Sunday, April 27, 2008

Deaf Identity for Deaf Children with CIs

On a recent visit to an oral deaf classroom in a hearing school, I was struck by the following things I observed in this school:

-no deaf adults (no deaf teachers, deaf teaching assistants, no deaf administrators, no deaf service workers, etc)
-no mention of ASL/deaf culture
-no posters specifically about deaf people (history, sign language, advocacy)
-many teachers/support service staff knew ASL but did not use it in front of students
-no plans to introduce ASL to deaf children
-deaf students in the minority, majority is hearing students
-plenty of audiological/speech support

Imagine if it was a classroom with black students in an all-white school. Now imagine the reaction of the black community to that classroom. This helps us understand the reactions of the deaf community when they find out deaf children are in a similar situation.

Many deaf adults who grew up oral without any knowledge of ASL and deaf culture often say that they wish that they had been exposed to ASL and had deaf role models while growing up.

It all boils down to this: Deaf children need deaf role models. ASL and deaf culture are deaf children's birthright. Having a strong deaf identity is essential to becoming a confident deaf adult.

I am a culturally deaf parent of a deaf child with a CI. I want my child to be exposed to both spoken and signed languages, and I am having a tough time finding an appropriate setting that celebrates being deaf yet provides ample access to spoken English. In deaf schools, spoken English is basically nonexistent outside the speech therapist's office, not to mention the prejudice my child would be facing in deaf schools. In oral deaf classrooms, my child would feel as if being hearing is something to strive towards, instead of being proud to be part of the deaf community with its own language and culture.


Shel90 said...

Hi there...I agree with you. I grew up oral without any exposure to Deaf adult role models or the Deaf community. I grew up being scared of my future cuz all of my peers were hearing and knew what kinds of jobs they wanted to get but I didnt because I didnt know what careers I, as a deaf person, could do. I was also told by some insensitive people that deaf people lived with their parents for the rest of their lives and that seriously left a negative impact on me about my deafness. After that, I engaged in self-destructive behaviors because I hated myself so much.

When I learned ASL and discovered the Deaf community, it was like coming home. I never felt such at peace with myself and my deafness before. Every child deserves to feel that way instead of striving to be "hearing" like their hearing peers. That was what I wasted my time doing...trying to be "hearing"

However, about the deaf schools not providing enough spoken much spoken language do u want in the academic setting? What about modeling it at home?

Anonymous said...

Where is the school situated? From your description of the school, I find it strictly
monolingual. Most hearing Americans are very monolingual and would be unwilling to study a foreign language in college --
opposite to Europeans who are immersed in more than two or three
foreign languages.


Mark Drolsbaugh said...

Well said, thank you for pointing this out.

Also, there's another factor that has long-term repercussions. You said it perfectly when mentioning that deaf kids in such an environment strive to be hearing.

It's been documented that such "striving" is a form of stress that may eventually lead to physical symptoms such as high blood pressure, muscle tension (or pain), stomach problems, irritibility, and so on (I often refer to the research of Dr. Samuel Trychin when presenting this material).

It's a lot of work trying to be the person other people want you to be. Thanks again for bringing up this very important point!

Best regards,

Anne Marie said...

I recall that year when I co-taught a preparatory English course with a hearing professor for Deaf and Hoh students at Gallaudet University, we developed a bilingual curriculum that included a number of Deaf and Hoh authors, scholars, and professionals to model their literacy development and bilingualism. I found letters and writing by American School for the Deaf's first Deaf students in 1820's and many more in next decades. We discussed about certain Deaf individuals how they accomplished in becoming fluent in both languages.

We also discussed about comparative linguistics in both languages and intriguing metalanguage aspects like, how do each of us process English in print when reading, do we translate to ASL or directly conceptualize? It was the most fascinating and inspiring experience for us all. I recall so well that eight of ten students passed for Freshman English, which is unusual during that time (1993 - 1994). Usually about 4 or 5 would pass. Several years later I met some of these students who immediately recognized me and told me how they really enjoyed the class, something they feel they were finally emancipated to find themselves and become self advocate and motivated learner.

