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When People Refer to My Hearing Child as a 'Built-In Interpreter'


Sometimes, people will say, “Hey, you have a built-in interpreter,” when they find out I have a hearing child.

I laugh and joke about it. I created an interpreter, and she is going to interpret for free!

On a serious note, that is not my plan for her. She is not a built-in interpreter. She is not going to speak or interpret for me.

Often, people expect deaf parents’ hearing children to interpret, even in extremely inappropriate situations. Why? I don’t know. Maybe because it is convenient. Maybe because they are lazy and want to take the simple way out. Maybe because they assume it is the reasonable thing to do.

Of course, it may seem harmless to you… however, imagine the expectation you put on the hearing child. Imagine asking a hearing child to interpret a legal issue conversation. That is a tremendous responsibility on a child to make sure he/she is interpreting accurately.

Statistics show about 90 percent of deaf parents have hearing children. How many of those hearing children become built-in interpreters for their deaf parents? How many of those children harness resentment for having no choice but to interpret adult conversations. This creates a role-reversal responsibility — the hearing child taking care of his/her parents instead.

A “typical” child with hearing parents would not be required to do that. That child is left to just be a regular child. Why can’t that be the same for hearing children with deaf parents?

So, if a person attempts to use my daughter as an interpreter, I will ignore his/her request. I will tell that person to write it down or hire a certified ASL interpreter.

Also, a hearing child may get tired of interpreting and decide to make up stories just for funsies. So, relying on a child to interpret is not always reliable.

I will not use my daughter to order food for me. I will not use my daughter to say something to a person when I am in a hurry. I will not have her relay what my doctor says. I will not have her interpret the parent-teacher conference. I will not have her to interpret a savings account conversation with the banker.

She shouldn’t responsible for taking care of her deaf parents. She shouldn’t have to grow up quickly. She shouldn’t be involved in adult conversations. She shouldn’t be put in uncomfortable situations. I don’t want her to resent me in the future for not giving her a say in this. Her only job as a child is enjoying her childhood without adult responsibilities… just like all other children.

Lead photo via Thinkstock.