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Growing Up in Mainstream Public School: Things I Wish I Knew Back Then with Sara Miller


(Image description: Sara as a child at school wearing a phonic ear vest)
(Source: LanguagePriority.com (Image description: Sara as a child at school wearing a phonic ear vest)

We always seek interesting and informative experiences to learn and grow from. When I read Sara’s message, I appreciated the inclusion of emotions, the lessons learned, and radiant wisdom. This week, we have the privilege of sharing advice for those growing up deaf or hard of hearing in a mainstream public school from the talented guest blogger Sara Miller, M.S. Ed. 


Sara runs the website "Language Priority," an online storefront that offers apparel, ASL classes, and much more! As someone with hearing loss, Sara strives to increase the visibility of the Deaf community and advocate for a more inclusive world.


Enjoy, explore, and then implement  Sara’s words of wisdom!


—Sara’s Story Begins Growing Up in Mainstream Public School

It was the late 1980s when I was diagnosed with severe profound bilateral sensorineural hearing loss and received my first pair of hearing aids. I was almost three, and I’m told that I loved my hearing aids so much that I never wanted to take them off! 


It was during the 1990s and early 2000s when I attended public elementary, middle, and high schools in small rural towns in Northwest Ohio. I was the only deaf student in my grade to be mainstreamed full-time. During these years, there were a lot of trials and triumphs. 


Looking back, there are a few things I wish I had known to help guide myself through the process of being the only deaf kid in my mainstream class. If I could, I would go back in time and share a few things with my younger self:


Number 1: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

There are many other deaf and hard-of-hearing kids out there who are also born into hearing families. In fact, ninety percent of deaf and hard-of-hearing kids are born to hearing families (Quick Statistics about Hearing,” 2021). Eighty-five percent of those kids attend public school, just like you do (“The Evolution of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Education at Teachers College,” 2023). While you may be the only kid to be mainstreamed full-time in your school, there are many others just like you out there in the world who are going through the same experiences you are. You will meet them later on in life and establish wonderful relationships. 


A note from ASL Picture Books:  Sara Novic spoke about her experience growing up with hearing loss and feeling isolated in mainstream classrooms. She eventually accepted her deafness and ASL; it was life-changing. Read more in our blog, NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER: Sara Nović and the Representation of Deafness.”


Number 2: DO NOT READ INTO HEARING PEOPLE’S FACIAL EXPRESSIONS TOO MUCH. 

Understand that we deaf people tend to naturally rely on visual cues much more than our hearing peers. If a person frowns, doesn’t smile, or has a neutral look on their face, it does not mean they don’t like you or are mad at you. They could simply be having a rough day caused by something that has absolutely nothing to do with you. Acknowledge and understand this fact to save yourself from unnecessary hurt feelings over misreading someone’s emotions.


A note from ASL Picture Books: Children with hearing loss can often feel different and singled out. Children’s book author Katie Petruzziello has written a series called Mighty Mila, in which the main character’s cochlear implants are presented as a normal part of her life. Read more about this book series and why inclusion is so important—”Mighty Mila: Dream Job Has Launched! Learn More from Author Katie Petruzziello.”


Number 3: PEOPLE ARE NOT STARING AT YOU WHEN YOU SIGN BECAUSE YOU’RE WEIRD OR DIFFERENT. THEY STARE BECAUSE THEY ARE FASCINATED WITH SIGN LANGUAGE. 

I know... This is so hard to believe or understand fully. When you know you are different, you feel as if everyone is always staring at you: staring at the Phonic Ear box strapped to your chest, Starting at the long cords from that box that lead up to your ears, Staring at your hearing aids, staring at your hands when you choose to communicate using sign language. That’s when the staring seems to be the worst. But what you don’t know is that those people stare because they wish they knew how to sign, too. Reach out to those individuals and ask if they’d like to learn. Teach them the joy of signing.


A note from ASL Picture Books: People, especially children, are fascinated with sign language. They get that sparkle in their eye when they catch the beauty and power of signing. For a deeper dive into the ways signing benefits the brain, check out our blog post, Brains are Better with Sign Language.”


Number 4: ADVOCATE FOR ACCESS. 

Hold your teachers accountable for making content accessible. Request captions for all videos and movies—no exceptions. Utilize notetakers in all subject areas. Let your teachers know not to talk toward the chalkboard; request that they face you when instructing. Ask your peers to repeat themselves when you didn’t quite catch everything they said in class discussions. And yes, even consider having an interpreter for your core content classes. You deserve the right to access ALL that is going on around you. Things you don’t even know you’re missing can be filled in through an interpreter. Learning these advocacy skills early on will benefit you later in life. 


A note from ASL Picture Books: We spoke with itinerant educator Larisa Yanez about school concerns in our blog post, “Navigating Schools, Learning, and IEPs for Your Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing Child with Larisa Yanez.” Check it out for more information about IEPs and school accommodations for deaf students!


Number 5: YOU WILL FALL IN LOVE AND GET MARRIED. 

In your high school years, you will often cry yourself to sleep, wondering if you’ll ever find love and get married. You’ll question how someone would ever want a partner who cannot hear. Why would they choose to love someone who is deaf when they could have someone who can hear perfectly like all of your peers? Those nights of self-doubt and the tears you cry will be for nothing. You will meet your soulmate in the spring of your senior year of high school and get married that very summer just before entering college. In fact, you’ll be the first in your class to marry, and he will even surprise you by signing a portion of his vows to you at your wedding. Your husband will be the kindest and most loving soul who will accept and adore every part of you, especially your deafness.


