Thursday, April 30, 2009

What I hear you saying

Many Deaf advocates are trying to get the message out. ASL is a wonderful language. It is beautiful, expressive and complete. Deaf people don’t need anything else. Why can’t hearing parents understand this? Why can’t hearing people in general understand this? Why do they continue to discriminate against Deaf?

Before my daughter lost her hearing, my interaction with the Deaf Community consisted of a single incident. I was a college waitress, and I was trying to take an order from a group of Deaf people. We resorted to writing, as I simply couldn’t understand their speech. I didn’t think they were stupid. I didn’t give them bad service. But it was uncomfortable, and I felt bad that I couldn’t do a better job for them They didn’t come back.

Other than that, it was simply that nobody in my circle of interaction had a hearing loss, other than aging grandparents. I knew about ASL. I had no prejudice against it. It was simply a non-issue to me. Then my daughter lost her hearing to meningitis when she was a baby. All of a sudden, I had a LOT to learn. In case you were wondering, the audiology department at Children’s Hospital did and does have a Deaf advocate on staff. We met with her. All of the staff we interact with know sign language. It is SEE, not ASL, but it is a visual language. We ended up going to the Total Communication early intervention program, along with getting her implanted just after her first birthday. I feel very strongly that the sign language she learned helped her with her verbal language acquisition. They complimented each other.

So why didn’t we simply go ASL, and leave off the implants altogether? As I said at the beginning, I did hear you. I do know what you are trying to get across. I also hear other things. Here is what else I hear:
ASL deaf kids can feel isolated from their hearing families.
ASL adults have a much higher unemployment rate.
Many places, including hospitals don’t provide interpreters when they are needed. And some of the interpreters are not qualified.
Prejudice is rampant among hearing people against Deaf people.
Residential schools have a much higher incidence of sexual abuse than day schools.
Good ASL programs are hard to find in day schools.
And of course, the good old 5th grade reading level among ASL adults. Yes, I heard all about that.

Add all of that to the natural desire of hearing parents to give their child the gift of hearing, and it was a very easy decision to give our daughter an implant. And she thrived. She continues to thrive. She still signs well, and is learning ASL. She has above age level verbal language acquisition and is also above grade level in reading and writing. The only difficulties she has with her hearing, is in noisy environments, and distance hearing. The only accommodation at school is an FM system.

I know this won’t change anyone’s mind on the issue of implants. But it is important for each of us to try to understand each other’s point of view. Here is mine. What is yours?



RLM said...

That is a hearsay on your part.

Do you have any proven statistics about many
ASL adults being unemployed as compared to
CI users and oralists?

If yes, whose statistics done by??


K.L. said...

This is the information I got as my husband and I were making our decisions. I'm not trying to quote statistics. I'm only relaying what is out there. The information hearing parents are getting.

Dianrez said...

Even if there is a kernel of truth in those hyped statistics, parents still need to meet the Deaf Community for themselves, as you have, and learn the truth about ASL-using adults and their lives.

It's like a parallel world to the Hearing community, only in language is it different.

Li-Li's Mom said...

I think what K.L. is saying is very important: these perceptions, even if they are not based on stats and facts, are what's driving the decisions they are making. So if the perceptions are wrong, if the facts are very different, we need to find a way to communicate that and eradicate misperceptions.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for recognizing ASL as a wonderful, expressive language. It is true that ASL functions as a gateway to all sequential steps of learning.

I wish more people refrain themselves from agreeing with our hearing society. Clearly, their faulty thought is an action of rejection and trying to get deaf people fixed? Just to satisfy their daily societial needs? (teeth clenching)

I'm not going to change my mind on this perception. =D


David said...

Several of your points regarding the negatives of not implanting your child (higher unemployment, isolation from families, & so on) were once true of women, Black/African-Americans, Asians and other minority groups. The root cause is a systemic defect (oppression & discrimination) within American mainstream culture.

While I am not addressing your decision about your child, I want to point out that there is "unfinished business" in the task of bringing equality of opportunity to *all* Americans. Mainstream culture still needs to be more open and less oppressive. *If* mainstream culture forces parents to choose biologic modification for their children in order for the child not to suffer from the attitudes of the mainstream, that is oppression.

