of doorbells and chimes

Doorbell, buzzer, ringer, door knocker. You name it. Not exactly my cup of tea. Doorbells make me stress and sweat. Every single time I have to press that wretched button to announce my arrival, I cringe. I.hate.it. I absolutely do. I never hear the person on the other end of the doorbell, asking whatever it is that a person asks when someone rings the doorbell. Of course, it is usually ‘Who is it?’ or ‘Who is there’ and ‘How may I help?’ – but I am Deaf, I will never hear the question, and I usually keep waiting and hope the damn door would eventually open.

My daughter Emily is growing and becoming more alert of her surroundings. I started to notice that when I ring a doorbell and I have Emily with me, she often becomes my ears. That’s right, a two-year-old becomes my ears – a life-saver! Unlike me, she LOVES pressing that doorbell button, wherever we go. When the person at the other end speaks, her face turns to me giving me a sudden startled and gleeful expression while pointing at the doorbell. I know fully well what THAT facial expression means – that she heard someone speaking from the doorbell. Magic for Emily because the doorbell is speaking. Magic for me because Emily’s facial expression told me that I can reply to the person. So I quickly say something like “Hi this is Annabelle, I am Deaf and can’t hear you, but I am here for ***”

Just yesterday, it was a completely different story. I had to ring a doorbell, Emily was with me, and I was waiting for that magical facial expression. Suddenly, Emily’s expression appeared but she started to look around her with a puzzled and baffled look, rather than pointing at the doorbell. Then she looked up. And I looked up too. There was a person calling from the balcony, asking what I was there for! I would NEVER have noticed and I would NEVER have heard the person, had it not been for Emily. I just called back and said that Ms. ABC was expecting me.

And that is how Emily becomes my ears. 

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When first words are in Sign Language

Our daughter Emily (2 years old) is hearing like my husband. But my husband and I started teaching her sign language from day 1. At first, it seemed like she wasn’t noticing. Little did we know that she was actually learning. In fact, she was signing a few words long before she was speaking!

Her first word was when one day, to my surprise, she signed “papa” out of the blue when daddy came home from work ♡ This happened before she was 1! Today, she says the words “papa” and “daddy” (and many other words) in three languages: Maltese Sign Language (LSM), Maltese spoken language, and English spoken language. Yep that’s right, at just 2 Emily already uses three languages. Naturally, the signs she uses are not perfect. For example, the sign papa in Maltese Sign Language is done by tapping the middle and index fingers on the cheek, whereas Emily only uses the index finger. She is using the same area, although her hand development is not there yet. But hey, she’s learning, and I am pretty sure she will improve as she grows older!

Using sign language from just a few months old meant that many times I knew what she wanted, and I knew why she was crying because she was signing “eat” or “milk” or “mama” or “sleep”. Long before she started speaking. It also means that as a Deaf mama, it so much easier for me to understand what she is saying! I will write all about this on another blog.

As you can see, it was VERY helpful that our hearing baby could communicate with us before she started speaking. Can you imagine how valuable sign language would be for a DEAF baby? A deaf baby who cannot hear the spoken language and who is not taught sign language can experience language deprivation. This occurs when the deaf child is not exposed to any language during the first years, which is the critical period for language acquisition. When a deaf child is exposed to sign language, the child is able communicate and express himself / herself. This can eventually make it easier for the deaf child to learn spoken languages and become bilingual or multilingual. May I also point out that sign language is beneficial for ALL deaf and hearing children, whether they have deaf or hearing parents.

