The Rapidian

Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services spotlight: Learning to advocate while parenting

Our third child, Hannah, is hard of hearing. This caused my husband, Dave, and I to follow a path we likely would not have otherwise traveled. It’s been a journey filled with anxiety, discovery and development of life-long friendships.
The author Nancy Cluley with her daughter Hannah Cluley.

The author Nancy Cluley with her daughter Hannah Cluley. /Courtesy of Nancy Cluley

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We generally don’t think about a cause or a different lifestyle unless we are personally going through it or living it. Unless, of course, someone close to us is experiencing the situation. This is our story.

Our third child, Hannah, is hard of hearing. This caused my husband, Dave, and I to follow a path we likely would not have otherwise traveled. It’s been a journey filled with anxiety, discovery and development of life-long friendships. We learned of Hannah’s hearing loss when she was three years old. With mandatory newborn screening now in place, parents find out immediately, expanding the length of time for focused education and speech therapy as there’s a limited window for speech development which closes at about five years of age. Hannah attended the Grand Rapids Oral Deaf program until kindergarten, when she became eligible for mainstreaming into the Grand Rapids Catholic Schools.

Additional challenges come whenever a parent is raising a teenager. Add hearing loss to that, and additional challenges are inevitable. While Hannah succeeded academically in the schools she attended, there were on-going challenges to which we/she continually adapted. Socialization during the middle school and high school years are a challenge without a hearing loss and I was always on the lookout for signs of low self-esteem. Fortunately, Hannah has embraced life to the fullest. As a family, we’ve all had the benefit of strong support groups through family, friends and teachers. She recently graduated from Grand Valley State University and has accepted a job as a Business Analyst at Meijer Corporation and continues to make her mark. Hannah has identified and capitalized on opportunities such as competitive cheerleading as well as tried other challenges such as competitive swimming where hearing loss proved to be a greater obstacle and made her realize that some areas are “just not her forte."

Knowing what technology is available for those with hearing loss, I have championed bringing hearing assistance into the home and public areas. In addition to hearing aids, we were successful in facilitating the funding of sound systems in the schools she attended. We had to explain that the technology benefits everyone, not just someone with a hearing impairment like Hannah, but children with ADHD as well as autism. While teachers were skeptical at first, they became staunch supporters of sound systems because they made their jobs easier.

After retiring from a 34-year career at Steelcase and caring for ailing parents, I found I had a lot more time on my hands and was ready for the “next chapter.” Coincidentally, someone reached out to me about a part-time position at the non-profit organization Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services. I wasn’t sure that it would be a good fit, but it’s turned out to be the best outlet for my passion for hearing loss and those suffering with it. I hope to share more about this wonderful organization in later articles.

When you ask me what being a parent of a child with hearing loss has taught me, I can honestly say with enthusiasm, Hannah truly has been a blessing in my life. I have gained a deeper awareness of life’s challenges and I realize everyone has them. I like to refer to it as “stuff.” Some “stuff” is just less visible; (especially, if one wears hearing aids). Early on, I tried to protect my daughter from participating in activities which heavily relied on auditory skills; piano, public speaking, etc. Ironically, what I was trying to protect her from was exactly what she needed to make her stronger. Her Chinese teacher said she speaks Mandarin almost flawlessly. Hannah has taught me about tenacity and believing that you can accomplish anything to which you put your mind to. She continues to teach me to face one’s challenges head on.  

Thank you, Hannah!

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