I hope I have been clear that I am not judging your family decision.


Don G. said...

K.L. --

Thank you for sharing your experience. It is always good for us to learn how the experience of having a Deaf child is from the parents' point of view.

I'm glad your Children's Hospital had a Deaf person on the staff -- this is still a rarity, unfortunately, but this is definitely something that is sorely needed and would help parents understand a little better about the ramifications of their decisions and to see the possibilities of what their child can become.

You obviously seem like an involved parent, as you did your "homework" before implanting your child (and parental involvement is the #1 factor behind the success of any Deaf child in any methodology/modality). Unfortunately, too many parents are not so involved, and see the CI as an "easy way out", and are not fully informed about it from the doctors and other medical professionals that they come into contact with.

I do have one point of clarification I need to make: that 3rd - 5th grade reading statistic applies to ALL Deaf children, not just those who use ASL (and information is starting to come out now that those Deaf who have been enrolled at ASL-English Bilingual programs are achieving at grade level and passing their HS exit exams for diplomas as well).

K.L. said...

I fully agree with your comment. I see the oppression. I can't do anything about the world, but I wanted to do whatever I could to minimize the effects on my child. I see the implant as a tool to help her navigate the world.

You make a good point. Again, I only had to worry about teaching my child to read, not all deaf kids. It is way easier to have only your child as the single priority, not the entire Deaf Culture.

Anonymous said...

David and Don G.


For awareness


candy said...

K.L., these deaf people were probably passing through and their non-return to the restaurant probably had nothing to do with you. ;) I rarely go back to any restaurant if I were to be passing through. Deaf people tend to travel far and wide.

DonG, you said: "3rd - 5th grade reading statistic applies to ALL Deaf children." That's not even true. All?

We don't know if Bi-bi works the way people are saying it's intended to work to improve the reading and grammar levels. There are deaf people who are exceptional and then there are kids with implants who are not exceptional and vice versa. There's not enough concrete evidence to point to the problem as a whole. I agree with K.L. that many deaf people are not employable and that's due to several factors, one of which RLM pointed out, but, not solely because of that. I have seen too many parents like K.L. who have been informed and still go the C.I. route and many more who are open with introducing some sort of visual mode in the beginning and/or continuing with both.

We're seeing a new breed of deaf people and I am very hopeful for many of these kids. It's not to say that ASL only is not a good choice, I think we'd see more success all the way around from those that opt more than one choices such as ASL/CI/Bi-Bi.

There will be more opportunity for kids that are implanted. It's a fact.

A Deaf Pundit said...

The statistic about the 5th grade reading level for ASL Deaf adults is NOT accurate. I quote directly from the Gallaudet Research Institute's website:

For the 17-year-olds and the 18-year-olds in the deaf and hard of hearing student norming sample, the median Reading Comprehension subtest score corresponds to about a 4.0 grade level for hearing students. That means that half of the deaf and hard of hearing students at that age scored above the typical hearing student at the beginning of fourth grade, and half scored below.

Nothing is mentioned about ASL. Only about the deaf.

This may seem like a minor point, but for me it is not minor. I am tired of people getting the WRONG information.

Secondly, you have to realize that many of those who complain about not being able to be employed and such, often are oral survivors. They use ASL today, but during their childhood, it is very likely that they did not.

It is the failure to provide a solid education for the Deaf, not ASL, that's a barrier for employment and many other things.

Thirdly, while it is true that it's hard to find good day programs that use ASL, I would think that if enough parents got together and demanded it, it would happen.

But instead, all I'm seeing here is that the CI is chosen, because it's easier for the child, because it'll ultimately be easier for the parents, the educators, the employers. For society.

Don't give society a hard time. Fit in with society.

Don't be different.

That's the message I'm getting.

Don G. said...


