With and Within Us: The DeafBlind Gift.

By John Lee Clark.

I am John Lee Clark.
Then I am DeafBlind.

One can be Deaf and Blind with any asymmetry, but it is only through embracing oneself that one can be truly DeafBlind. My aspiration here is to share with you what all DeafBlind children and the people who live with and around them must fathom.

I hope what I extend to you is a sagacity in which you can absorb the beauty of DeafBlind culture, life, and people that is here with and within us.

Let me unravel a part of my personal history that helped me learn what many DeafBlind children need to create in their lives. Then I shall probe the striking value of DeafBlind children's true selfdoms.

When I was younger, my classmates found me as their most compelling target. For that, I hated being DeafBlind. I felt worthless and I often reflected I am a freak mutated from a human infant into what nobody likes. Naked under the rage of my rancor, I became an unruly artist in denying who I was. Until later, I did not know that my frugal camouflages failed to shroud my DeafBlind self. I did not fool anyone, least of all myself.

Realizing that I could never sprout into my future in disguise, I with a jolt understood why I was a frustrating creature to my peers. My DeafBlind state was never a magnet for their creative mockery like I first believed. It was how I dyed myself that made me a vagabond on the land of peer friendship. I openly did not like the fact that I was DeafBlind and that made me odious to others. One can be amazingly exasperating when one perpetually pretends. Abruptly, I stopped blaming my being DeafBlind for all my encumbrances.

I then learned what being DeafBlind meant. By magnifying my familiarity with the arcane universe of only touching, tasting, and smelling, I became complete. I took Braille classes, oriented myself in the art of sauntering with my white cane, and plunged myself socially within the DeafBlind community. I emerged as a character who loves who and what I am.

I want all DeafBlind children to learn that hiding and masquerading is a no-no. There is nowhere one can savor life without a concrete "I am" that is one's very own.

Because of insensitive conventions in our world, innumerable children grapple with their DeafBlind lives. This results in the practice of denial. Denial, in turn, spawns the rejection of their own existence. If you work with DeafBlind children, please understand that their problems are there not because they are DeafBlind, but because of their repudiation of the DeafBlind badge. The DeafBlind label cannot be evaporated as long they breathe. Trying to peel it off squanders time and everything that time can offer.

I know some DeafBlind adolescents who try to stomach the problem of being rejected in sundry designs.  Reacting to social isolation, they often view themselves as an obscure species.  Believing in this (how can they not, being in their position?), they author many solutions for themselves some rather ingenious, others highly perilous.

Some dangerous "solutions" involve flirting with death. One girl, under the notion that she could not live a DeafBlind life, attempted suicide on three separate occasions. She attended a mainstream school in her hometown. All her childhood, her family and school pedagogues were preoccupied with her eyes and her ears; every month she would be dragged through the "rounds," four eye doctors and two audiologists. Her parents and her teachers hoped to glean medical wizardry from the experts.

Her classmates, like my own, bombarded her with insults and punches. She became more and more depressed after each sneer, every visit to the white-coated doctors. It all became too much and she resolved to kill herself. However and happily, her efforts in exiting our world failed. She is now recovering from substance addiction, depression, and suicidal compulsions in a halfway house.

You have just read a sketch of countless DeafBlind adolescents' experiences. The plot is same for many, but with varying situations, scenes, and endings. The story evolves like this: People behave strangely around a DeafBlind child. DeafBlind children are, for innumerable people, a rarity and something of a freakish nature. This is shown in peer enmity and the negative mentality harbored by that child. The child then naturally hates being DeafBlind. Attempting to blast out of the mess, that child will often crash into amplified self-exile. Self-exile created from how people respond to the first stratum of that child's self-loathing grows. This could go on in circles, increasing in inclemency each time around. The realization and love for oneself can come in any time or never. Self-acceptance can be born only when one dislodges others' opinions and develops an esteemed view for oneself OR when someone helps that person learn about the power of "I am who I am, and I love who I am" by treating that person ingenuously.

In preventing any harm, parents and teachers must regard every DeafBlind child as who they are exquisite and singular human beings before they meet their needs as DeafBlind children. Too habitually, people who surround DeafBlind children first look upon them as DeafBlind, and then vaguely, as who they are. Hazardous inclinations such as these stifle the emotional and intellectual growth of children because the heart of a child is how that child understands the concept of "myself" through others.

An old adage construes how people interpret themselves:

If a person approaches a DeafBlind child's life as a problematic case that demands intervention, the act of "curing" will be the problem. Imagine what a DeafBlind child thinks judging from other people's behavior on what is being thought about that child. Yes, it is devastating for that child and for anyone. I can assure you that DeafBlind children who allegedly have "certain limitations" do not have those limitations because they are DeafBlind. Rather, the culprit is with all being equal the limited recognition that DeafBlind children gain for being normal and simply human. Children will successfully, even exultantly, relate to their DeafBlind reality if teachers and parents respond to who they are before anything else.

I hope more and more children will be known as who they are so that they can cursively correlate themselves with the layers of identity from oneself to one's culture. DeafBlind children, like each and every child, must not be denied the freedom of "Yes, I am!"

Deaf-Blind Perspectives Volume 7, Issue 1 Fall 1999

Deaf-Blind Perspectives is a free publication, published three times a year by the Teaching Research Division of Western Oregon State College.

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