Building communication in a deaf and hearing familyWritten by Rick Houston
What's inside this article
Jeremy Long is in his element.
He’s happily chatting with his friends and introducing them one by one to his dad, Tim Long, and stepmother, Jodie, who are there for a dinner the group holds every Tuesday night. Jeremy is outgoing and social. His smile is unforgettable. In more ways than one, Jeremy is the life of the party.
Jeremy and this group of friends also happen to be deaf. Tim and Jodie, both of whom are hearing, are on Jeremy’s turf. And they love it.
"You see him light up," Jodie says. "The deaf community is a tight-knit community, so when we go to something [with them], Jeremy is going to know half or more of the people. That is a good outlet for him."
The Longs are a decidedly cross-cultural family. Tim and Jodie, as well as Tim’s youngest son, Christopher, all have the ability to hear. And because Jeremy does not, they have faced distinct challenges through the years.
"Communication is important for the deaf," says Jeremy in an email interview. "We do not understand what hearing people say unless someone interprets for us. We want to communicate with people, if people will explain what they talk about."
Not every member of the deaf community has the kind of support that Jeremy enjoys, says Mike Buus, president of D.O.O.R. (Deaf Opportunity Outreach) International*, a worldwide ministry for the hearing impaired.
Buus gives some staggering statistics. Less than one per cent of deaf people in the Western world are in an evangelical church on Sunday morning. Outside the Western world, less than a quarter of one per cent have been presented with the Gospel in a way they can understand. According to Buus, 90 per cent of parents with deaf children in the United States and Canada do not learn enough sign language to have a conversation with their child.
So, yes, Jeremy Long is one of the fortunate few.
"One of the significant stories that all the deaf love is the story of Moses and the burning bush," Buus says. "God says in effect, ‘Who is it that has made the deaf? Is it not I, the Lord God?’ (Exodus 4:11). We explain to them, ‘He loves you. You can talk to Him in sign language or any other language that you want to talk to Him in. He can communicate with you.’ "
One of the biggest mistakes the hearing make with the deaf is that they try to bring the deaf into the world of the hearing, rather than cross the cultural boundaries themselves. The deaf can’t learn to hear, but the hearing can certainly learn sign language.
"This is what I’ve learned: Deafness is not much about disability; it’s almost all about communication," Buus says. "Just like Russian or French, sign language is a full, complete language. [The hearing impaired] can articulate theological terms and different concepts that sometimes people think sign language can’t do. It can."
The family plan
Jeremy Long has had physical problems since his birth on Oct. 3, 1985. He was eventually found to have cerebral palsy, as well as being deaf.
"I had a series of doctors say that he’s deaf and that he would never walk," Tim says. "Doctors said he’d be an invalid all his life and probably bedridden. After I spent a year with him, I just saw all of it as a challenge that he probably was capable of overcoming. He pretty well has."
While a student at North Carolina School for the Deaf in Morganton, Jeremy thrived. He went to the movies. He went bowling. He was constantly active and busy. When Tim and Jodie married, Jodie initially tried to communicate with Jeremy through written notes before picking up sign language herself.
Jeremy, she says, was the perfect role model.
"If he was meant to do anything in this world, it’s to be a teacher," Jodie says. "He has the patience of Job. If you show the least bit of interest in wanting to learn sign language, he will sit down with you. He’ll go over it and over it and over it. He just loves that. He’s really good at it."
*References to other organizations do not constitute endorsement or complete agreement by Focus on the Family Canada.
Rick Houston is a writer from North Carolina.
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