When I said "all", I was indicating the average. Yes, there are some that exceed the average and reach 12th grade, and then there are some that barely reach 1st grade reading level. But the point I was trying to make is that being an ASL user has nothing to do with this statistic -- the statistic has EVERYTHING to do with the failure of the SYSTEM to help Deaf children achieve -- from pushing oralism on children instead of focusing on full language access; from encouraging parents to continue trying to raise their child using speech and hearing even though it's not working; from using English-based sign systems even though research shows that this does not accomplish the purpose of learning English, on and on. This is why on average, Deaf chilren are not achieving literacy, maxing out at the 3rd to 5th grade reading level.

Rox said...

The average reading level of hearing adults is 6th grade. So Deaf children aren't far off.

But I agree with you that the system is messed up.

Valhallian said...

This should be an important lesson to learn here. It appears that she has stated some what she thought were facts. I would imagine that most of this information would be derived from propaganda that she came across.

I am in no way suggestion that she made a wrong decision. Just that she made the best decision that she felt was possible based on what she knew and learned. This is why propaganda is very important.

Anonymous said...

I am a hearing parent too with years of experience since my daughter is now an adult who uses ASL as her first language and English as her second. By the way, she passed all her state tests at all the grade levels and passed her state exit exam and got her high school diploma just like what is expected of hearing students. Oh and she graduated from a Bilingual Deaf School. Fifty nine percent of her class passed the Exit exam and 100% of those 59% went on to college.
She played basketball, volleyball, participated in Youth Leadership, etc..etc.. Much like any other student in the U.S. Oh and by the way....we communicate fine with her in our hearing family and she is not left out. The Deaf community was very helpful when it came to helping us become proficient in ASL mainly because we were not afraid to reach out to them. The people who were our mentors were some of the kindest people we have ever met.

I have to respond to your comments:

1. Your statement: "Deaf people don't need anything else. Why can't hearing parents understand this? Why can't hearing people in the general understand this? Why do they continue to discriminate against Deaf?

My response: Deaf people are not saying they don't need anything else but ASL. They are saying do NOT omit ASL like what is being done with many babies who are implanted in strict AVT programs.

Why don't hearing parents understand this? Well it is because they are being told by audiologist, speech-language pathologists, CI doctors, AVT instructors that if they sign with their kids, they will not learn how to listen and speak. That is the truth and there are plenty of parents to vouch for this... new parents and parents of the past.

2. Your statement: "All of the staff we interact with know sign language. It is SEE, not ASL, but it is a visual language.

My response: ASL is a language. SEE is an invented coded system of English. It has no linguistic value as a language and should not be equated with a language anymore than Morse code is a language. Would we use Morse code to teach hearing children English?

Combining SEE and voice is a form of sim-com which has been found to do more harm than good for the majority of Deaf students including those trying to acquire speech. Separating the ASL and English through a bilingual program is working at the Clerc Center for children who have implants.

The reason you see low reading skills is two fold:

A. Students are taught in mainstream settings with teachers who use SEE or Signed English. And they are mostly hearing teachers who have no idea how to teach Deaf students in ASL which is the only linguistic visual language of the Deaf in America. They have no training in bilingual education and how to teach all subjects through ASL and English as a second language.

When mainstream fails these students, many are sent to the Deaf schools which pulls down Deaf Schools overall reading scores.

B. Students are taught in regular classrooms with an interpreter who is many times a very low level interpreter, and many times one without much certification. If an interpreter knows ASL in the mainstream, then that may be the only source of real language that many students are getting through the course of the day. Imagine looking at one person all day for all your information? How much learning is taking place? This drags down test scores.

3.Oral and ASL kids both feel isolated in mainstreamed classrooms when they have no one that can communicate fully with them.

Oral kids raised in hearing families have much to say about the isolation factors. Read the book "Alone in the Mainstream" by Gina Oliva.

4. Your comment about high unemployment rates for ASL users is a generalization. I personally know more PhD's who are ASL users than I know oral deaf adults who are PhD's.

5. Deaf children and adults regardless of amplification will need oral or sign interpreters when it comes to hospitalization. Suppose your child can't use her CI when in the hospital, what will you do? This is not an ASL issue but an oral issue too.

6. Your comment: "Residential schools have a higher rate of sexual abuse than day schools. "

My comment: If you take the number of public day schools in the nation and find out the percentage of sexual abuse that takes place in these schools compared to Deaf schools, I think you will find that day schools are much higher.

