Tuesday, April 1, 2008


As many of you know, while I support bilingualism, I myself do not know ASL at all. My daughter, who is almost 10 now, lost her hearing at 7 months of age, and was implanted just after her first birthday. We looked at all the early intervention programs, methodologies and school age programs, and went with Total Communication with Signing Exact English (TC-SEE).  Click here to go to the school's website.  We started signing as soon as her hearing loss was diagnosed, even before she was implanted. And she picked up signing quickly. She also picked up spoken English after her implantation, and became primarily oral by the time her second birthday came around. We continued with TC and she entered a private TC school at age three. By age four, her receptive and expressive verbal language was above age level average for hearing kids. And her signing was just as good. Eventually she was mainstreamed, and the signing was dropped, because she simply didn’t need it. Her implant really does work that well for her. However, she is good at signing and we don’t want her to loose that. So she will be learning ASL starting this summer. All that having been said, the question remains, why didn’t we just start out with bilingual ASL and English?

There are primarily two reasons we went with a TC program using SEE instead of ASL. The biggest reason is that there were absolutely no ASL programs that included speech. Sure, if you wanted some speech therapy included, they would bring in a speech-language pathologist (SLP) once a week for a one hour session. But the TC program with SEE had all teachers and kids say and sign everything. All the time. It was a huge difference. And it had more than 20 years of test scores of the students showing that academically, it had high standards and results. The other reason was parental support. The TC program had tons of parental support for both the signing and the verbal aspects of the program. The ASL programs had plenty of ASL support, but absolutely none for the verbal aspects. That is one thing the TC program has in common with AVT. Parental support.

There is a general question floating around the blogosphere. “Why don’t the parents just add ASL to their Auditory Verbal Therapy (AVT) lessons, and make their children bilingual?” It would seem to be a simple and economical solution. It isn’t. To understand the problem, you need to understand AVT. Auditory Verbal Therapy. It is exactly what it sounds like. Hearing and speaking. No signing. It is not only how they teach AVT, it is a basic philosophy. They believe that to maximize the auditory pathway growth in the brain, they spend a great deal of time teaching the child to listen and speak. To add sign, means the child might get the information visually rather than aurally. That would not strengthen the auditory portion of the brain. There are plusses and minuses to this method. A big plus is that for early implanted children, it is exceptionally effective. The minus is that it doesn’t work for all children, and it really has problems with older implanted kids. And it leaves those children without nearly enough language. And those children have no ability to communicate with ASL folks in the Deaf Community.

So why do parents use this method? Parental support is a big reason. Proven results is another. So how do we promote bilingual ASL and spoken English for those families who have chosen cochlear implants? It isn’t enough to simply say “Add ASL to whatever methodology you are currently using”. Most methodologies either already incorporate a different form of sign, or are philosophically against sign altogether. And it is horribly unfair to ask parents to choose a methodology and then have them go against what they have chosen to crib in ASL on top of it. Since most parents are hearing, and generally new to Deaf Culture and such, they are understandably overwhelmed. They need to find a single methodology that supports them, and shows proven results. They need to visit the program, see the kids and talk to the other parents. What they need is an ASL English bilingual program that does everything in one program. One that provides ASL classes, speech and verbal language support and an understanding and acceptance of cochlear implants.

There are lots of ASL programs around the country. How many of them have successful verbal language incorporated into the program? If there are any, those programs need to be emulated by other ASL programs around the country. If there aren’t any, then a model needs to be created that can then be incorporated by other ASL programs. A national support system needs to be put into place so each of these programs can support each other, and so that continuing education can be implemented.

If we want parents to teach their children ASL and English, then we need to give them the programs to do just that. Do you know of a successful program that does this? We’d like to hear about it.



diber said...

I know there are ASL/spokenEnglish bilingual programs being worked on throughout the country. My son is one of them at the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf. In his classroom there's a hearing teacher and a Deaf teacher (and respective teacher aides). There are students ranging from Deaf of Deaf wearing no amplification to students who are hard of hearing and speak well to students who have CIs.

From what I understand, there is a lot of effort and training put into the bilingual model, since it is relatively new. A couple of teachers/researchers from the Kendall School at Gallaudet have come up to give training.

Finding one of these programs isn't going to be easy, because they aren't widespread (yet?). And because the bilingual model is still relatively new. But it IS there.

I like the idea that my son is getting good auditory support for his CI but in an environment that also reinforces ASL and affirms his deaf identity.

anna s said...



That is why we placed our child in a hearing school where there's a TC program. Well, our kid is mainstreamed all day, but has opportunities to interact with kids from the TC program on the same campus.

Our child did not progress satisfactorily at the residential school for the Deaf since the auditory/verbal component weren't stressed enough. That school utilizes the bilingual philosophy by Nover. A great school, but is not an appropriate placement for our CI child.

We talked to the superintendent and the director of instruction about seeing if the school is willing to move away from its status quo. Nope. Then we had to change schools for our child.

Our child prefers to listen/lipread and talk for XXself, but knows ASL well enough to interact with ze signing peers. That's nice as ASL is still a big part of who ze is.

(our child is a native ASL user).

Karen Mayes said...

I see... I have not thought that way. Like some people, I thought, why not add ASL to AVT. Now you explained the complexities of the language development and I understand that TC would be a more ideal visual aid. Hmmm... So it means there have to be a place and a time for ASL, to help develop the bridge without confusing the brain during the language development.

I am hoping that someone would blog about oracy... to see how it is implemented in the Bi-Bi approach for aural deaf children.

K.L. said...

I know kids can learn both ASL and verbal English together. But I strongly believe that it needs to happen in a single integrated program where everyone is on the same page as to results and ideals. The same professionals need to be able to assess the entire program, and make adjustments as necessary. Also this is the best way to give the parents total support.

Tiffani said...

Great explanation. My daughter has bilateral CIs and knows a little sign language, but she loves learning it. Mind if I link to you? Thanks!


JR said...

I work at a school which has speech therapy and teaches both ASL and English to both Deaf and hearing children. We're aiming to become THE best place for Deaf children of all kinds - from kids with implants to kids who sign - to become fluent in both languages! See if the dream comes true. But you're right, it is still relatively new. I don't think bilingual education can work without English-speaking and -writing children being part of the equation - even Spanish speaking schools have groups from both backgrounds.

Lucky Day said...

I hope it can happen. We are the only signing family in our town with a pre-k deaf child. The other families are oral, so there is an oral pre-k. We're trying to find a good TC program and are planning to move when we find it.