Retreat hosted for parents of deaf Rio Grande Valley students
January 20, 2013
by Jacqueline Armendariz
McALLEN — Rio Grande Valley parents of deaf children learned how to navigate growing up in a world with little or no sound on Saturday at Brown Middle School.
Students of the Regional Day School Program for the Deaf (RDSPD), under the McAllen school district, spent the day socializing outside of school at a retreat hosted by the program. A group of 25 parents also heard from different speakers and attended classes on a range of topics: from child-friendly cooking recipes and how to communicate about puberty to the technology of cochlear implants and life for deaf young adults.
Rebecca Villarreal, RDSPD supervisor, said 90 percent of parents with a deaf child are able to hear, making adapting even more difficult at times.
“It’s usually their first experience with deafness, so they need a lot of support, a lot of training to be able to make the best choices for their child educationally,” she said.
The RDSPD, part of the McAllen school district’s special education department, serves 19 school districts, including Roma all the way to La Feria, Villarreal said. Its 140 students attend one three campuses: Escandon Elementary, Brown Middle School and Memorial High School.
Liza Lara, RDSPD assistant principal, said most people don’t consider that learning without sound has an effect on a child’s education.
“It’s very different world,” she said.
A significant shift from American Sign Language to Signed Exact English is also underway, she said, making educating parents all the more crucial. The latter calls for a sign for each word in a sentence, rather than communicating a general concept, she said.
Veronica Gomez attended the retreat representing Texas Hands and Voices, a support group for parents. She said the opportunity for parents to listen to speakers and for students to see others like them who’ve been successful in school, such as Rochester Institute of Technology 2012 graduate Eric Cardenas, was important. Cardenas graduated from RDSPD in 2006.
“This is something that we needed,” Gomez said.
Her son Gabe, a 13-year-old seventh grader, and her daughter Victoria, a 9-year-old fourth grader, are both deaf while she and her husband are able to hear. She calls the experience of parenting deaf children a journey and admits it was difficult at first.
“With my son I was in denial the whole time,” she said. “I thought that this couldn’t happen to me. … I was depressed for a very long time, but as soon as I realized that I had to be there for my son, it was like ‘Game on. Let’s do what we have to do.’”
The mother of two said she wants her children to experience life, perhaps even attend Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., a school for the deaf. She encouraged other parents to be proactive in helping their deaf children as well as finding support and sharing their experiences to realize they’re not alone.
Most of all, Gomez said she wants something better for her children.
“That’s why I’m here today,” she said. “Our kids are different. Yes, they are, but don’t treat them any different. They’re deaf, but they’re not disabled. Give them a chance.”