A note from ASL Picture Books: It is commonly thought that deaf people are more intuitive. They pick up on things that hearing people generally do not. Ruth Sidransky, in her incredible memoir, In Silence, speaks of her Deaf mother’s “well-honed intuitive sense.” Read more about this in our blog post, “The Inner World of a Deaf Person.”


Number 6: ENCOURAGE YOUR FAMILY TO LEARN SIGN LANGUAGE EVEN IF YOU CAN SPEAK. 

You are the only deaf individual in your entire family (Extended family included). Your parents will bombard you with language and read to you on a daily basis. You’ll fall in love with reading. They’ll have high expectations for you to soak up any and all language-learning opportunities around you, and you will exceed those expectations. You will acquire and utilize spoken language with relative ease. Therefore, English will be your first language. In your first few years of school, you’ll learn Signed Exact English, but the only person whom you’ll teach sign language to at home is your older sister. (She will later become an educational interpreter.) 


However, you really need to teach your parents (and family and friends) to sign as well. They are not against it. If they knew how much it would help you in social situations, they’d learn in a heartbeat. (Looking back, they’ll wish they had). Since you speak so well, it’s easy to fool yourself and everyone else around you into thinking that everything is being understood. But deep down, you know you are not understanding everything around you. That sickening pit in your stomach that you get when you’re about to enter a challenging environment—basketball games, dark restaurants, the mall, birthday parties, movie theater, etc.—that’s a direct result of the anxiety you subconsciously have knowing how hard you’re going to have to work just to keep up with a small amount of what is going on. This is where sign language can benefit you. It can bring to life what you would normally miss. It can give you complete access to your surroundings. It can reduce your anxiety and allow you to enjoy your surroundings. So please teach those closest to you how to sign. You’ll thank yourself in the future.


A note from ASL Picture Books: Have you ever wondered where sign language originated? Read about it in our blog post, “A Short History of the Origin of Sign Language.”


Number 7: EMBRACE YOUR DEAFNESS. 

You will go through a phase in your middle or high school years when you will reject anything and everything to do with deafness. You’ll stop signing and refuse to carry your FM equipment with you to class. You’ll hide your Phonic Ear box and cords under your clothes to try to blend in with your peers as much as possible. You’ll hate being different. You’ll spend a LOT of energy and emotion simply trying to become “hearing” like everyone else in your class. 


STOP! 

Embrace who you are. Love yourself for who you are. Stop trying so hard to become something that you were never meant to be: “hearing.” Embracing your deafness will save you a lot of heartache and emotional energy. Know that there is strength and beauty in being Deaf, that there is an entire community of individuals in this world who are just like you, who know exactly what it’s like to be deaf. Who will welcome you with open arms? Sadly, you live in a small rural town with no Deaf community or Deaf adult role models. You won’t even meet a Deaf adult until you attend college and are already a deaf adult yourself. However, as soon as you are able, seek out those who are like you. They will fill your heart in a way that the hearing community cannot—in a way that even your closest friends and family cannot. Only when you make these connections will you feel complete and fully able to truly embrace every part of who you are.


A note from ASL Picture Books: Another Deaf writer, Raymond Antrobus, relates a similar journey to self-acceptance. After accepting his deafness and sign language, he became a well-known and celebrated Deaf poet writing about the challenges and struggles of Deaf people’s heartrending experiences worldwide. He also wrote a delightful picture book. Read more about Raymond’s story—” Deafness in a Hearing World, Through the Lens of Raymond Antrobus.”



Sara wearing a T-shirt imprinted with hands and the words “YOU MATTER.
(Source: LanguagePriority.com) (Image description: Sara wearing a T-shirt imprinted with hands and the words “YOU MATTER.”)

—Sara Miller, M.S.Ed

she/her

Deaf adult bringing awareness to deafness & Deaf culture

Teacher of the D/HH

Look for more from Sara on her social media accounts:

@adventuresindeafed (Instagram)

@languagepriority (Facebook / Instagram).





More about Language Priority

-Everyone has the human right to have full access to language-

Spreading awareness about deafness, language acquisition, American Sign Language, and the Deaf community.


Sara established this business for several reasons (via LanguagePriority.com):

  • To combat the cultural appropriation of sign language that frequently occurs by companies and individuals with no ties to the Deaf community. 

  • To raise awareness and change perceptions surrounding deafness, sign language, and the Deaf community.

  • To provide families of deaf and hard of hearing children with apparel that helps their child embrace that part of their identity. 

  • To provide families, educators, community members, etc. with advocacy apparel.

  • To boost the Deaf Ecosystem by being a Deaf woman-owned Latina business!


Thank you, Sara, for sharing your wisdom and encouragement! Please check out Sara’s online resources and shop for more ASL goodies!



ASL Resources, Article References with arrow pointing right to the list of references. American Sign Language is a beautiful and powerful language shared by passionate people for many different reasons. Whatever your interest in learning ASL, Congratulations! The benefits and rewards are limitless, it's potential is untapped. So tap in and enjoy your journey learning to who knows where?

Language Priority. n.d. “Language Priority.” https://languagepriority.com/.



“The Evolution of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Education at Teachers College.” 2023. Columbia News. December 21, 2023. https://news.columbia.edu/news/evolution-deaf-and-hard-hearing-education-teachers-college.



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A list of the blogs mentioned here, plus one!

Let us know what you want to know for an upcoming blog.




NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER: Sara Nović and the Representation of Deafness


Mighty Mila: Dream Job Has Launched! Learn More from Author Katie Petruzziello


Brains are Better with Sign Language


Navigating Schools, Learning, and IEPs for Your Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing Child with Larisa Yanez


The Inner World of a Deaf Person


A Short History of the Origin of Sign Language


Deafness in a Hearing World, Through the Lens of Raymond Antrobus




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