CSUN’s Deaf Education And Families (DEAF) Project is dedicated to working with families who have Deaf or hardof-hearing children. The free outreach program offers its resources to communities as far away as the Antelope Valley and as close as the neighborhoods around campus.
Parents of Deaf or hard-of-hearing children (“DHH” children, in the shorthand of education acronyms) are blitzed with endless information from medical institutions that tell parents that their children are disabled and need treatment. Parents are left to navigate the terrain of “what comes next” on their own. Some believe the medical advice they receive is their only course of action. Support is critical for these families, particularly at times of diagnoses, referrals and initial follow-up steps, said Rachel Friedman Narr, faculty in CSUN’s Departments of Special Education and Deaf Education, who directs the DEAF Project. “[The project is] an outreach for families who are confused in raising DHH children,” Friedman Narr said. “Approximately 40 percent of [DHH] babies identified in California annually are supported.” The DEAF Project has many success stories. Marissa Seeman, mother of a DHH child and client in the program, said she’s thankful for the program’s support and outstanding resources. “Carter was tested in the hospital the day after birth, then two weeks later at the hospital,” Seeman said of her son. Six weeks later, he was given an Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) test and was diagnosed with bilateral moderate hearing loss, she said. “At four months, we went back for a routine ABR test, and Carter’s hearing regressed to profoundly deaf.” The DEAF Project provides families like Seeman’s with a home and a support system from other families. “Carter is 3 now. We started the Parent Links program when he was 6 months old,” said Seeman. “The DEAF Project gives us hope for our son.” The project began in May 2007 as a partnership with CSUN’s Family Focus Resource Center in the Michael D. Eisner College of Education, training center staff to understand the needs of families with DHH children. The partnership quickly established a family American Sign Language (ASL) class and playgroup for DHH children. In September 2008, the Family Focus Resource Center and DEAF Project won a Parent Links Grant through the California Department of Education for $65,000 per year, to mentor families whose children were identified as DHH through the state Newborn Hearing Screening Program. The grant has been renewed annually since 2008. The project is also supported by private foundations and donors, Friedman Narr said. The DEAF Project emphasizes educational programs that focus on children’s abilities. Program offerings include family-oriented ASL classes, Family Fun Days for diverse families, Deaf peers, role models and trained professional support. In addition, the project partners with other community service organizations, such as CSUN’s Department of Deaf Studies. “I see a 100 percent difference in Carter, who learned how to sign from the DEAF Project,” Seeman said. She and her family attend the family ASL classes every Tuesday. The project provides families with free resources that also help build family unity, she said. “We all work together. All there to sign on Tuesdays,” Seeman said. Since April 2015, the DEAF Project has seen an average increase of 25 percent more families referred to its programs per month, and the project continues to expand. “Next for this program is more parent-to-parent support, more events and expanded support for families and their children,” Friedman Narr said. —Jan Palma