Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Hearing Parents Need Support

Yesterday I was sitting in my car ready to pick up my son from school. I saw him across the street chatting with a friend. She was telling him about her martial arts class. Then they joked as they waited for the light to change so they could cross the street. A fire engine raced by blocking my view for a moment blaring an ear shattering wail. He is deaf, she is hearing. She has been studying ASL since September. He has been using ASL to freely communicate for  over 12 years. I know she is a first year student because the conversation is peppered with a lot of fingerspelling. I know she has a desire to learn ASL because of the speed and fluency of her signing. It is hard work to learn a new language but this kid is motivated. She seems so comfortable. That is not the case with many parents I meet.

As I sat there  I remembered the day I was sitting with a friend as a fire engine passed and my sweet little baby didn't flinch at the noise of a siren. I remember later his first audiologist telling me that with practice he could maybe hear a fire engine. I remember how terrified I was. I remember how lost I felt. There wasn't clear cut option to follow. It felt like the world didn't really care about our family at times.

Yesterday I just felt calm and a bit in awe at how easy it is for my son to navigate and enjoy the world. I sat there and remembered how hard it was when we first ventured out. I remember that the idea we would be working to hear a fire engine just wasn't good enough. I am also looking back and thinking how funny that is. My son can see the signals at the crosswalk. He is not going to jump in front of an emergency vehicle because he can't hear it. I also marvel at how the world comes to him. Instead of him struggling to talk to this friend she is working hard to sign to him.

Often people just assume he is just a really smart exception. Often they don't care how he got to this point. When my son was very small we decided to follow research that suggested a first native naturally aquired language would be the best course for our son. We were so excited to get going then realized folks just were not ready for us. In theory everyone was on board but they didn't have the resources to really help us because we were the minority and the system wasn't set up for families like us. We were surrounded by hearing professionals with years of experience with families different from us.

A lot of people suggest families should do what we did. What I know to be true is it is a path laden with obstacles. Everyone was so excited when they saw we were signing with Haddy. It pretty much stopped there. The system in place only supported sign language as a backup tool to use in order to support hearing. The idea that we needed full immersion to be successful was not on the radar.

So when people blame families for not using ASL as a first language they are really aiming at the wrong target in my opinion. It is so difficult to get support I am not surprised we are a rare find. We had to do a lot of the work ourselves.

First consider the parents. If you have never met a deaf person you are a deer in headlights when the professional gives you the news your child is deaf. At this point you need support.

We were lucky Haddy was our first child. Imagine if the child is third in birth order. Taking care of a newborn child is exhausting. Being the responsible parent to the  other children makes the task more difficult. How do you get the whole family to voice off at dinner when you are just learning labels? What if there is a "sign" class available but it only services the baby sign crowd? What about the parent who has never met a deaf person who signs or if they have they felt awkward? The professionals you meet first are all hearing maybe. So where is the example of a positive outcome?

 In our society most families need two incomes. That takes time away from parenting. Some parents don't have the socio-economic resources to independently research options. It takes time to try everything and sign language is perceived as something you do if everything else fails.

 Even if a parent chooses our approach they needed access to language fluent environments constantly. I noticed most hearing early intervention specialists have a hard time turning their voices of with non ASL fluent parents even when that is the objective. You learn faster with immersion. Sometimes that is not comfortable. Teaching a child to speak is in the parent's control. By learning another language you are shifting the control. That can be scary. You have to trust people who live in a different culture. You may be told about dismal outcomes for deaf children. You also have to immerse your child in visual language which can take away from other approaches.

There are other reasons I believe that influence parents. It is important to consider geography, culture, available resources, critical mass and the fact that we are a consumer driven society. It is very complicated from my perspective. I could go on forever and I probably will.


  1. You should write a book about your experiences.

  2. Thank you for writing this post. This is exactly what I stress about on my blog. It is complicated.

    I wish everywhere you go there would be appropriate resources and support parents of newly diagnosed deaf or hard of hearing babies could use.

  3. I know Deaf parents of Deaf children who have told me that hearing professionals TOLD them what they should do with their Deaf children... often tellint them they must put hearing aids on their kids and get speech pathologists to make sure they get to speak. These professionals were often not supportive of parental choice WHEN IT IS THE PARENTS WHO ARE DEAF. When Deaf parents (from 18 yrs ago) asked about ASL, they were told by professionals there were nothing for them. That was it.

