The more Deaf people I meet out there in the community, the more aware I am of the different life experiences of people growing up deaf and establishing a Deaf identity. Some Deaf kids are born to Deaf parents and develop Auslan as a first language, while there are many others who are born to hearing parents with little or no knowledge of Auslan and Deaf culture.
Andrew and Craig share their contrasting stories of growing up deaf in their respective families, and despite their background differences becoming the very best of friends.
The two boys first met each other in a mainstream primary school in 1987 when Andrew moved from Melbourne to the Gold Coast. Being new, Craig showed Andrew around the school grounds. One morning Craig asked Andrew to play cricket while they were waiting for the first morning school bell. From then on, they developed a love for playing cricket and often played the sport together.
Andrew realised the obvious differences he and Craig had in their communication styles. Andrew's first language was Auslan as all his family could sign. On the other hand Craig's family used speech to communicate with each other. Craig used, and continues to use speech and Signed English as his main modes of communication. Signed English is a sign language that is different from Auslan.
While it is common for people of similar backgrounds and common interest to connect together, it was this difference that helped them to forge a close knit friendship.
Andrew initially faced challenges adjusting to his new school environment because it was his first time in a mainstream school. Before moving to the Gold Coast he went to schools specifically for Deaf children.
I was nervous when I first stepped into my new school. I wondered how I was going to connect with my hearing peers. There were only two of us boys in the class. The rest were girls who were younger than us. Craig showed me hearing ways of communicating and behaving. Eventually, I settled well into the school, says Andrew.
Andrew recalls his experience of going to Craig's birthday party for the first time.
I remember going to Craig's house to celebrate his 11th birthday. I met all of Craig's friends for the first time. I was very nervous and shied away from the group because I realised that they were all hearing. I did not know how to interact with them.
Craig's mum tried her best to encourage me to mix with the group and even asked me to go for a swim by the beach with them. His mum realised that I was Deaf like Craig but I lacked the oral skills needed to communicate effectively with hearing people, says Andrew.
Yeah, at my birthday party, I was signing and talking the whole time. I was trying to bridge the gap between Andrew and my hearing friends.
Bridging the differences
When Andrew and Craig moved on to high school, their friendship continued.
Craig picked up sign language from interacting with Andrew and his family, which opened his eyes to Deaf culture. His knowledge of Auslan improved. Meanwhile Andrew was also learning how to effectively lip-read and communicate with hearing people by watching Craig and his family and talking to them.
Throughout their high school years, they communicated effectively and developed a good understanding of one other. They would later became housemates during their university years.
Unbreakable bonds of friendship
Andrew says a quote by C.S Lewis aptly describes his friendship with Craig.
Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, What! You too? I thought I was the only one.
Andrew now lives in Melbourne, Craig is still on the Gold Coast. When Craig visits Andrew and meets Andrew's Deaf friends who use Auslan, Craig says his understanding is scattered because he is so used to thinking in English grammar and structure and Auslan is very visual. He often looks to Andrew to interpret or clarify what other Deaf people are signing to him. Craig jokingly comments Andrew helps him in those situations by becoming his
interpreter. Andrew light-heartedly replies back,
Not his interpreter, but his best friend. At this, Craig chuckles.
The men have encouraged each other's personal growth as individuals and prove the bonds of true friendship are indeed unbreakable even when people live some distance from one another.