I am glad your daughter is thriving in reading and writing. How is she doing with friends? How old is she? This makes a difference. When a child gets into middle school and high school, their social capital is very important to their success. Think about your middle school/high school years. What do you remember? Sitting in class or the times you were with your friends participating in extra curricular activities.

I am glad you are including ASL. I wish more parents would do this and not simply focus on their child's hearing.

Miss Kat's Parents said...

No one here is advocating oral only. But we are advocating spoken language in addition to ASL. There are people who do not believe that deaf children should be given the opportunity to use their hearing.

Candy said...

Personally, I've always felt that because of the level of residential hearing that I have, it has enabled me to be able to have good English and Reading level. I do not attribute it to ASL, but to the level of hearing that I have. Not one other member of my deaf family have it better than me when it comes to English.

I tend to think that many deaf people use examples of the orals of "old" when throwing these statistics around. There is no question that if one were to hear, one would have better English and Reading scores. I think it takes extra effort and hard work for deaf person to master English.

Again, I'm not dismissing Bi-Bi, I am in fact keeping a close eye on that. If it really works to bring up the level of deaf kids using ASL and learning English, then, we would have two excellent choices that parents can choose from.

Candy said...

typo: residential should be residual

Dianrez said...

"There are people who do not believe that deaf children should be given the opportunity to use their hearing."

I'm a little surprised by that statement. Every school for the deaf uses oral/aural training as part of their program. The difference is in how much and to what extent it pushes aside the normal academic curriculum.

"I think it takes extra effort and hard work for deaf person to master English."

Again, was surprised by that statement. In an oral environment, or a Hearing-oriented environment, yes, the deaf child is at a disadvantage in learning English.

However, when the situation is changed to favor a visual learning mode, English comes easily. Just surround the young child with visual labels on objects, read to him in ASL and point to words in books and say them in sign to get him started on reading. Write notes to him. Get him to read captions on Sesame Street. Play games with words on cereal boxes. Once the parent realizes how important visual language is to a deaf child, the battle is half won.

A Deaf Pundit said...

Miss Kat's Parents,

I don't see anyone accusing you guys of advocating oral only. I am seeing people here praising you all for including ASL. So I don't understand why that was brought up.

Now, there are some individuals within the Deaf Community who do advocate for the removal of CIs and hearing aids, that is true.

However, I think you'll find that they are in the minority. They are a vocal minority, and it comes across as them representing the Deaf Community, whereas that isn't the case. It's called response bias.

And you'll find that the opposite view is very much in existence, and very active. In fact, it's the dominant view, and their attitudes about the CI and everything else is what angers us as a community.

Because of their attitudes and prejudices, misinformation is given out to parents like you, as evidenced here by your own post.

Zen Nihilist said...

Marc Marschark's book "Raising and Educating a Deaf Child" covers a lot of these thorny statistics pretty well in my opinion.

Problem with studies of deaf kids is that a very large number of kids are not raised using a single, well-applied approach for their whole lives. A lot of deaf kids are not even prelingually deaf.

As far as ASL vs. CI, I don't think we would be having this debate if more parents truly combined ASL with the CI. But I'm not going to fault parents too much when the systematic support for learning ASL and using it with infants is so limited. And it can't be "hey, here's a class at the community college"... if parents are going to be able to have a real chance with ASL the program needs to be direct and tailored to their family.

K.L. said...

The whole point of this blog is to encourage families who choose implants to also choose ASL.

In my area, when our daughter was little, there absolutely were no ASL-CI programs. It was either ASL or ci with SEE or ci with AVT.

I don't know how well SEE works in other areas, but at the school my daughter attended, it was excellent. The kids there got very high test scores across the board. They were required to speak and sign everything. I can't praise that program high enough. And she still has great signing skills that are transferring to ASL much easier than if she had no SEE in the first place.

Part of the reason I put up this post was to help people see what was out there as far as information. This is admittedly 10 years old. But it is our story, and valid for our experiences.

Our daughter has many friends, and hopefully next year when she starts middle school, her verbal and signing skills will both serve her well. We have laid the groundwork as well as we could. Now we will see the results.

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