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Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Deaf Nod

I was a teenager when I first learned about the so-called "deaf
nod." It was my hearing therapist who told my mother that I use
the deaf nod. This refers to nodding and pretending to
understand when you really have no clue what is being said.

The grad student demonstrated this for my mother. She bobbed
her head up and down like a child, with a wide and vacant smile
on her face. She looked like an utter idiot. She and my mother
then laughed about it.

I was embarrassed and offended. The look on her face was exactly
what deaf people have been trying to get away from for years.
It said, "you really are deaf and dumb."

What could I say? How could I defend myself? The truth is that
I was guilty of the deaf nod. I did pretend to understand. Can
you blame me?

Look what they put me through. I was deaf but I wasn't allowed
to learn sign language. I couldn't hear but I was forced to
listen. I couldn't read lips but I was made to do it anyway.

They pushed and pushed. It had to be oral only or I would fail.
So in an attempt to be oral, I tried to fake it. It's kind of

I could only do so well with speech. I could only take it so
much. After a person had to repeat themselves three times, I
didn't have the energy to keep trying. I just wanted to make it
stop. So I nodded and said "yes."

Over the years, my mother enjoyed telling others about the deaf
nod. Always, she would make that horrible face... that awful,
empty smile. And, always, I would cringe in humiliation. I
would drop my head in shame.

Now my life has changed. Circumstance have changed. I always
thought the focus on lip reading was ridiculous. We knew I might
lose my vision. Years later, I'm totally blind. Guess how well
lip reading works for me now?

Being totally deaf and blind has had an odd impact on my life. I
can't say I like it very much. It's a hard and lonely life. I
struggle to stay connected in a world that doesn't speak my
language. I often feel so isolated.

Strangely enough, it's also freeing. There is no more
pretending. I can't get away with the deaf nod now. I can't
understand speech. That's all there is to it. I've stopped
trying to appear "normal." I'm who I am and that's all I can be.
When it comes to communication, that means tactile sign language.
There's no other option.

I'm actually happier now because I've been forced to deal with my
problems and accept what I am. If a person wants to talk to me
or be part of my world, they have to use fingerspelling or sign
language or an interpreter. If they don't do that... if they
don't try... then they aren't worth talking to. I can't see
them. I can't hear them. So it's really like they don't exist.
That's fine with me. I don't need people like that.

I'm studying ASL now. I'm trying to improve my communication
skills. I think this is the best way for me to conquer the world
and my dreams. Communication is the key to opening doors.
It's already working. I'm not quite so isolated now.

Here's something I've noticed in my classes. They call it the
deaf nod, right? Well, imagine this.... I've seen my hearing
classmates do this very same thing during activities. They don't
understand the signs. Instead of asking for repeat or
fingerspelling, they just pretend to understand and move on.
Usually the response is a long pause or an "oh, okay." I can
just picture that smile and nod.

Now how is it that hearing people are doing the deaf nod? Maybe
it has nothing to do with being deaf after all. Maybe it's just
human nature to get anxious when we don't understand language.
Maybe it's because it's scary to say, "I'm sorry. I really don't

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