The fact that Emily uses sign language also helps me, as a Deaf mom, to be more aware of what is happening around me when I am with her. She is only 2, and so far she only learned a few signs since she is young, (apart from the fact that I need to make a lot of more effort to teach her more signs). Yet the few signs that she knows make so much difference to my life on a day-to-day basis! For instance, when my husband arrives home, I usually do not hear him. He used to switch on and off the lights to alert me and get my attention, as otherwise he would give me a scare. Nowadays, Emily is my ears. When daddy arrives home, she pulls my arm to get my attention, and she says & signs to me “Papa! Papa!” before rushing off to greet him 🙂 ♡

#LifeOfADeafMum #DaddyIsHome #DaddysLittleGirl #SignLanguage #MalteseSignLanguage #LSM

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Deaf Children and Bilingualism

Last week I was invited to represent the Maltese Sign Language Council (Kunsill tal-Lingwa tas-Sinjali Maltija), together with my colleague Mr George Vella, to participate in the celebrations of the first ever International Day of Sign Languages, held at the United Nations Office at Geneva. We went with Hon. Anthony Agius Decelis, the Parliamentary Secretary for Persons with Disability and Active Ageing.

The experience was nothing short of amazing. We met with Rachel Shenton, screenwriter, actress and oscar winner of The Silent Child Film, and spoke about sign language, accessibility and inclusion, and how the brilliant film advocates the importance of sign language usage. She is hearing and her British Sign Language (BSL) is really good! We also participated in all the activities, discussed hot topics about sign language during high level panels, met with Deaf experts from other countries, and promoted Maltese Sign Language.

One of the topics we discussed was about deaf children and their accessibility for education. Currently, our main concern is the deaf and hard of hearing children. Parents today wrongly assume that if their deaf or hard of hearing child learns sign language, it will hinder their speech. Many medical professionals are partially to blame, as they are giving this wrong information to parents. Consequently, parents decide that their deaf children do not learn sign language. With such decision, the parents are unknowingly damaging their deaf children’s future. When children learn how to speak, they-still-cannot-hear. It does not matter how good their spoken language gets, these children still cannot access information due to their deafness.

Believe it or not, deaf children are capable of being bilingual. They can learn how to speak and how to sign! Learning both languages would be so valuable for them. Some think that if children learn how to sign, they will be unable to learn how to speak clearly. Yet, if they do not manage to use the spoken language so clearly, it would be due to their deafness and not due to the sign language. And even so.. if these deaf children feel more comfortable expressing themselves in sign language, which is also Deaf people’s natural language, so be it. Why should they be stopped? What makes sign language inferior to the spoken language? Just because sign language is not the language used by the majority, it does not mean that it should not be used. Language deprivation for deaf children should be prevented, and this is possible by embracing sign language.

I must also explain that the structure and grammar of a spoken sentence are different from those of a signed sentence. People mistakenly think that Deaf people do not know how to speak, when in reality they may be using the grammar and structure of sign language, when speaking.

Oh, and did I mention that deaf people who have a cochlear implant would also benefit from using sign language? Having a cochlear implant does not mean that the person can hear like the hearing community. Using sign language would actually be instrumental for those with a cochlear implant, as this way they can have more accessibility to things they are unable to hear clearly. Yup!

I was 6 when I lost my hearing, so I learned the spoken language first. I taught myself how to lipread, and finally started to learn sign language when I was 26 years old. You wouldn’t believe the opportunities I’ve had since I learned sign language, and the improvement in my quality of life. I started to access so much more information, that I cannot get enough! My only regret is that I did not learn sign language when I was young.

I can already see you shaking your heads and saying that it is easy for me to say that children who are born deaf can be bilingual. But first, let me explain further:

