It’s Deaf Awareness Week and to mark it we have a post from the author of Making Sense in Sign, Jenny Froude, reflecting on progress made since the book was published.
Do books “come of age” I wonder? If so, I like to think that mine may have done so since the year in which it was launched was 2003. Now, in Deaf Awareness Week, with a new King about to be crowned, my hope remains that deaf youngsters who may have been, quite unknowingly, influenced by some of its content may be approaching adulthood with confidence and pride in themselves and their deafness. And that parents, carers, teachers, support assistants, interpreters and other professionals might have found Tom’s story of interest and worth recommending over the years.
I recently found myself in a time warp, seated (with Tom’s permission!) in a soundproof room in a London hospital, with a son in his 40s having a longed-for upgrade to his Cochlear UK implant processor. How it took me back, as I caught the faint beeps, to those years with firstly a newly deafened infant on my lap, then a toddler hesitantly putting a little figure into a red wooden Galt boat whenever he “heard” or, realistically, “hoped he had heard” a sound. Then came the years with a mature, signing teenager keen to have a cochlear implant at his own request and prepared to cope with the long process of testing, acceptance, surgery and then listening, mapping and responding to some sound at last.
In the past such visits formed a source for chapters in my then embryo book, of course, but far more important was a mother’s anxiety to be there in a supportive role on his journey. Now, with a professional interpreter present, I was superfluous but personally fascinated to see Tom’s reactions to a new sound pitch and able to digest the innovative information aspect of his ongoing use, before releasing him back to his Deaf wife and three hearing children!
Since then, still stuck in a time warp, I have re-read the many letters and cards we received after the book was launched during the annual Arts Festival at St. George’s Church, Beckenham, where award winning Deaf actress, Elizabeth Quinn, was our Special Guest. This year poet and author Michael Rosen will be on stage with ‘Speaking of Books, a Family Show’ and, having just read his very moving Getting Better, I have realised that his much-loved son, Eddie, must have been born in the same year as Tom. Both caught meningitis; our baby at 5 months which robbed him of his hearing but Michael’s son, sadly, 18 years later, which cost him his life.
Writing a book, I discovered, was very like having a baby – waiting, worrying, sleepless nights, excited anticipation, seeing it for the first time, naming it, checking that it’s alright and, finally, showing it off! Which is why, with my new arrival in my hand and my old “baby” beside me, all 6’2” of him, I was overjoyed to introduce Tom’s biography – Making Sense in Sign: A Lifeline for a Deaf Child – to a packed church twenty years ago.
One much valued retired Teacher of the Deaf wrote last year to say, “I wonder how many families have been influenced by The Book. Your writing doesn’t hector – just tells it like you see it”. And added that a recent photo of Tom signing with his one-year-old Alfie was “worth more than a thousand words”. Many years ago that same person had made his views, born of long experience, clear by observing that if more people could enjoy their kids, instead of looking at them as specimens for discussion and therapy, there would be more happy deaf people. There is surely food for thought in that.
Thanks to Rose Ayling-Ellis and her Strictly Come Dancing success and those sixteen seconds of silence that shook the viewers, more people have been introduced to Tom’s biography when the subject of signing has come up in conversation with friends who already have copies. A once-local friend with two deaf offspring, a few years younger than Tom, both now enjoying excellent careers, wrote years ago to tell me she would have liked “a book similar to yours when they were young” but it would, of course, have been a very slim edition had I written it in those early days! The learning curve had only just begun…!
What did seem to be consistent as I recently read through the letters I still treasure was the recurring statement about the book – “couldn’t put it down” – to which I replied that no super glue was involved in its production, only blood, sweat and tears! I fear today’s parents are probably all too often familiar with those very words due, in many areas, to the lack of specialist, signing Social Workers, a decline in the numbers of Teachers of the Deaf, long delays and difficulties with SEN statements and the prohibitive cost for parents and families needing/wanting to learn Sign Language when, for them, it should so clearly be provided free. I truly feel for them all and for those deaf youngsters who, all too often, ask for so little but deserve so much and whose often hard-won accomplishments can make our hearts sing!
For more information about the book please see our website.