Beyond a language barrier

We arrived back in the village of Bà Điểm yesterday and spent the day with my uncle’s relatives. One of his cousin’s children has been spending all of her time with us while we are in the village. Ut Mi is 25 years old and completely deaf. She has never been to school due to having no schools that teach sign language. It’s heartbreaking to see the very limited methods she has for communication (pointing and a few hand signs her family has made with her). She also appears to have a lot of anxious and compulsive behaviors (what can you expect in a world of silence with limited to no way to communicate?). She reminds me of a modern day Hellen Keller. Her family is confused and frustrated by her behaviors as well (rinsing all of her food off in water, shaving her head as soon as the hair starts to grow, spiting obsessively when inside, refusing to sit in chairs, etc.). Ut Mi has a significant trauma history beyond the chronic poverty and limited communication. She has had several open heart surgeries as a young child. The family could not afford the surgeries and my uncle paid for them. Last year, the family began struggling for money again and in an effort to support the children, her mother began trafficking and selling drugs. She was arrested last year and Ut Mi ran out after her and attacked the police officers. They took their batons out after her until her father begged them to stop and explained she was deaf and did not know what was going on. Her mother is in prison now over an hour away and the visiting regulations are very strict, which makes it difficult for the family to visit. Ut Mi has not visited at all due to her family being concerned of her reaction in the prison which could put the whole family in danger. The rest of the family has only been able to visit her once due to working 6-7 days a week to support themselves. Ut Mi’s behaviors have worsened since her mother has been gone and no one is able to communicate with her about what happened. I have been trying to connect with her anyway I can. I had an extra laminated “how are you feeling?” chart from the orphanages and showed it to Ut Mi yesterday. I showed her each feeling face and made the expression on my own face and used body language to communicate the feelings. Ut Mi enjoyed repeating the feelings with her own expressions and body language. I’m going to leave it with her father so maybe he can use it with her for her to show him how she is feeling. I am also going to ask her family if there is anything that is difficult to communicate with her and I can make some laminated cue cards and mail them to the family. My husband also used his IPad to draw images like feeling faces back and forth with her. She laughed and even drew a picture of my husband and I. It was so awesome to find ways to connect with her instead of her just sitting and staring on the outside of social situations.

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