My older brother is partially deaf. I always grew up with the language "hard of hearing" to describe my brother. I'm actually unsure if he identifies as deaf or Deaf; the difference being that capital Deaf implies a culture and identity with other Deaf people. When we were young, my mom signed us up for a sign language class with another family who had a daughter with Downs Syndrome. She also bought sign language books and movies for us to learn and watch together. However, intentions don't always play out when life can be so hectic and busy, especially navigating a second culture and language as it is. We mostly learned the bare bones of sign language in order to communicate with my brother, and I didn't realize it then, but now I see that most of them were commands. Honestly, there were times when I felt like we were treating him as a dog because all we knew to sign were signs like "Sit!" "Stop!" "No!"
When it was just the two of us, my brother and I, we came up with our own way of communicating that mostly consisted of games that only we knew how to play. These games were variations of elaborate peek-a-boo or who could make the funniest and scariest face.
It wasn't until my last year in college that I was able to enroll in an American Sign Language (ASL) course at another university. It opened my eyes to the possibility of what my relationship with my brother could be. Nathan learned sign language when he was at Perkins School for the Blind, in their deaf program. For my class, I was supposed to engage in the Deaf community on at least two occasions, and I decided to visit Nathan's school where I shadowed his former teacher. I was able to ask his teacher about his signing ability and learned that he was very fluent. This completely baffled me because he rarely signed at home and often didn't respond to our signs. However, as I became more conversational in ASL and more knowledgeable of Deaf culture, I began to understand how to communicate with my brother. The first time I saw him, since taking the ASL class, I signed "Nice to see you" and he was floored. He laughed, and clapped his hands and shied away from me.
Since taking the ASL class, I have integrated more sign vocabulary about his likes/dislikes, time, transportation, and most important "I missed you." However, I still strive to be better and learn more. For a while, I really felt ashamed for not having learned ASL sooner, but I realize that this was not a capacity my family had. Honestly, my parents have a hard enough time understanding American culture and English to learn a third language and culture. They want the best for Nathan and ultimately, want him to be happy above all. Part of it is also that my parents don't necessarily express their love to my younger brother and I verbally either. They show their love by feeding us and providing for us.