Hi everyone, my name is Bianca Birdsey. I'm a medical doctor and a proud mum of three beautiful deaf daughters. In this video, I'll be using my experience as a mum of deaf kids, as well as being a founder of a parent's support group for other parents of deaf children in South Africa, to give my perspective on working with parents for the well-being of deaf and hard-of-hearing children. The task of parenting and teaching a deaf child is a significant and effortful commitment. It's incredibly rewarding journey if navigated purposefully. For the teacher, it's often burst out of an excitement towards a calling or a career, as an overflow of the desire to serve and make a difference. This is something you've been working towards, planning for, and anticipating. For a parent however, the journey is one that usually starts from a very different stance. For most parents of deaf children, raising a deaf child was not part of their plan at all. Ninety four percent of parents are hearing, and usually their first contact with the deaf person was they own deaf child. The identification of the deaf child is an overwhelming time. Emotion such as guilt and deep sadness are often experienced. Many parents will tell you that learning that the child is deaf felt like a death in the family. The grief is intense and all consuming, as dreams and expectations for the child's future feel completely sabotaged by what initially feels like an unwelcome intruder, deafness. Most parents feel completely inadequate at the task ahead. "How am I going to get this child to communicate? Are the tensions ever going to end? Would they get married? Find a job? Be independent? Will they have friends? Do I have what it takes to do this?" They feel like they are drowning in a sea of unanswerable questions in this new world of everything unknown. At least initially, it can feel like you're the only person in the world that this is happening to, a dark space of isolation and loneliness is very real. With the right support and encouragement, parents like me can learn to communicate with the deaf child and advocate for them. They can discover that in fact, they have been gifted with something quite extraordinary. In South Africa and many other developing countries, the choice spectrum to answer the "what now" question varies depending on where one lives and one's access to private to state health care. Essentially though, the politics that overshadow the journey of parenting a deaf child certainly make for a very confusing navigation. Choices around communication modalities and amplification devices feel like life or death decisions at the time. Often, parents are receiving conflicting information about these choice options from different people simultaneously. As a parent of three deaf children, I've learned that no decision needs to be set in stone, how journey has meandered enormously as we followed the needs of our individual children. For a teacher, I think having insight into the reality of parent experience is important to understand the complex dynamics of navigating the journey of raising a deaf child. In most developing countries, where newborn screening is not offered routinely, deaf children are identified late. This means, teachers are welcoming little deaf people who have often recently been identified, their parents' journey is very new and their grief very raw. A teacher therefore, has the complex job of receiving an already delayed child into an educational environment whilst compassionately supporting the parent and family. Dealing with the parents' issues is not part of your work remit you may think, your work involves both the child and their family, as the child does not exist in isolation, but rather as a unit, a unit that when thriving offers the child the best chance of reaching their full potential. Being a teacher to deaf children does require a broader support to this unit, rather than simply educating the child in isolation. Research tells us that there are two critical determinants for the outcome of a deaf child. One is quite obvious, early intervention. We often miss this optimal window due to late identification, and you as the teacher, need to try and support the process of making up for any lost time with regards to language and concept development, a massive responsibility. There is another crucial factor, that's the active involvement of the parent. Investing and caring for the parents and family unit, and not simply the child in isolation is a worthwhile investment. The parent is your partner or what certainly does seem a mammoth task ahead. What are some of the things that can be done to help parents move from a space of deep grief to one of active involvement? Meeting other deaf people who are independent and embody all the things that the parent feared that they had lost, hopes parents to accept the journey and their child, meeting other parents really helps too. Introduce parents to other parents, see what opportunities there are for a parent-to-parent support group at your school. Expose parents to success stories of deaf people doing wonderful things with their lives, national or international. Keep up to date with what's happening in the deaf world, and use these stories to encourage parents. It's also important to help parents gain confidence and learning to communicate with their child. For parents, learning sign language doesn't start as an exciting and intriguing new skill set to develop. For parents, initially every sign is a