Definitely yes it is valuable and most sorely needed in numberless mainstreaming programs across the country.

Shel90 said...


When I was around 25 years old, just before learning ASL, I signed up for a massage. The therapist made a comment that was interesting...she said that my shoulder muscles were extremely tight and try to relax. However, I couldnt relax them and she was puzzled to why I was unable to get the muscles relaxed.

Reading your comment about muscle tension makes me wonder about that day. Wonder if I grew up always being stressed out from being in a restrictive environment to the point where I didnt know how to live without stress?

Platonic's Eye said...

Did you know that CI is not well received from Deaf Community! Being identified with Deaf Community means ASL and culture since there is a big problem between Being Deaf and Non-being Deaf. Being Deaf means natural process without any device technologically and Non-being Deaf means man-made process just like humanoid, without having any soul! In fact cochlear implant is not invented by any Deaf but hearing through medicine not going to change the way our Deaf Community do!

Anonymous said...


You mention that you are a culturally Deaf parent.

You are your child's best role model when it comes to using ASL (use plenty of it at home) and to understanding Deaf culture. Your child is one of the fortunate ones, having exposure to both ASL/Deaf culture and hearing worlds.

PLEASE NOTE, many oral deaf children are not so fortunate, after spending a whole day at oral school they return home to hearing parents and family that don't provide access to sign language or to the Deaf world. Like Drolz said, it is stressful trying to be something others want a person to be, when he can't be himself.

Until d/Deaf education systems change to recognize Deaf achievements and ASL as a real language, the oral school that your child attends will probably not change its policy. I recognize that many families base their child's education on the availability of resources, family's finances and time, location, etc. so it's a complex thing.

However, you can raise the objections you have regarding your child's education environment, so that it's at least on record. In case other complaints come in, this can create a snowball effect in getting the school to reconsider its policies. Hope this helps...


Mark Drolsbaugh said...


I can definitely relate about the muscle tension!

To this very day my shoulder muscles are like a rock. I definitely attribute it to being hypervigilant during the mainstream years.

I thought it was just me... until I saw Dr. Trychin (who's hard of hearing himself) talking about this at one of his presentations. A couple of friends of mine with the same background have shared similar experiences.

All of us ought to team up and write a tell-all book titled "Wired in the Mainstream." :)

Best regards,

Anne Marie said...

Mark, I'll like to have the title of Dr. Trychin's article about stress? Thanks

Anne Marie said...

Found a link to his several books, they look interesting to me.

Trychin's books

Anonymous said...

Try a deaf school. These days, many students at schools for the deaf have CIs. I doubt your child would face discrimination there.

Native ASL/CI parent and child said...

To anonymous,

"Try a Deaf school"

No, not for my child. Although I support bilingual Deaf schools, they are not appropriate placements for my culturally Deaf child who has CIs.

Why give him a CI if he is going to be educated in a fully signing environment without ongoing auditory/verbal exposure? If CI fails him (in terms of not progressing in hearing and speaking), then Deaf school is then a better placement.

That is my own opinion for my own child.

Dianrez said...

This blog and its respondents should be quoted because of its references to lack of role models, also stress and striving in a hearing world by the deaf/CI child.

A Martha's Vineyard-like school where hearing status is less important than ability to communicate would be ideal for the deaf/CI offers the best combination of hearing and deaf communities together.

There shouldn't have to be a choice between a mainstream school and a Deaf school at all.

OCDAC said...

Native ASL/CI parent and child,

Just pray that "the signing environment" keeps getting public support.


Anonymous said...

"Try a Deaf school"

"No, not for my child. Although I support bilingual Deaf schools, they are not appropriate placements for my culturally Deaf child who has CIs."