  • By the time I was 6 years old, my spoken language using my mother tongue (Maltese) came natural. My writing skills, not so much. My spoken and written English skills, like many other kids at my age, were not so good either. At all. Learning how to speak during the first 6 years of my life had nothing to do with my current excellent writing and speaking skills. So how did I do it? Well, books happened. At the age of 7 or 8, I started reading books, both in Maltese and English. And my love for books meant that my spoken and writing skills improved. Not so much my pronunciation of the words though. To this day, I still mispronounce words due to never hearing them – so I pronounce some words incorrectly by saying them the way I read them (is the word “myth” pronounced as “MIT” or “MYT” ?! )
  • I met with so many professional Deaf people when I was at Geneva, such as Dr. Tatjana Binggeli from the Swiss Federation of the Deaf, Dr. Joseph Murray from the World Federation of the Deaf, and Mr Mark Wheatley from the European Union of the Deaf, amongst others. I also crossed paths with many other Deaf experts during the past 5 years, such as Dr. Humberto Insolera from the European Disability Forum, Dr. Luigi Lerose from the European Network of Sign Language Teachers, and Helga Stevens, a Member of the European Parliament, to name a few. All of whom have a high educational and academic background. Their first language is sign language, yet this did not stop them from achieving a high-status and successful career.
  • In Malta (and Gozo, of course!), the number of Deaf persons who have furthered their education and obtained a diploma or a degree is very low. Moreover, I have yet to meet with Deaf persons who have obtained a Master’s and Doctoral Degrees. This is unacceptable. Deaf people in Malta and Gozo are capable of achieving advanced educational degree levels. Unfortunately, this is not happening due to the lack of resources as well as the lack of awareness. This also means that they do not have high-paying and high-status career opportunities.

Is it really worth sacrificing the child’s education, future, and quality of life, by choosing to teach them the spoken language only, while rejecting sign language? NO! Language acquisition is crucial for everyone, and it is a basic human right. Deaf children need access to sign language from birth.

And for the love of God – make time and read books. Books are the best educators, not just for deaf people but for everyone!

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Yes, I speak.. and it does not make me any less Deaf!

When I was younger, my mother joined me for any appointment that I had. Going by myself would mean that I may not understand or follow everything, due to my deafness. Yet, as I grew older, as much as I appreciated my mother’s constant patience, support, and assistance, doctors or people spoke to my mother instead of speaking to me directly. I was in my 20s, it made me feel like I was 10, and I resented this feeling with every fibre of my being.

When I was 26 years old, I made a decision – I started to learn the Maltese Sign Language, which enabled me to use the sign language interpreting service. This meant that I could go anywhere I wanted without requiring assistance, as I could understand what was being said thanks to the interpreters. And just like that, my world turned for the better. I was exposed to something amazing. For the first time, I tasted INDEPENDENCE. I could go anywhere I needed to go by myself, as the interpreters were my brand new ears. And boy, did I love it!

The other day, I had a long-overdue appointment at hospital at the Ear Nose Throat (ENT) Department. I had a sign language interpreter booked, to ensure that I can understand and follow everything during the visit. I was happy to see the doctor again, as I have known him for more than 20 years, and it had been years since I saw him last. Yet, as much as I respect him, I must admit that I was disappointed. When I introduced the sign language interpreter, he was a bit taken aback and asked ‘But why?! You can speak so well!’

Yes, I must admit that my spoken language is good. I can talk, I can be a chatterbox, and I can give you a headache 🙂 But – newsflash – that does not make me any less Deaf! And that’s what I told the doctor. Although I can speak, and although I can lipread, I still need the interpreter to be my ears. I need the interpreter to translate the spoken language – which I cannot fully hear – into sign language. And I would much rather use the sign language interpreting service when I have appointments, meetings, lectures, (you name it), rather than ask my mother or my husband or my friend, to join me and repeat for me. Because I like my independence.

Don’t take me wrong. I will be forever grateful for the support and assistance provided by those dear to me, including family and friends. To this day, they are willing to help and support me when required. But I must admit that I am relieved to be able to have the opportunity to use the sign language interpreting service, because independence is really sweet!

