Mother learns sign language to communicate with deaf son


Elena Perez

Joanna Garcia, 26, Sign Language Interpreter communicates with her son with sign language Jayden Alatorre, 5, Pre-k. Photo credit: Elena Perez

A large room with white walls. A twin bed with blue sheets. A small TV mounted to the wall.

Joanna Alatorre, 28, entered that maternity room at Good Samaritan Hospital in Downtown Los Angeles and gave birth to a baby boy named Jayden. He’s fair skinned with blue eyes and brown hair but it looks red in the sun. In contrast, Joanna is 5’3′, with red curly hair, freckles, and an hourglass figure.

Entering the delivery room nervous and excited, Joanna was ready to begin her journey into motherhood.

But no one prepared her for what was to come.

While in labor, Joanna was told Jayden had the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck which caused him to stop breathing.

Her obstetrician debated back and forth whether she should undergo an emergency cesarean section. After a few minutes the doctor decided to go through with the cesarean section. Jayden also experienced meconium aspiration, which is when a fetus swallows the feces and the amniotic fluid, causing an infection.

Right after Joanna gave birth to Jayden, he was transported to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). In the NICU he was given antibiotics for the meconium aspiration and oxygen to stabilize his breathing.

Before becoming pregnant, Joanna enrolled at El Camino right after graduating from George Washington Preparatory High School in 2009. She majored in cosmetology which she completed in 2012 and received her certificate of achievement. She returned to EC to do her general education classes so she could major in business.

But, at just five months pregnant, Joanna had morning sickness all day, every day.

“Instead of gaining weight, I lost 30 pounds,” Joanna says.

Joanna Garcia, 26, Sign Language Interpreter communicates with her son with sign language Jayden Alatorre, 5, Pre-k. Photo credit: Elena Perez

Because she lost so much weight, Joanna’s pregnancy was classified as a high risk pregnancy. She had to quit her job at Big 5 Sporting Goods and drop out of college.

A few days after giving birth, Joanna was discharged from the hospital but, she had to leave without Jayden. She was told her baby needed to stay in observation for about two weeks.

Over the next two weeks, Joanna and her husband Edmundo returned to the hospital on a daily basis to visit Jayden in the NICU.

Entering the completion of his two weeks, Joanna and Edmundo returned to the hospital to pick up their son. They were told Jayden would have to undergo a few more tests before being discharged.

An hour passed and the doctor returned to tell Joanna and Edmundo that Jayden had failed his final hearing exam.

“I was sad and in shock,”Joanna says.

Both Joanna and her husband were shocked by the news.

“I couldn’t believe what was going on,” Edmundo says.

Joanna Garcia, 26, Sign Language Interpreter communicates with her son with sign language Jayden Alatorre, 5, Pre-k. Photo credit: Elena Perez

Jayden is not the only baby who was born with hearing loss. Approximately two to three out of 1,000 new born babies are born with detectable hearing loss in one or both ears, according to the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD).

Although Jayden was discharged from the hospital that day, Joanna was referred to the USC Keck School of Medicine. She was informed they would further assist her the best way possible there.

Joanna took Jayden to the USC Keck School of Medicine for more exams to see why he had failed his hearing exam. After undergoing more exams, doctors confirmed that Jayden’s right ear had severe to profound hearing loss. His left ear was moderate to severe. He depends on his left ear the most and with the hearing aids he was given at 1-month-old they help even more.

Jayden plays on the teeter-totters at Jesse Owens Park. He goes twice a week with his mother. Photo credit: Elena Perez

Soon enough, Jayden’s first birthday came. He began attending physical therapy where his therapist started to show him ways to communicate. He learned how to sign when he wanted more milk and food.

Joanna’s father Jesus has always stood behind her and supported her decisions. Five years later, he still has his own personal opinion on the causes of Jayden’s hearing loss. “I think her difficult labor and the fact that the doctor wouldn’t hurry up and make a decision about the C-section is the cause of Jayden’s hearing loss,” Jesus says.

Jayden is now 5-years-old and attends President Elementary School in Harbor City. He is enrolled in a class where all the children are learning sign language.

“I love that he is learning to sign,” Joanna says.

Knowing she couldn’t change the things that were going on with her son, Joanna decided to change her way of communication.

She researched the El Camino College’s website and came across the American Sign Language major. In the fall of 2018, 536 students were enrolled at EC as ASL majors, according to the California Community College Chancellor’s Office Data mart.

Joanna mentioned her interest in learning sign language to her husband.

“I think it’s a great idea for her to learn sign language, after all she’s the one who interacts with Jayden the most throughout the day,” Edmundo says.

Edmundo, 31, works at a towing company that transports cars to different cities. Because his job is so hectic, he might not see Jayden for two or three days at a time.

So Joanna enrolled again at EC in the spring of 2018 and is majoring in American Sign Language.

Joanna has completed three courses so far and is enrolled in Sign Language III section 113.

Edmundo understands the basic sign language signs but Joanna and Jayden have created a special bond. He understands her and she understands him in a way no other person can.

“Thanks to the signs he has learned, Jayden doesn’t throw temper tantrums anymore,” Joanna says.

In her spare time, Joanna takes Jayden to Jesse Owens park and lets him run around the playground, mingling with other kids. He slides down the slides, plays on the teeter-totters and rides the swings. But when Joanna is ready to leave, she calls his name and signs to him that its time to go home.

“My relationship with my son has changed so much,” Joanna says. “We can both communicate now.”

Joanna is hopeful one day her son will learn how to talk.

“I know my baby will talk someday but for now he has chosen to sign as communication and I’m respecting that,” Joanna says.

Jayden shows Joanna the signs he learned for the day and Joanna does the same.

Joanna has nine courses left for her AA degree in American Sign Language Interpretation. She wants to work with deaf children once she graduates with a degree in American Sign Language. She also plans to volunteer to help parents with deaf children of their own.

Joanna says El Camino was the best decision of her life.

“Because of Jayden I was able to settle down and decided my career,” Joanna says. “I’m learning a whole new language that is amazing because it’s all vision and it’s really useful for when being in public.”

Jayden is being tested every three to six months on both hears to see if he’ll need the hearing aids permanently. Joanna has confidence he won’t need the hearing aids all is life.

Joanna looks back on the past five years and reflects on how her life changed.

“I thank god that my son is healthy and his hearing loss isn’t anything bad, its just a minor set back for us that makes him work a little harder than any other child,” Joanna says.