Reflections on “Audism: Exploring the Metaphysics of Oppression (Bauman, 2004)
Generally, students are asked to provide a scholarly reflection of an article or paper, but our professor, wisely, allowed us to proffer more personalized reflections. Writing about a personal experience is an “account of the self” in criminological research (Wakeman, 2014). Personalized reflection is therefore scholarly as well as personal as it is an account of the experiences of the self, from the self’s own perspective.
I am the hearing mother of a deaf son, born deaf with no other family members on either side being either deaf or hard of hearing. I suppose that my “privilege” is that I can hear and can speak but neither of these sensory advantages assisted me when it came to me to advocate for my son. I knew from birth that he was deaf, without any articulable reason how I knew, but I did. It took the first fourteen months of my baby’s life to convince his pediatrician that he might be deaf. So the doctor sent us to the local audiologist. We went into the booth and my baby was frightened. He wanted to stumble around exploring, but the audiologist insisted that I hold him still and direct him to remain in my lap. Since he couldn’t hear me, he couldn’t hear my murmurings of comfort. Since he had not been officially diagnosed or, as I now prefer the term “identified” as deaf, I lacked the language to be able to communicate with him. The audiologist could not get a definitive finding and suggested that we have our son undergo a BAER test, which required sedation. “The hearing test known as the brainstem auditory evoked response (BAER) or brainstem auditory evoked potential (BAEP) detects electrical activity in the cochlea and auditory pathways in the brain in much the same way that an antenna detects radio or TV signals or an EKG detects electrical activity of the heart (Strain, 2018).” This was the definitive test and at fourteen months old, my son became deaf.
My experiences of “Audism” came immediately after his identification (and still continue, but to a much lesser extent today). My husband and I didn’t know or have any experience with deafness, sign language or Deaf Culture; we were faced with a medical problem-we were advised to do what we had to do to get our boy to “hear.” That is audism at its purest, because as Bauman (2014) stated by quoting Tom Humphries (Humphries, 1975 ) as “The notion that one is superior based on one’s ability to hear or behave in the manner of one who hears.” Amid cries of “Cure him,” “Teach him how to speak”, the only useful advice was from a representative from our county’s Board of Health (which had to record all birth defects and disabilities) who said, “Why aren’t you taking him to Early Intervention?” She provided me with the necessary contact information and I enrolled him. We were provided with sign language instructors who taught us SEE 2, a rather pathetic attempt to manually code English, while my son was provided with deaf playmates, SEE 2 instruction as well as some rudimentary form of American Sign Language. SEE 2 is a system of manual communication that strives to be an exact representation of English vocabulary and grammar (Leutke-Stahlman, 1991). It is a terrible way to teach language skills because it makes absolutely no sense-it is like trying to communicate with abstract and terribly subjective symbols that mean nothing on their own. This is another example of Audism. The notion that English is a superior language was reinforced by the creation of SEE 2. The article further cites Harlan Lane who wrote “Deaf people have been physically and pedagogically coerced into adopting hearing norms, whether they wanted to or not (Lane, 1992)”
This all led to the inevitable, a cochlear implant. It was urged upon us, by the doctors, audiologists and (we didn’t know at the time) the manufacturer’s representative. That felt like true oppression for us, as parents but also for our son who was now a beautiful two-year-old boy. He hated it; he always pulled off the magnetic speech processor and cried when forced to wear it. It was awful for him and for me. I would let him “not wear it” when my husband wasn’t home and I began to learn more about American Sign Language and the larger deaf community and Deaf Culture. Against pleas, by my husband who thought I was abandoning my son to deafness, for three years I would bring both of my children to Gallaudet University so that they could both attend the summer program. We stayed in the Kellogg Center’s hotel (on campus) and my son got to experience Deaf Culture and see that there were other deaf people in the world. By the time he was seven years old, having gone to pre-school and elementary school in a public school program for deaf children, I told his teachers to “Teach him like you were trained to teach deaf kids, forget the cochlear implant-he hates it and will never learn how to speak. Teach him sign language and how to read and write-no SEE.” They listened to me and he began to finally begin to understand his place in the world through the lens of his deafness. He experienced (and I got to witness) a metaphysical understanding of who he was and learn that it was ok.
I can’t say that the years since have been easy for him, but he is now a young adult who is fluent in American Sign Language and going to college (with interpreters). He is studying Digital Imaging, as he is an avid gamer and wonderful artist and finally; a genuinely sweet, chivalrous and intelligent young man. His journey and mine have been through the three distinct dimensions of oppressiveness of Audism: Individual, Institutional and Metaphysical (Bauman, 2004). It is still a journey, but life is a journey for us all.
Bauman, H.-D. L. (2004). Audism: Exploring the Metaphysics of Oppression. Journal of Deaf Studies, 9(2), 239-246.
Humphries, T. (1975 ). Audism: The making of a word. Unpublished Essay.
Lane, H. (1992). Masks of Benevolence: Disabling the deaf community. New York: Alfred Knopf.
Leutke-Stahlman, B. (1991). Following he Rules: Consistency in Sign. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 34, 1293-1298.
Strain, G. (2018, October 8). Louisiana State University/deafness. Retrieved from https://www.lsu.edu/deafness/baerexpl.htm
Wakeman, S. (. (2014). Fieldwork, Biography and Emotion. British Journal of Criminology 54, 705-721.