Deaf parents, hearing children gather for a unique holiday party

It's a place to fit in

December 07, 2005|By CHRIS MERL | CHRIS MERL,SUN REPORTER

Children laughing, music blaring, people dancing and a Santa Claus with children on his lap. A typical holiday party at its best, with one exception. The primary language was American Sign Language.

The party, offering a more conducive environment for "KODAs" - kids of deaf adults - and raising awareness about their unique situation, was held Sunday at Ten Oaks Ballroom in Clarksville. It was organized by Maryland Metro KODA, which helps children of deaf parents feel comfortable in hearing and nonhearing worlds.

"When they go to school, they want to bring their friends home, and their friends might feel a little awkward meeting their deaf parents. They may not understand some of the cultural differences, like tapping on the table to cause a vibration or stomping a foot to get someone's attention, so the kid might feel awkward because of the issue of deafness," said Amy Crumrine, who stepped down as Maryland Metro KODA president at the party Sunday.

Adam Hartman, 12, of Clarksville, said, "Sometimes I get embarrassed. Sometimes when [my parents] sign, or when they don't know they're yelling, my friends stare at them."

Added Zach Gurganus, a 10-year-old from Cooksville: "Around speaking people, they kind of stare at you like you're weird, but here it's better. It's like you have something in common."

KODA events such as Sunday's offer these children a place where they fit in, where the deaf community and the hearing community join together.

"You can watch that the kids, even though they can hear, they still sign to each other. When they go to school, they can't do that. When they come here, it feels natural," Crumrine said through an interpreter.

"If your parents are deaf and you meet other KODAs, you feel like you're at home," said Terry Tossman, 9, of Ellicott City.

Lucy Sugiyama, who was master of ceremonies at the party Sunday and grew up with deaf parents: "Any other KODA I meet, we just mesh."

In its five years of existence, Maryland Metro KODA has held other events, including picnics.

"We try to get together twice a year, in December and May," said Charmaine Hlibok, co-chair of Sunday's gathering. "[My family] tries to go to every event. The kids always look forward to going."

Patty Ferran, a deaf mother of a 22-month-old daughter, said: "It's important for her to come to these events, to identify with other KODAs. I think it's about a sense of identity."

Pam Boseley, a hearing mother of a 2-year-old-daughter, whose husband is deaf, said, "I feel that my daughter needs the association with other KODAs, she needs that support system. After today, for the next few weeks, she will be more open to signing."

One of the main attractions at the party was a signing Santa, Sean Markel of Glenwood, a fifth-generation deaf man with two hearing daughters.

"I wanted to be Santa Claus because there are many children here who can sign, and even though they are hearing ... I thought I'd take that opportunity to talk to children in their native language and my native language," said Markel.

"I remember being small and trying to communicate with Santa Claus and I couldn't, so now being able to have direct communication with these children is very nice," he added.

Added Sugiyama: "Being a KODA and being with kids you have something in common with, I wish there were holiday parties like this when I was a kid," she said. "This is just great."

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