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An Autoethnography of a Life in Sign Language

Noel O'Connell

This book weaves intensely personal and evocative stories into a layered autoethnographic text about the author’s experience of childhood deafness, sign language and education. Interwoven with the performative narrative are powerful stories of stigma, trauma, friendships, relationships, love, isolation and displacement. Using interpretative and reflective analysis, the author explores the storied experience of self and belonging in family and school contexts, providing both personal and theoretical perspectives on language and culture. He traces the pathways he has taken in pursuit of a true sense of belonging in society, community and place.

This is an important contribution to the study of sign language, deaf education, disability and deaf health and well-being. It will be of interest to professionals and practitioners working with deaf children and parents and to students and researchers within social policy, social medicine, psychology, sociology, early childhood studies and special education.


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Chapter 1: Narratives of Loss and Trauma


Chapter 1 Narratives of Loss and Trauma Spirits of the past have haunted me Until I wrote their names. Then they took flight — Averil Stedeford (cited from the poem “The Healing Pen” in Bolton 1999, p. 15) Childhood Interrupted According to Walter Benjamin, a man in search of his past “must conduct himself like a man digging” (Benjamin 1932). As I go in search of my own buried past, I dig into the contours of my memory, the lineage of earliest childhood memories leaping back in time. In the beginning there is only darkness but later there is light. After being stirred from sleep, I open my eyes and two smiling faces peer down at me. Body heat cause me to lift my head above bed covers and gasp for air. I rub my eyes and stare at the faces of my parents. Now properly awake, I stare up at the smiling faces in the yellow darkness of the bedside lamp, my mother on my left and my father on the other side. Lifting my head, I take my hand out from under the bed covers and reach for the hard-boiled sweet that my father is holding out to me. I settle my head back on the pillow feeling peppermint juice flow inside my mouth and down my throat. I am in my grey-coloured pyjamas dotted with bear-shapes. Gazing upward I point to the shadow on the white-painted ceiling behind my parents wanting to be up there where I can...

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