reminder of what they've lost, free and easy communication with their child. Be patient, and help them every time you see them to build their vocabulary and their confidence. To support parents, you need to treat them as equal partners. Power dynamics are real. Many parents may have experienced school as a dis-empowering institution. Uneducated parents might feel very intimidated by a person who is well-educated like a teacher. Make an effort to treat parents as equal, and have them know that you respect their role as the parent. Never criticize the parent. Always encourage them by acknowledging anything they are doing well. Model ways they can improve in areas that need strengthening. It's important that when they are with you, parents feel that they have the space to cry, be angry, ask all and any questions, and grow without judgment or fear. It's also vital that teachers are willing to learn new things. Keep updated with academic articles and deaf education journals, follow interesting blogs and social media pages. This field is varied and evolving. Having a well-rounded knowledge of it will mean that you are able to engage parents in a number of complex questions they may have as they learned to decipher their deaf child. Be mindful that deaf children may have other needs that you know nothing about yet. About 30 percent of deaf children indeed have additional needs and barriers to learning. Deaf children can be autistic or dyslexic, they can have ADHD. Don't be scared about what you don't know, but rather be eager to learn more and share your knowledge with the family. Communication is key. You will experience a myriad of reasons why miscommunication is so easy. Establish a system that allows for fluent seamless communication with parents. For parents who have children in residential schools where they do not see their children often, think for creative ways to keep them connected to their child. Try setting up a system within school policy where parents can have a platform to send short video messages to their child, messages back to parents, as well as news, events updates, and even short sign language clips that keep them learning to communicate with their child can be other uses for such a platform. Having children appearance connected in spite of distance would be an incredible support to families. Recognize and deal with your own bias. You may very well have strong feelings about the spectrum of choices, such as cochlear implants. For this example if you are then teaching a child whose parent chose to implant them, realize that accepting the parent's choice and choosing to work alongside that parent in their choice is best for everyone. A parent who feels judged or not want to partner with you as a teacher. Be sensitive to cultural and ethnic differences. Instead of judging a perspective that doesn't make sense to you, try to understand where the parent is coming from. A parent who feels understood will trust you. Again remember that creating a safe space for you and the parent or equal partners will be in the best interests of the child. Think critically, see yourself as a partner of a team, your shared goal to see the individual child holistically reach their full potential. You alone do not need to be everything for that child and family. Depending on the child's needs, their age, and a variety of other sectors, there will likely be other professional people involved in that child's life. These may include doctors, audiologists, and other therapists, early interventionists, and even social workers. Get to know these people. Try and collaborate together with the parent, with these people through email, letters or, in person. Everyone working towards a shared goal for this child and family is the ultimate win. Develop individual learning plans for each child. Focus on the child's abilities, strengths, and weaknesses, while setting attainable goals that can be worked towards in both the school and the home settings. How parents discover the own children. Some may need help learning to recognize the gifts to celebrate in each child. Look for these things, identify them, and share them with both the child and the parent regularly. Don't forget to look after yourself. An empty cup cannot pour out, keep your cup fold. You've chosen a career in teaching deaf children. This is an enormous and honorable calling and responsibility. Having a wind of influence in the child and parent's life is an incredible privilege. Parents will be at different places in their grief journey, depending on the age of their child and other personal factors. For some, you may need to help them lift their heads when they cannot do it themselves to see the hope and the beauty of this journey. For others, the love for their child mixed with a sense of urgency and purpose will have awaken an inner Mama B, one that wants to see equal opportunities for their beloved. Whilst they may seem pushy, they're not the enemy. There are other parent who has accepted and is strong and ready to partner with you. Their motivation, the very thing they love more than life itself. Be patient, be understanding, share their dreams, hopes, and fears. Partnering with parents takes the same sensitivity and skill that any successful relationship requires. Understand expectations, communicate clearly, and endeavor to believe the best about the other. Your efforts and perseverance to invest your time in the lives of deaf learners and their families can be an extremely rewarding journey.