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RELATIONSHIPS / ORANGE COUNTY

No Lack of Communication : Families Overcome Deafness With Signing, Speech Training and Lip-Reading

March 08, 1995|JULIE BAWDEN DAVIS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"We have signing dictionaries all around the house," says Rosen, who lives in Orange. "His grandmother's dictionary was too heavy for her, so she took it to a printer and had it reduced in size. Her willingness to communicate with Christopher over the years has led to their having a very close relationship."

Once Christopher was introduced to signing, he soaked it up rapidly, Rosen says.

"He began signing so much faster than all of us, it was hard to keep up," he says. "It was if he was saying that he knew there was a way to communicate, but he couldn't figure it out on his own. By the time he was 2 1/2, he had mastered 1,000 signs.

"We have never made his deafness seem like a problem, and he has an incredible self-concept because of our attitude," Rosen says. "He attends a school with hearing children with the help of a sign language interpreter and does very well."

Rosen and his wife had suspicions that something was wrong earlier, but their doctor said Christopher was fine. Their experience is not uncommon. The average age for discovery is 2 1/2, Zawolkow says. This occurs because young children aren't routinely given hearing tests, and when they fail to advance they are often labeled slow to speak.

Discovering deafness this late is unfortunate, says Zawolkow, who educates parents about the benefits of early discovery.

"Most language is learned in the first five or six years of life, so when there is a delay in learning due to deafness, it's much harder for the children to catch up," she says.

Children can be signed to when they are born and will begin signing back at about 12 months, when hearing children begin speaking.

Bridget Wenner of Tustin was fortunate to discover her daughter's deafness when she was just 10 days old. Wenner and her family immediately took sign language and began signing to her.

"It's amazing what signing has done for her," says Wenner, 36. "She's now 2 1/2 and progressing like any other toddler."

When Wenner discovered that her newborn was deaf, she decided to quit her 12-year job at the gas company to stay home and teach her daughter.

"Taking proper care of a deaf child is challenging and time consuming," says Wenner, who has two other children. "Besides her speech therapy lessons three times a week, I go to a signing class once a week and a support group on another day.

"I am also constantly teaching her. You can tell hearing children something 10 times, and they understand it, but it takes many more repetitions for a deaf child," she says. "By the end of the day, I'm exhausted, but the rewards of working with her have been worth it. I don't think she would have done as well as she has if I hadn't devoted my time to her."

The rigors of caring for a deaf child have taken their toll on Wenner's other relationships.

"I strive hard to make sure that my deaf daughter feels a part of everything. As a result, the sheer volume of attention she receives has caused my other children and husband to sometimes feel left out," she says.

Quitting work has also created financial pressures for the couple, but Wenner says the sacrifices they've made have been well worth it.

"I've developed a really good relationship with my daughter. She's such a joy, and I wouldn't have done things any other way."

* Saturday at 8 p.m., hearing-impaired comedian Kathy Buckley will perform at "A Night of Mirth and Magic," which will benefit the S.E.E. Center. The show will be held at Chapman University Auditorium in Orange. Tickets are $15 each. Call (310) 430-1467 V/TDD for tickets.

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