When Rhia was 3 and began pre-school, she happily took her teacher’s hand and waved to me. “Bye Mama!” She then turned away and tottered off to her new class. I was stunned. Where were the tears? The clinging, wailing, begging me not to go? Everyone had prepared me to be strong and walk away from my crying child. Instead, I was the one crying as I waved. “Bye-bye Baby.”
Fast forward 21 years. We are standing in the library, meeting the aids and participants of her new day program. For 8 months I have been fighting to get her into a program and at last we are here! I’m excited for her to meeting new people and begin her new life in our new city. Rhia on the other hand…
“I don’t want to be here!” Her cry echoes off the library shelves. Everyone in the once quiet building stares at us.
“But sweetie, this is where you’ll make new friends.”
“We talked about this. You’re starting a new program so you’re not stuck in the house all day.”
“I like being home.”
“I know, but you can’t stay home anymore. I have to work…”
“Then I’ll go to work with you.”
“You can’t come every day…”
“Why? I like it there.”
“Rhia, it’s okay to come to my work sometimes, but not all the time.”
“Well I’m not gonna come here.” She hunches her shoulders and looks down, essentially blocking out any further discussion. Arguing with a deaf-girl can be annoying.
I wait… and wait… and wait… then I bend down until she can see me and sign, “Please give it a try.”
Rhia looks up at me and bursts into tear. “But no one knows my language! I can’t understand anybody!”
That is the whole problem in a nutshell, and is why it’s taken 8 months to find any program at all. No one knows American Sign Language. Rhia uses her voice to speak, but needs ASL to understand what people say to her. She is deaf, but there are no programs that provide interpreters. This new program is willing to learn ASL as fast as possible and provide whatever support they can to help Rhia understand, everything from pictures to icons to visual schedules. They are going beyond their limits to create something for her, while recognizing that communication won’t be a quick fix. I bought a new iPad with a communication program all set up for her to use. And I’ve come with her to train staff and provide emotional support to help Rhia with this transition.
But I go back to work next week. It’s time for Rhia to start her program. There’s nothing more I can do. I can only imaging how terrifying it must be to spend your day with strangers who don’t know your language and you can’t understand what is happening. When I leave her at her program on my first day back to work, I suspect we’ll both be crying.
I’ll keep looking for a better fit. In the mean time, this is the best we can do, and I feel guilty as hell.