Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Pictures and Stories Told with Hands

In the late 1980s, while I was finishing my degree in Child and Family Studies at Syracuse University, I was also working part- time as a sign language interpreter/teaching assistant with deaf children mainstreamed into local schools. Students ranged in ages K-18.
My favorite position involved volunteering in the Kindergarten program. I love the art young children produce. I love sharing stories with them and encouraging them to create their own stories.
I am still and was a poet. Another volunteer project my colleagues for deaf students performed was  poetry from the spoken/written word interpeted in a theatric way into American Sign Language at local venues.

In the kindergarten class was a 6 year old child who was non lingual. She was born profoundly deaf and mostly ignored by family, so she did not even have rudimentary language. As the fall passed, I learned she had been removed from her family due to sexual molestation by her father. There seemed to be physical evidence. The case was heart breaking. She lived in foster care while the trial of her abuser took place.
She was horribly shy. She did not allow anyone to touch her. One could hardly blame her. She seldom interacted with other kids. One day I was determined to encourage her to draw.
At long last after gazing into my eyes without expression, she slowly reached for the black crayon. She attacked the piece of oak tag paper I 'd given her with it. While happy to see her draw, I was appalled at the resulting artwork. Scribbles with violent jags and sharp points. This certainly fit with the situation we staff were told of.
Daily we also had Story Hour. Even though they could not hear, kids loved stories. All of us used simultaneous communication, that is spoke and signed while maintaining eye contact. The students wore special hearing aid devices just in case some sounds made it through. The teacher held the bright picture book up to face her audience and an interpreter signed with great drama.
Usually my little student showed little or no reaction during story hour while others scrambled up on staff laps or sat arms around each other and commented on the story.
By now it was November and we despaired of ever reaching this abused child who held herself arms around her own waist, eyes downcast.
Then one day at Story Hour, Liz began to read. I don't recall the particular book except the colors were bright, the story enchanting. Other kids sat enraptured. My student sat in front of me. We were both on the floor.
She glanced back at me with longing. She appeared to struggle with a decision. At last, with great care, and all eyes upon her while Liz continued to read, she carefully sat herself between my legs, then picked up my right hand and wrapped my arm around her. Next, she did the same with my left hand.
I don 't know if the kids noticed, but the adults in the room sure did. I was holding my breath. Tears shone in Liz's eyes as she finished the story.
I sometimes wonder what happened to that little girl. She'd be a woman grown by now, possibly with children of her own. I was so honored that she chose me
as her first " safe" human. I heard, at some point later that year, that the court had ruled in favor of the parents, as so often happens in a logic -defying way, and returned her to the family. I wonder if anybody followed up so that her father was no longer able to abuse her.
Rachael Z. Ikins

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"Dwell in possibility and you will find magic!"

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