    By contrast, I have been told by hearing parents of deaf children how hearing professionals OFFERED options (of course all geared for the development of English), and let the parents decide if they wanted to sign... but signs were usually with the goal of helping children get access to English. This was also from 20 yrs ago.

    Hearing parents of Deaf children and Deaf parents of Deaf children still report markedly different approaches by professionals.

    Deaf parents are still being TOLD to do this and that while Hearing parents are given "options"... which do include ASL, but ASL is usually given as a temporary measure, just with the purpose of getting them "jumpstarted" into English. In Ontario, if you see skyzavier's vlog, parents are allowed to provide two languages for their Deaf children: ASL and English, but when the child is 6 years and of age to enter school, parents are FORCED to choose. Resources for ASL is scarce, so of course many parents go the other avenue and cut ASL out.

    To make things worse, there are MANY AVT therapists who threaten to boot parents OFF their clientele list if they dare to sign with their kids. THIS IS HAPPENING EVEN TODAY.

    You're right, there is little support for ASL, while there is PLENTY for AVT, and other options that promote listening and speaking.

    Excuse my longwindedness.

  4. I posted a comment but it didn't appear here. I just want to confirm I read this blog. Thanks for posting.

  5. In addition to all those problems that you faced, we encountered another when our daughter reached school age. There are no language assessments normed on Deaf kids in ASL (or there weren't 4 years ago). How can professionals and parents examine a child's language development if no one has studied or measured how it is acquired? Our school also had no study of or formal instruction in ASL, which every other school does with the language of instruction. That also seems inappropriate. They seemed to think, "Just sign, everything else will work itself out!" They also had no formal plan or curricula for teach English to children whose first language was ASL.

    And yes, this was a bi-bi school for the Deaf with Deaf educators and administration.

  6. I thank you for the post, because it is as you stated "complicated". I beleive parents want to do right by their deaf kids, but learning a new language as adults is not an easy task! and not everyone has the talent to aquire a new language in a speedy manner with the little support out there. I want to also add that some deaf kids have multiple disabilities and Deaf schools don't accept many of them! I know for a fact that California School for the Deaf Fremont limits the number of students with disabilities, while they recruit deaf poster children all the time, and complain that their enrollement is dropping! is disheartening since students with additional disabilities need daily exposure to authentic ASL users.

    Anyhow, we will keep tweeking the system, until all our kids are well served.

  7. HAHA! e) if I wrote a book it would be as long and boring as "War and Peace"! Hey your blog is awesome! A teacher's perspective is so important and often lacking.

    Shel thanks for sharing that. I have heard so many crazy stories.

    Marla when are you going to post again?!? Thanks for stopping by.

    Miss Kat's Parents you are so on target! We had the same problems and now our state school is changing for the better. We did manage to get Haddy's ASL assessed. It was a huge challenge! He never got any real ASL instruction but the school tried to faked it.

  8. Colette

    It is so complicated! I see this happening here also. This is a good topic for another post.......

  9. CAEBER <---- I just pick up this organization from (e's blog, hopefully it is something that will be helpful to deaf education.

  10. Absolutely we need parent support at all stages of their child's education. Not just for hearing parents, but Deaf parents too.

    The Deaf community is eager to help out but there are few guidelines or avenues for them to reach out to parents. Programs in the schools and in the community, along with interpreter assistance, are long overdue where all kinds of parents can connect with one another and with Deaf adults.

    One of the barriers is the misconception that the new parent must become fluent in ASL and this brings to mind a long and arduous formal study, time lost, and transportation logistics.

    Actually, parent-baby interaction is the focus, not just language. A basic offering including baby ASL with ongoing modeling and support could be given parents to kick-start the interaction and beginnings of communication. What happens next would be powered by the excitement of the new attachments being formed.

    In the offering would also be exposure to effective Deaf role models and appreciation for Deaf people as interesting and worthwhile. This would offset the perception of the baby as a disabled child with various problems to be solved. Instead, the baby would be seen as an individual with an exciting future ahead of him.