It is THE attitude the Deaf community is unhappy with. No Deaf adults would want to work in that environment. Why would you expect Deaf adults to work there. Deaf adults prefer to be role models to their own people -- Deaf schools!


Anonymous said...

My deaf son has the implant, he loves it. AND he goes to a school for the deaf in our state. AND he gets auditory services. He gets auditory services twice a week.

There are a few successful CI users in this school.

My son loves being part of the deaf community and he loves his implant. Why not have the best of both???

Deaf mom

Shel90 said...

If the Deaf schools with the BiBi programs are so ASL-only then why were many of the students at where I work with CIs were able to develop spoken language with ease. They can easily switch from ASL to spoken English without a problem.

I dont know why that's the case but one thing I know for sure is that by being in a BiBi program didnt impede those children's spoken language development.

As for getting together to write a book about life in the mainstreamed society, I am all for it! :)


AL said...

As for deaf schools not welcoming deaf children with CI's, see quote below by James Tucker, Supt of the Maryland School for the Deaf:

"One modern innovation that people may see as the answer for their deaf child is cochlear implants. The implants help students to hear, but there is a significant risk, Tucker said. Although the procedure has improved and surgeons are more aware of possible nerve damage, it is still risky, Tucker said.

Some parents believe that with the implant a child can simply go into mainstream school. Tucker said that is misleading, and that a child with the implant still needs to learn sign language and be in an educational atmosphere that will meet the student's needs."

This doesn't exactly make parents of deaf children with CIs feel welcome to this school.

starrynight said...

We have to consider pros and cons of both existing mainstreamed programs and deaf schools. Why can't deaf children with CIs participate in both? They could attend the mainstreamed program part time for spoken lang. with oral/auditory or hearing peers and attend deaf school part time for ASL/Deaf culture with deaf peers. That would be an ideal solution today although it'd be challenging switching them between different schools. I had tried that approach but the deaf school program didn't work out for my child and it was not exactly related to spoken lang. but the way it was set up. So she has been fully mainstreamed with hearing peers and it s been working out so far.

We can't seem to have everything we want for our CI child at school but it s important for her to develop spoken language as much as possible in her early years and she is also a native ASL user at home. My child is similar to other bilingual children in other minority groups such as Spanish and English speaking Hispanics. Hispanic children would speak Spanish with their family at home while speaking English at school.

Sometimes I wish my child would attend a deaf school with wonderful benefits such as ASL, Deaf culture, Deaf role models, etc. except for lack of spoken lang. but she could always choose to do that in the future if she wishes. Some of deaf schools are in process of integrating spoken lang. for CI/HOH students but it seems like a long way to go. By the time my child approaches college age in the future, deaf schools would probably have integrated a good amount of spoken language because the number of deaf children receiving CI has been increasing rapidly. Today there seems to be many more options for deaf children with CIs than those without CIs and that makes it more challenging for us to decide!

Indeed, Tucker’s comments don’t seem too welcoming for deaf children with CIs at his deaf school.

Abbie said...

Your description of the school mimics my history. I was mainstreamed in a hearing school. I had no interaction with another deaf child until I was in high school. I was the only "deaf kid" I knew of. From kindergarten, I was transferred to a deaf school. I was then transfered back to a mainstreamed school within six months with a little note to stress oral and not sign, against my parent’s wishes. My hearing mom felt like no matter what she would say to the school to make sure I was taught both languages, no one would listen to her.

I am one of those oral deaf adults that now I wish I was exposed more to the deaf culture. While I don't regret the path that was chosen for me but when I completely lost my hearing and discovered my identity. I couldn't believe the power of an entire community of people that understood my little quirks had on me. It reinforced my belief that a child should be exposed to both cultures to accept who they are, instead of feeling like an outsider in one.

Welch's ASL Juice! said...

Wow! It is very difficult to make a decision which school a Deaf child should go to. I am current studying as Deaf Education teacher. This summer would be my third class of bilingual and bicultural. I learned a lot and realized that all school should establish bilingual and bicultural program.