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Deaf mother in a foreign country

Dear followers.. You may have wondered why I have been away from A Silent World during the past months. It is true that I have not been posting, and this was due to my daughter being hospitalised. I had to let go of everything and focus on her well being. Last December, when just 7 months old, the symptoms of my daughter’s condition started to surface, which led her to being hospitalised several weeks on end at Mater Dei Hospital in Malta. While waiting for her diagnosis, her life was in danger and she – almost – did not live. She was admitted to Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children (GOSH) in London, where we spent 3 months, living and breathing hospital 24/7. My daughter will live with a rare condition, but the little warrior is doing very well today. Yet, this post is not about my daughter, and I do not want pity, charity, or anything of the sort. This post is about me as a Deaf mother, whose daughter was diagnosed with a rare condition, leading us to live in a hospital for a while, away from home, dealing non stop with consultants, specialists, experts, doctors and nurses who, obviously, did not speak my mother tongue. The language used was English, and although I can FULLY understand and speak English, I still find it very very difficult to read on the lips, unlike the Maltese language. There I was, a Deaf mother in a foreign country, trying to frickin understand what these medical experts were saying. My husband is hearing, he could repeat to me anything that was being said, of course. But my daughter’s life was on the line during the first few weeks – can you imagine how terrifying it was, not understanding IMMEDIATELY what was being said, watching closely everyone’s facial expressions to try and see whether they were telling us good or bad news, waiting in agony for them to finish so that my husband can repeat and tell.me.what.was.said. It was already excruciatingly painful that our daughter was in a bad state. My husband was having a hard time too, finding it difficult to repeat everything, especially when it was bad news. He had to painfully digest the information and force himself to repeat to me, knowing all too well how much it would hurt me. Some doctors wrote a summary on a paper for me or spoke slowly so that I can try follow. I did manage to read lips sometimes, but not everything. I was also asking the same questions that I didn’t know my husband asked already, wasting precious time. I did NOT want a summary, nor did I want to wait for my husband to repeat. I NEEDED A SIGN LANGUAGE INTERPRETER WHO COULD INTERPRET EVERY SINGLE THING THAT THE MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS WERE TELLING US, THERE AND THEN! I urgently needed access to everything that was being said, whether during a meeting or during a crisis that my daughter was having. The hospital offered a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter, but unfortunately I only know the Maltese Sign Language (LSM), which is different from BSL. Since we did not know for how long we would be staying at GOSH, as it all depended on my daughter’s recovery, the sign language interpreters in Malta could not come to London. But we found a solution, which was such a great relief for both myself and my husband. I agreed with the sign language interpreters that I would use their service by making a video call with them when required. They would listen LIVE to what was being said, and interpret for me there and then. This way I could follow more easily, and from then onward, things were less frustrating. I could also ask any questions I had (which my husband didn’t ask, as the interpreters would have signed anything he said too) more easily, with the interpreters signing the professionals’ answers. Using their service during the 3 months that we spent at hospital was a blessing during such a difficult time. Heartfelt thanks to Sign Interpreting Malta – who made my life so much easier! I am also grateful for my husband’s love, support and patience ♡ If you are reading this and you are deaf or hard of hearing, or have children who are so, and you do not use sign language.. I hope you take me seriously when I say that even though you may be doing well without sign language, even if you can speak, believe me when I say that learning and using sign language would make your life even better than it is now. You would have more access to information, not only during emergency situations as you can see from my personal story, but to oh so many more things! It is not true that children cannot learn how to speak if they learn sign language. That’s a myth. And even if the deaf person prefers not to use the spoken language, then that is up to him / her. But ALWAYS KEEP IN MIND that if you or your children are deaf / hard of hearing, using sign language would only mean that accessibility to what is being said is actually possible. Promise

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How can a Speech Language Therapist Help my Child with Hearing Loss?

The role of the speech language therapist is to facilitate communication and teach strategies for the child to acquire language including both comprehension and expression. Another task is to improve speech abilities for effective communication to take place. In fact speech therapists world-wide are commonly known as communication therapists.

Although it may be obvious for some, it is significant to point out the differences between speech and language. Children particularly those with hearing loss, have difficulties to acquire a language, let alone to speak. For this reason, early diagnosis of the hearing loss, good quality amplification and early intervention are essential. Together with the speech and language therapist, a lot of effort and practice needs to be done if the child still has not grasped a language. Secondary to this the therapists work on clear speech production. Depending on the child’s preferred mode of communication and preferred language, the therapy sessions occur being it both verbal (speech) or visual (signs) communication.

