Putting deafness into perspective

"Welcome to Holland" by Emily Perl Kingsley


        Ogden, Paul W. (1996). The silent garden: Raising your deaf child. Washington D.C.: Gallaudet University Press.


There are many stories told by parents of children who are deaf/hard-of-hearing, but I think that this is one of the best.

"Welcome to Holland"

by Emily Perl Kingsley

"I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with disability-to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this…

When you’re going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip-to Italy. You buy a bunch of guidebooks and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. Michelangelo’s David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some of the handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, ‘Welcome to Holland.’

‘Holland?!?’ you say. ‘What do you mean, Holland? I was signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.’

But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine, and disease. It’s just a different place.

So you must go out and but new guidebooks. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It’s just a different place. It’s slower paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around, and you begin to notice that Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy, and they’re bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say, 'Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.'

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever go away, because the loss of that dream is a very significant loss.

But if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to go to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely, things about Holland" (Ogden, 1996, p 12-13).


The emotions described in this story mirror what many parents of d/hh children experience. This is a great story to print and provide to parents, when they enter the stages of adaptation or acceptance. It is at this point that they are able to look at deafness from a new perspective, as Emily Perl Kingsley was when it was written. I would caution professionals to not provide the story to parents who are in the initial, secondary, or latter emotional stages. During these stages, parents need support and gentile guidance. Parents can easily be hurt or offended by anything that may seem to: take light of the situation, compare deafness with something that they don't deem as important, or attempt to relate to what they are going through.

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