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A vital resource for those who work with Deaf families, says Deaf Studies journal

Two worlds existed in my family growing up, and few people understood how to help.

That’s partly why I wrote my memoir Between Two Worlds (Gallaudet Press), my story about my life as a child of Deaf adults—so professionals could better grapple with the dynamics in Deaf families.

So I was delighted to see my book reviewed in Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education—even more delighted to see that another CODA, a child of deaf adults, reviewed it. Mark Rust is associate professor in the graduate deaf education program at McDaniel College.

Rust sees Between Two Worlds as a potential vital resource for professionals in social work, counseling or education programs where families with deaf parents are raising hearing children.

Too often these professionals are oblivious to this particular family dynamic of CODAs, Rust writes. “The personal experiences of David Sorensen provide a compelling reason for professionals to seek more insight into the homes were ‘two’ worlds exist,” he writes. Read his review here.[LINK]

Conversations of ‘reconciliation’

When I asked my publicist—or as she likes to call herself, personal journalist—to interview Rust, it opened up even more conversation, which is something I hoped for with the book.

Even with the rise of CODA culture, Rust says he does not see a lot in the curriculum and syllabi that specifically address CODAs.

Yet he does see a lot of hunger for conversations that seek to reconcile the hearing and the Deaf within families. Last year, McDaniel brought in a panel of CODAs to a speaking series aligned with its course on Life and Education Experience of Deaf Individuals. The focus of that course is on Deaf individuals, but the panel featuring CODAs brought out a lot of questions from American Sign Language students when they started to hear about the burden placed on hearing children to be primary interpreters for their parents.

Their curiosity was piqued. “ ‘How did you get by doing this? Did you ever sneak out of the house?’” were the type of questions, Rust says. The questions were “more personal, more about life experience.”

In his review, Rust noted that I’d captured the “sense of obligation” CODAs felt, providing interpretation at an early age about adult matters such as medical or legal situations. He also highlighted the sacrifice of personal plans in order to provide services for parents.

In the interview, Rust commented that it focused on my life—not my parents’ lives, as many CODA memoirs do). Instead, it focused on my journey being “divorced” from my family and entering back in. “I liked that there was a reconciliation of the individual with the situation he was raised in,” Rust told my publicist.

That particularly touched him because as a CODA himself, Rust experienced his older brother running away from home at age 12. Interpreting duties fell to Rust, who was 8 at the time. “It fell on my shoulders, whether I wanted to or not.”

“There was some emotion there in reading David’s book, flashing back,” Rust said. “Part of the decisions [David] made were because he didn’t like the ramifications if he made different decisions. He was making decisions to run away from what he was born into. Which caused bad decisions.”

But my Between Two Worlds story came full circle, Rust noted. “Then [David] came around, finally making good decisions. He didn’t feel that way anymore. He didn’t have to run away from it.”

Rust said his mother’s brother was Deaf as well, and that uncle had three sons, all hearing. Of the five CODA cousins, “I am the only one who learned to sign,” Rust said.

Interpreting did not become a profession until 1964, and CODAs didn’t come into a culture until the late 1980s-early 1990s. “Deaf people started to understand then not to use their children as interpreters then,” Rust said. “Now interpreters aren’t necessarily CODAs.”

Strengthening the family

That CODA culture and family dynamics do not show up in many courses or panel discussions indicates that more conversations need to take place. Which is why Rust closed his review by recommending it as a reading assignment for social workers, counselors or educators. The particular family dynamic of CODA is not high enough on the radar screen for those professionals who work with Deaf families. And perhaps my book, told as it is through personal experience, gives more insight into the family dynamic.

After many years leading the graduate deaf education program at McDaniel, Rust has observed that hearing people who come into the program have one driving motivation to become teachers of the deaf: To impact those children now. But many Deaf people who become teachers of the deaf want to impact a generation.

As a CODA, someone who has straddled both worlds, his perspective is this: “I know what my parents did not know. I hope that whatever I bring into the classroom will impact those parents you had. I hope you have gleaned some nugget of truth that will help you be a better parent.”

When I wrote Between Two Worlds, my hope was that we build better families. I wrote it for Deaf people, asking them to see the world I knew and think about how they can positively impact their families. I wrote it for other CODAs so they could see themselves. And I wrote it for professionals who stand at the places where the “two worlds” converge, so they can help these families be more resilient.

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