The first time I wrote this article, I left out some things. The shootings in Colorado and the media focus on bullying's effects convinced me I should update this article and add in the things that I had left out about my experiences as a deaf child/teenager. Teasing is an inevitable part of growing up for anyone, including deaf children. But it hurts so much more when you are truly "different" from the others.
Start of Teasing
The teasing began when I was in the fourth or fifth grade, and new to my community, having moved there to attend a mainstream program for the deaf. A little girl my age in my neighborhood invited me to her house -- or so I thought. When I got to her house, no one was there.
On the playground, I tried to get included in other kids' play. They wouldn't include me, and I had to resort to playing with the other deaf/hoh children at recess, particularly those who were also bullied or ostracized socially.
Only two things about my sixth grade graduation stand out in my memory: the fact I had to wear a dress (I was going through a stage in which I disliked dresses) and the fact that although the girls were paired up with the boys for "marching" down the aisle, the boy who was paired with me refused to hold my hand. While that was not teasing or bullying, it came close. I don't know if he refused because I was deaf or simply because I was a girl or he did not like me, but I was sensitive and felt it was because I was deaf.
Teasing Gets Worse
But Junior High was the worst of the teasing and bullying. Junior High is the age when pre-teens and teens' hormones really start to kick in, and self-esteem is particularly fragile. Kids that age look to pick on, tease or bully anyone who is different. The kid who is seen as different can be overweight, slow, or have a disability such as deafness. Kids in the '70s were not as sensitive to differences as they are today, when awareness of differences is drummed into them from the time they are just out of diapers.
In my neighborhood, the two kids chosen to be the picked-on, teased and bullied kids were myself and my best friend, a girl who was slow due to some brain damage. The teasing and torment of Junior High traumatized me to a point that I did not overcome the trauma completely until some time during the deaf college years.
I had to walk up a hill every day to get to the bus stop. As I approached the bus stop, I never knew if I would be the bullied target of rocks, dirt, spitballs, or just teased with plain old-fashioned name-calling. On the bus, no one would sit with "the deaf girl." I eventually befriended a boy who was also the victim of teasing and bullying, and he was the only one willing to sit with me.
Friends with the "deaf" girl?
That boy and I became good friends, or so I thought. He would not visit me in the daytime, only in the evenings. Years later after our friendship had ended, my sister told me the truth - the boy had avoided coming over in daylight during the 7th grade because he did not want it to be known that he was friends with the "deaf girl."
The teasing did not stop once we entered the halls of Junior High. I could not go to my locker without hearing my name called in a strange, mocking way. They did this to make fun of my "deaf" speech.
Coming home from school as a deaf girl, I would comb my hair and spitballs would fall out. The trauma of junior high has largely faded from memory now, but back then I would be so upset that my younger sister would sometimes come home from elementary school to find me crying.
After school, a small gang continued to tease me whenever I went to play at the neighborhood clubhouse. I was poorly equipped to handle it because although I had a good vocabulary, deafness had prevented me from learning certain crucial social skills such as what the "f" word meant! So when the kids used swear words in their teasing, I either did not know what it meant or took it at literal face value. This teasing continued to escalate - and I did not know how to stop it - to the point that I became traumatized just passing by the clubhouse.
Teasing Finally Ends
The ironic thing is that in later years, some of the same kids who had teased, tormented, or mocked me in Junior High became friendly towards me as they matured. The teasing finally came to a halt about mid-way through the ninth grade as the other kids finally realized I was the same as them even if I was deaf. Heck, I even had my first boyfriend by then!
Deafness Still Causes Frustrations
Even so, I still had problems, such as difficulty getting anyone to join me for lunch. I remember going up to tables full of kids I thought were nice kids and asking if I could join them. They would start laughing, and being deaf and sensitive I had no way of knowing if they were laughing at me or something else. As I was not welcomed, it was easy for me to think that I was being laughed at.