Besides promoting and monitoring good hearing amplification, during speech therapy sessions, it is indispensable for the speech therapist to keep in mind communication goals. Therapy goals depend on the child’s strengths and weaknesses and every child is very different hence the goals are child specific and need to be very flexible. Ideally total communication is used as it works best for most. This means that both visual and auditory communication strategies are enforced during intervention sessions. Research has taught us that signs enhance production of speech and not the other way round. In fact many parents who have hearing babies opt to teach them baby signing at a very early stage and the results are extraordinary. This should be no less for children with hearing loss.

For sessions to be beneficial it is also crucial to work within a multidisciplinary team; the parents and other family members, school staff such as LSAs and teachers, other professionals involved and last but surely not least the child himself/herself!

The speech therapist can do a lot for children with various degrees of hearing loss, but unless he/she works within a team the outcomes are minimal. It is strongly suggested that parents discuss issues and concerns with their therapist in order to build goals together. They should move forward together in the same direction. At the end of the day the speech therapist’s duty is to provide support to the child and of course the family in order to facilitate successful communication strategies and positive social well-being. Every child is unique and so is the therapy process.

Ms Rita Portelli is a qualified Speech Language Pathologist and Sign Language Interpreter . She completed a Degree in BSc. (Hons) Communication Therapy at the University of Malta and is currently completing a Masters Degree in Disability Studies.

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How can I deal with Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is the perception of sound in the ears with no external sound source. This can take various forms, such as buzzing, ringing, hissing or clicking. Although many people may experience it in some form or other throughout their lifetime, it is only when it becomes more frequent and bothersome that it starts becoming a problem.

Medical help should be the first stop for someone with this issue to make sure that there are no underlying medical problems that need to be addressed. In many cases the tinnitus is not a direct threat to health, in the sense that it may be related to age, hearing loss or injury and does not require any significant medical intervention. That said, it may still be a significant cause of stress for the patient suffering from this condition. If you, or a person close to you, suffer from this condition, it is important to acknowledge that it is absolutely normal to feel stressed. Stress is a big factor in how tinnitus is perceived and it is not beneficial to get stressed about the fact that you got stressed in the first place. This should be the starting point from where you do something about what you are feeling. Some options include:

– Hearing aids: In some cases, there might be a hearing loss. Because of this, the tinnitus is perceived to be louder in the absence of sound. Simply correcting the hearing loss might be enough to reduce the perception of tinnitus.

– Use of sound: Keeping a fan or radio on, or using a noise generator (which produces background noise such as white noise of other constant sound) introduces noise which may make the tinnitus sound quieter.

– Psychological help: Counselling and Cognitive behavioural therapy are useful in accepting and dealing with the tinnitus by giving you tools to deal with the condition.

– Specialised programmes: Programmes such as Tinnitus retraining therapy are therapies specifically catering for tinnitus.

– Relaxation techniques: Use of breathing techniques, meditation and activities such as yoga and tai chi may help reduce overall levels of stress and affect tinnitus perception.

– Support groups: Finding groups (local or online) where you can discuss what you are feeling might be a way for you to accept and understand your condition a bit more. However, it is important to keep in mind with this option that you should be very careful of using untested treatments just because someone suggested them (especially online). In such cases, always seek advice from a trained professional.

As seen above, there are various options and while some may be beneficial, others might not be the right option for you. So it’s important to try different treatments or combinations of treatments until you find the right one for you. Do consult with an audiologist. The important thing is not to get discouraged when the first thing you try does not work. With tinnitus, one should understand and accept that it is a process. We are all unique in our own way, there might not be a quick fix, but it’s just a matter of slowly finding what works for you.

Mr Nicholas Desira is in the final stages of becoming a fully qualified audiologist after training in the UK at the University of Southampton. Nicholas is particularly interested in the use of assistive listening devices and vestibular disorders but is passionate about all aspects of audiology.

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