My son Michael turns 16 in August. He was born deaf and at the age of 2 he joined the hearing world when he got a cochlear implant. The journey of raising a son with special needs has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life. I'm not saying it's been easy! There have been many lessons learned and I wanted to share 5 of the most valuable ones.
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1. Knowledge is power: I've spent countless hours educating myself about cochlear implants, speech therapy, and the best tools to help my son succeed. I've reached out to specialists, attended cochleari mplant conventions and I'm always doing online research. Most importantly, I've always networked with other parents who have already travelled a similar path. I'm constantly educating family, friends, teachers, students and everyone around him.
2. Early diagnosis and intervention: I wish my son had been diagnosed at birth. Unfortunately, they didn't have screening for hearing loss when he was born. Regardless, the minute that he was diagnosed we sprang into action. Within 6 months my son was implanted and speech therapy sessions started shortly after. The earlier you diagnose your child and you give them proper treatment, the better the chances that they'll succeed.
3. Advocate: Since he started school we have fought to ensure that my son receives the appropriate support, resources and services that he needs, at and outside of school. But make sure you teach them to advocate for themselves. I tell my kids that no one will fight harder for their rights than their parents or themselves!
4. Give them "normalcy" by integrating them into your world: Our primary goal was to integrate Michael into the hearing world. That's why we chose the cochlear implant path. He has been part of the mainstream educational system since kindergarten. He (and our family) endured years of intense speech therapy. We know that he has certain limitations but we don't let these prevent us from integrating him into our world as much as possible and allowing him to live to his fullest potential and achieve his dreams (he's always wanted to be an engineer).
5. Strike the right balance between love and discipline: As a toddler, Michael went through a phase where he didn't want to wear his hearing device. He had so much on his plate with daily speech therapy and other challenges that I wanted to let him get away with it! But his therapist insisted that wearing his device was not negotiable. This didn't mean I didn't love him. In fact, enforcing this and other rules would show my love by setting him up for success in the future.
Michael is a very special young man. He's smart, funny, and generous. He is a sophomore in high school and ranks among the top of his mainstream class. We must have done something right!
Image via Lucia Ballas-Traynor