hard of hearing.
When parents learn that their child has a hearing loss, they are thrust into an unfamiliar world of new jargon, too many appointments to manage, financial responsibilities, and crucial decisions about their child’s future. It’s like waking up one day to find that you are the team captain for a sport you’ve never played, and no pressure, because it’s only your child’s future that’s depending on you.
But as scary as this new role is, parents really are the captains of their child’s team, and they should have the power, knowledge, and resources to pick the professionals and supports who will complement their strengths, meet their needs, and help them achieve their desired outcomes. The team should look to the captain (the parents/family) for direction, and follow their lead, not the other way around.
This doesn’t always happen. In fact, it rarely happens. Most of the time, the family’s “team” is chosen for them, by state or local early intervention agencies, the luck of the draw, or what’s available in their geographic region, whether or not that matches the family’s needs or wants. “Parent participation” may be given some lip service, but it’s really the professionals who are calling the shots. Many parents just accept this. The system is overwhelming and unfamiliar, people with fancy degrees and letters after their names are giving them a list of “should”s and “shouldn’t”s, and they think their only options are to say, “Thank you” or “Thank you very much.”
Parent Melanie Ribich put it best at this year’s AG Bell Convention when she said, “The professionals you allow to be around your child…” Let me repeat that,
“The professionals YOU ALLOW to be around your child…”
Yes, that’s right: YOU ALLOW. Parents, you are the team captains, the gatekeepers, your child’s first and best teacher. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise or make you feel like anything less than the essential leader you are. So get intentional about your goals and plan for your child, and start thinking, “What kind of people am I going to allow onto my team for my family and my child?”
Someone who questions the communication choices you’ve made for your child and family? Show them the door.
Someone who tells you that only one communication option is available to you because that’s what’s offered locally? Next, please.
Someone who claims to know what ALL deaf children need? Adios.
Someone who shuts you out of the decision making process? No, thank you.
Someone who doesn’t take the time to explain each aspect of your child’s care in a way that makes sense to you? Move along.
Someone who belittles you, your family, or your child, or makes you feel “less than” in any way? Not today!
Someone who thinks “good enough” is good enough for your child? Get outta here!
Parents, you are the captains. At the end of the day, professionals come and go, but you will be with your child for a lifetime. Your child’s success will be because of you.
It’s time to start choosing your teams.