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East Deer 9-year-old plans to help siblings communicate with deaf parents

| Sunday, Feb. 27, 2005

EAST DEER --When you walk into Dakota Shaffer's house you might think his family still hasn't taken down their Christmas decorations, as a string of lights adorns the stairwell.

But you soon learn that the lights stay up all year long. They serve as a signal when someone rings the doorbell or calls on the telephone.

The 9-year-old's father, Ron Shaffer, and stepmother, Grace Shaffer, are both legally deaf. They have rigged the system to let them know when they have a visitor or phone call.

Ron Shaffer can hear a little with the assistance of a hearing aid, and Grace Shaffer has very limited hearing. Both have been deaf from birth, and Grace's entire family is deaf.

Dakota said he was about 3 years old when he began to realize his parents were deaf, and that's when he began to learn sign language.

"It was hard at first but I've gotten used to it," Dakota said.

He learned most of it from his parents and said his paternal grandparents have also aided his learning. Dakota knows all of the letters and spells out most of the words he signs to his parents. The 9-year-old said he's still working to learn most of the symbols.

"The symbols are a lot harder," he said.

Dakota said he began to feel comfortable signing at about the age of 6, but he said he still has a lot to learn.

"It's sometimes hard, but you get used to it and it gets easier for you," Dakota said.

Dakota said he'll try to help 21-month old Skyler and 6-month-old Kacey communicate with their parents when they get older.

Both have normal hearing.

Dakota and his mom said they don't think Skyler understands yet that his parents are deaf, but Grace said Skyler does come over and tap on her sometimes.

Ron and Grace met while attending Gallaudet University, a college for deaf students in Washington, D.C.

However, they lost touch and didn't get married until 12 years later. They've lived in East Deer for the past three years.

Grace Shaffer said growing up in a household where everybody was deaf made adjusting very easy.

"Sign language was my first language," Grace Shaffer said.

It wasn't as easy for Ron Shaffer who attended public school in West Virginia until he was 15. He said he learned to read lips, and determine what people were saying by there body language.

It wasn't until his teenage years that he learned sign language.

Dakota said he sometimes forgets that his parents are deaf, or tries to get his dad's attention when he isn't wearing his hearing aid.

"I'll yell 'Dad, Dad, Dad,' and stomp on the floor, then I realize he isn't wearing his hearing aid," Dakota said.

Ron Shaffer joked that he only has to hear what he wants to. He winked and said that he can turn the hearing aid down or off to tune out his children.

Additional Information:

Dakota Shaffer

Age: 9.

Hometown: East Deer.

Family: Father, Ron, stepmother, Grace, brother, Skyler, sister, Kacey

Occupation: Student in fourth grade at East Union Intermediate Center.

Hobby: Playing fighting games outside with friends, riding bikes, playing with his brother and sister, and playing Playstation.

Size 6 1/2

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