  11. Instead of getting support, some parents whose children use ASL and cochlear implants report being attacked by few Deaf people in IRL and in cyberspace. Any attempts to stop these attacks by bystanders are condemned by certain Deaf people, calling these efforts 'audistic' and 'controlling'. I don't see any 'shout outs'. These Deaf people enable these attacks to continue by condoning these actions and refusing to let the attackers be stopped by the other Deaf people. Where are the support for these parents?

  12. Anony 1, I know this resource it is AWESOME! *oops sorry outside voice* thanks for sharing it here.

    Dianrez thanks for the comment. You have a talent for looking at my jumbled thoughts and extracting critical points and expanding thoughtfully on them. You have my respect.

    Anony 2, not sure what you are talking about? What is IRL? This is new to me .... how are parents being attacked? I would imagine folks would support any parent that uses ASL with their deaf child. What do you mean by " shout outs"? Sorry, I feel like I entered a conversation at the end.

  13. IRL: in real life

    No, some Deaf people don't support parents who got their deaf children implanted, though they use ASL. Some of the hearing parents decide to withdraw their blogs due to these attacks. Some move their blogs elsewhere where it's safe. A blog operated by deaf parents is anonymous to protect the identities of deaf children wearing cochlear implants and ASL. You can ask Miss Kat's Mom. She is a survivor of these attacks few times.

    Shout Out: To stop bullying or attacks.

  14. I think you have a hot issue. I get that. I am just not sure I am the person to help you? Remember I belong to a nation of three..... well now four!

    I know Miss Kat's Mom but we understand each other now. I also hope we support each other?

    Your issue is, I am sure , really important but how does it help to involve my blog?

    On my blog we don't refer to parents as survivors. We are just parents... happy and proud.

    I am sorry I can't help you more.

    Warm wishes,
    Mom of Deaf kid

  15. Grin. Not really my issue, but it's these parents' concern. They need support, too, to help them keep using ASL with their deaf kids. They face great pressures from the cochlear implant field to drop ASL. Instead of getting support, they get attacked by some Deaf people. It leaves them falling between the cracks.

    I picked survivors because the parents were victims of vicious attacks. However, they weren't defeated, so survivors seem better than victims. Maybe that's too strong a word, but I've seen the attacks. Whoa. (to be fair to the Deaf community, the deaf parents are also horribly attacked for not implanting their deaf kids. They are survivors, too). They do get a lot of support from the Deaf Community. Since Deaf people were discussing about giving support to the hearing parents of ASL children, it seems appropriate to include parents of ASL and CI children, too. This comment is actually for the Deaf commenters.

  16. ASL benefits all deaf children, it provides them with language effortlessly. It prevents them from becoming delayed in cognitive processes, and affords them acess to information and communications so they can reach their true potential. CIs are not for everyone! for some kids, CIs work real well, and the children become very oral, it takes dedication from the family to follow through with the training and after some time, some users become very oral, and do not suffer the language delays! yet at the end of the day the child is deaf and offering the deaf child a Deaf identity through ASL and the Deaf community is priceless. The whole point is the well being of the child, whether implanted or not, Deaf identity adds to the child's life emotional and mental well being. The sense of belonging to a larger community stumps being alone. Both of my kids are implanted, and we are ASL users, love the culture, love the sense of belonging, and when people ask my son about his implant he usually says I am deaf, and this processor helps me communicate with the hearing. I am lucky that my child benefited from the implant, it was not an easy decision but what makes me feel even better is the fact that he knows he is Deaf, and can sign.
    I think we need to respect each family's decision towards aids and implants, and encourage all to add ASL to their children's life, because it's their right to access language effortlessly. And also because its a beautiful language.
    my two cents

  17. Colette thank you for a wonderful comment!

  18. This is so great to read! I am an interpreter and constantly feel like I am fighting for the rights of deaf children. To me, a deaf child signing a story to me is just as beautiful as a hearing child reciting a poem. I want to do so much for this community and bridge that gap but don't know where to start. I'd love to educate parents of deaf children, I'd love to start a support group for those struggling with knowledge of the deaf community and deaf culture, and most of all I want to be there for the children who's parents never did put an effort. Thank you for sharing and being so open and honest.