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CODAs

Learn about the life experience of children of deaf adults and the challenges and opportunities they face. Click here to read more!

Colton Jannusch
Author:
Colton Jannusch
CODAs
Colton Jannusch
Colton Jannusch

A passionate and dedicated English teacher who creates an inclusive and engaging learning environment, inspiring students to develop their language skills and cultivate a lifelong love for literature.

Experience of growing up as CODA

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), statistics show that more than 90% of deaf parents have hearing children. Those children grow up to be known as CODAs, Children of Deaf Adults. 

(This is not to be confused with ‘KODA’- Kids of Deaf Adults- those who are under the age of 18. When we refer to CODAs below, we include KODAs as the encompassing life experience is similar, just at different age brackets.)

Now, in recent years, the world of cinema has brought the captivating story of CODAs to the forefront, captivating audiences with its powerful portrayal of the CODA experience. One notable film that has resonated deeply is "CODA," brought to life by Apple TV. 

For those of you who have not heard of it, this heartfelt and critically acclaimed movie tells the story of Ruby, a CODA who finds herself torn between her responsibilities as an interpreter for her Deaf family and her aspirations to pursue her passion for music. As we delve deeper into the lives of CODAs, we draw inspiration from films like "CODA," which shed light on the intricate dynamics, joys, and challenges faced by CODAs, further igniting our curiosity and compassion for this remarkable community.

Whether you are a CODA yourself, a family member, or simply curious about the experiences of this extraordinary community, this blog serves as a platform to celebrate, educate, and foster greater understanding of the CODA journey. So, come along on this enlightening voyage as we embrace the beauty of both silence and sound.

What does it mean to be a CODA?

Born into a world where silence intertwines with sound, CODAs embark on a truly remarkable journey, shaped by their rich cultural experiences and the intricate interplay between two languages. For some history, the term "Child of Deaf Adults" (CODA) was coined by Dr. Robert Hoffmeister in the 1980s to describe individuals who grow up with deaf parents. CODAs may be hearing or deaf themselves, but what distinguishes them is their shared experience of being raised in a deaf household. They often serve as a bridge between the deaf and hearing communities, possessing fluency in both sign language and spoken language.

The CODA Experience

The CODA experience is shaped by the unique dynamics and culture within Deaf households.

  • From a young age, CODAs are exposed to sign language as their primary mode of communication, which often becomes their first language. 
  • The deaf parents are often found using American Sign Language (ASL) with their newborns starting with baby signs.
  • The hearing child learns speech later as speech therapists and hearing family members provide auditory and verbal support and training.

They grow up witnessing the resilience, strength, and rich cultural heritage of the Deaf community. At the same time, they also experience the hearing culture through interactions with extended family, friends, and educational institutions. This duality in exposure fosters a deep appreciation for diversity and inclusion, and CODAs often develop a strong sense of identity rooted in both the Deaf and hearing worlds.

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Navigating Between Two Worlds

CODAs often say they have their feet in two worlds - the hearing and the Deaf. CODAs often find themselves navigating between the Deaf and hearing worlds, and this balancing act can be both challenging and rewarding. 

  • They felt the pressure and burden of keeping their Deaf parents safe from dangerous situations that they could not hear, such as burglars, smoke alarms, or honking horns.
  • They felt like they could get away with anything sometimes because their Deaf parents couldn’t hear them or bust them for doing something nefarious inside the house like stealing cookies from the dessert counter and claiming their innocence.

They may be called upon to interpret in various situations for their Deaf parent(s), serving as a communication link between their Deaf parents and the hearing world.

  • One instance is when ordering food at a restaurant, the waiter could overly rely on the hearing child to help take down orders. 
  • Another instance is at school when the teacher called a meeting not realizing the child’s parent(s) was Deaf. 

This role in the family can be overwhelming at times, but it also provides CODAs with valuable skills in communication, empathy, and cultural sensitivity. We want our children, hearing or Deaf, to grow up with a wide range of empathy and to some greater degree cultural sensitivity. 