My wife was hearing until two years old. She did not learn sign language until she was 11 years old. She attended school from K to 8 grade without interpreter. She was oral. In high school, she finally had interpreter. She was doing great in all schools. She graduated BA and MA at Gallaudet University. She said she wish she could have interpreter all her life in school. That was in 1970s to 1980s. Today is much better than past time.

Make sure that school supports sign language such as bilingual and have some Deaf students and teacher.

Thanks for posting!

Li-Li's Mom said...

Wow, AL - we're in a similar situation, in reverse! While we can talk Li-Li's ears off at home, we can't provide sufficient exposure in our household to Deaf culture or the level of ASL immersion required for fluency (because my family is brand new to the deaf community and still at toddler-level fluency (sadly, I think we're learning more slowly than the 2 YO!). But we've found a wonderful solution!

We have enrolled our little one in an amazing, but apparently unique program that really could and should be replicated: we ADORE it, and more importantly, Li-Li loves it! The Learning Center for the Deaf is a private (bi-bi) school for the deaf in Framingham, MA that has a daily child care program for 0-3 YOs, usually children of staff (a mix of hearing, deaf, HOH, CODA, HOH with hearing aids, deaf with CIs). They have opened it up to several deaf toddlers, like mine, who are participating in the school's twice weekly parent infant program, an ASL playgroup and learning environment run by all-deaf educators.

The school provides high quality aural rehabilitation and speech therapy on site for the 6 or so toddlers with CIs who attend (we live an hour away, and they have affiliated with early intervention programs around the state, so these great programs are covered. They also provide free ASL classes family sign teachers that come to our homes on weekends (!), ASL social events, and even deaf babysitters. Several high school students interact regularly with the kids every day. So there's no lack of great deaf role models.

TLC has a gorgeous countryside campus with top-notch audiologists and medical staff on site. The child care teachers are all parents of ASL-deaf children and teenagers, all fluent in ASL, all top-notch educators, and all delighted to alternate between ASL and speech. Our TLC SLP even comes with us to our mappings, and coordinates with our hospital's CI team and audiologists (who are very ASL- and bilingual-friendly) and our state-provided early intervention speech therapist (fluent in ASL) to deliver a seamless program that integrates both ASL and spoken English.

The school is known for being on the vanguard of schools that moved away from the oral approach, and there are very strong pro-Deaf voices there among the heavily Gallaudet, NTID, and Ivy-League-trained staff and yet we've never felt anything but acceptance and warmth and delight in participating in bringing up a strong, bright, young Deaf child. And more, the school has been so very open to developing a curriculum that addresses those needs specific to our ASL/CI kids: they are tailoring the mix of ASL / spoken English programs and the number of spoken language models (usually CODAs) to each new class that comes up through Pre-K into primary school.

So Li-Li gets a strong Deaf identity and brilliant Deaf role models among her teachers and staff, upper class students, and peers, without sacrificing specialized services for needs specific to her cochlear implants!

This seems pretty much like a perfect educational environment for her right now, I just hope there will still be a sufficient cohort of CI kids in 2 years when we're entering Kindergarten and they are developing a curriculum for her class.

K.L. said...

Li-Li's Mom,
Now THAT sounds like a program worth emulating. There are programs like that springing up all over, but what we need is for them to umbrella together and incorporate into a named program that can then expand into other locations. This way kids across the country will have access to the same level of support. Also, the bigger programs get more studies done that can verify the effectiveness of the methodology.

JR said...

Too bad you're not in NYC. Our school isn't perfect, but a dual language school for both ASL and English with both Deaf and hearing population sounds like the perfect place for your kid.

AL said...

jr, can you tell me more about your school and how it works for deaf children with CIs? I am interested in learning more about what schools in other places have to offer deaf children with CIs, something like "best practices" of educating deaf children with CIs in a culturally and linguistically affirmative way.