Navigating between two worlds equips CODAs with a unique perspective that can contribute positively to both communities and to a more holistic worldview.

Challenges Faced by CODAs

While growing up as a CODA can be enriching, it also presents certain challenges. CODAs may encounter communication barriers between their Deaf parents and the hearing world, leading to a role reversal where they become interpreters and advocates for their parents

  • They may face difficulties in social settings where sign language is not widely understood.
  • Where they are the only ones with deaf parents.
  • Where they are the only hearing ones in the room. 

These challenges can be emotionally and mentally taxing, as CODAs navigate their dual cultural and linguistic identities. But with time and experience, those situations become easier as they teach themselves to “code-switch” between the two languages naturally without a second thought. 

One of the other challenges faced by CODAs is the ability to protect themselves or their parents from insensitive remarks or comments made by a hearing person who assumed everyone in the family was Deaf. They can choose not to interpret in those particular circumstances, but it does not mean that they don’t hear the remarks and comments. This also deprives the Deaf parents of full access to what is being said, whether that was positive or negative. 

Parentification may or may not also be a concern as the hearing children feel responsible for caring for their Deaf parents through their role as the “family interpreter”. Serving as interpreters since childhood could be very tiring for CODAs. They may also feel traumatized and embarrassed while interpreting their parents’ experiences that are not appropriate for their age but this can be prevented easily with the use of professional interpreters in serious situations.

Benefits and Contributions of CODAs

CODAs bring a wealth of benefits and contributions to society. Their bilingualism, fluency in sign language, and ability to bridge communication gaps can be valuable in professional settings such as interpreting, translation, and teaching. CODAs often possess exceptional communication skills and a heightened awareness of nonverbal cues. Their experiences growing up in a deaf household foster qualities such as empathy, resilience, and adaptability. These qualities enable CODAs to excel in diverse fields and contribute meaningfully to their communities. 

CODAs often start deaf schools, become interpreters, teach ASL, and channel their expressiveness to excel in acting/theatre. 

Supporting CODAs: Education and Resources

To support CODAs in their unique journey, it is crucial to provide them with appropriate education and resources. Educational institutions should recognize the linguistic and cultural needs of CODAs and offer support services that cater to their specific requirements. Opportunities for CODAs to connect with other CODAs can be invaluable, fostering a sense of community and shared experiences and this is often done through events hosted by CODA-International. Additionally, access to resources such as workshops, counseling, and mentorship programs can aid in their personal and professional development.

What follows are some gentle recommendations for navigating life as a family with a CODA.

  • First, professional interpreters should be used whenever possible for situations that might be inappropriate for the CODA to interpret such as adult conversation, legal issues, doctor appointments, and school matters. 
  • Second, Deaf parents should make sure that they tap into resources and technology to help them achieve a sense of independence and the ability to be the ‘protector' in the household. Parents should have open and frank discussions regarding discrimination and give ‘what to do' suggestions to their hearing children when those situations arise. 
  • Thirdly, and most important, Deaf parents should make sure that they teach their hearing child the form of communication that is predominately used by them. It is critical for the hearing child to be able to communicate his/her feelings with the parent and not just serve as an interpreter of the parent's feelings and decisions.

Conclusion

Growing up as a Child of Deaf Adults (CODA) is a multifaceted experience that offers both challenges and rewards. CODAs possess a deep appreciation for deaf culture and language while navigating the hearing world. They play a vital role in bridging communication gaps and promoting inclusivity. The unique perspective and skills acquired by CODAs contribute to the enrichment of both deaf and hearing communities. By providing support, education, and resources tailored to their needs, we can empower CODAs to thrive and continue making meaningful contributions in a diverse and inclusive society. 

Again, the journey as a CODA can be a transformative one, blessed with the opportunity to thrive in two worlds and develop a multicultural identity.

Stay tuned for upcoming articles where we explore further terminology that is used in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community! You can find our previously published article about the term “hearing impaired” here as well. 

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