If it makes me a radical, I’m ok with that… but I believe ALL deaf children, ALL HoH children, should have the ability to learn ASL, or the sign language of their country. For me, its entirely the same if the child is unaided, aided or using CI’s or a Baha… but they should be able to learn and communicate in sign.
What has prompted this you may ask… well I’m part of a group… a Cochlear Group, for people or parents of children who have a CI. There are quite a few baby boomers in the group, as well as a few people my age, and some parents and grandparents of children with CI’s. Obviously I have nothing against CI’s themselves, because I have one, I made that choice, and I’m making the choice to get my left ear implanted as well… but too many people focus only on speech development, instead of language development. They are not the same. Speech is a modality of language, a modality of an oral language, such as English. Writing is also a modality… but language, lanugage is something totally different. Language, as defined in the dictionary is “a systematic means of communicating ideas or feelings by the use of conventionalized signs, sounds, gestures, or marks having understood meanings”. What does this mean for us? Language is about communication, language is about ideas, thoughts, feelings, and the ability to express those ideas thoughts and feelings… language is what connects us.
Now imagine, you are a small child… lets say 2 years old. And the only language you have ever known is sign language. You can hardly communicate as it is, because your family doesn’t understand what you want or what you need, although you understand it, and the people who know sign around you understand you as well. But you can communicate, at least basic things… now… imagine you are still the same little 2 year old, and your family is learning to understand you more and more, then one day you go to this scary place, no one is able to explain what is going on, but there are people in white coats, and you know they are going to give you a shot (the fear of every small child at the doctors office), and they do… but this time they don’t take the shot out, it stays in (IV)… you are scared, and no one knows what is wrong, no one will explain to you. You feel sleepy, and you fall asleep, when you wake up, you don’t feel good, your head hurts, and people look upset when you try and touch your head. A few weeks later, after your head is finally starting to feel normal, you have to go and get something put on your head… you are use to hearing aids, but this… this is different. Its so loud, the sounds are different, it isn’t what you are use to… and people aren’t explaining. You try to ask questions, but you are punished for trying to communicate… for trying to sign… for using your language… how scary…
now… to add to this scary, people are trying to make you wear this device all the time, and you get in trouble if you use signs, they want you to use your voice… everything is just beeps, its not understandable, eventually your brain will start to understand a word here and a word there, the beeps become less beepy… but it still isn’t normal. You are still punished for communicating in the way you know how… and your family doesn’t use any signs with you anymore. But… then when you are in the bathtub or swimming (which have become your favourite activities) your family is more than happy to communicate with you on your terms, a few signs here, a few gestures there… the signals are being mixed… you can’t figure out if it is ok to sign or not… sometimes you are rewarded, by effective communication… and other times you are punished… oh what a confusing life for a child…
from my perspective… a child needs communication. Hearing children are given the opportunity to use ASL, or at least a few signs from ASL, why are deaf children so different? Is it really all that different with a deaf child? People keep saying that if a deaf child learns ASL they will never speak, this is not true. If a hearing child learns ASL they end up speaking better, having a larger vocabulary.
Bilingualism has many benefits, and not just linguistically, but cognitively as well. A New York times Article expands on this, saying “It can have a profound effect on your brain, improving cognitive skills not related to language and even shielding against dementia in old age.” How can having a child be able to understand and communicate in two languages be a negative thing? I understand why parents implant their young children, I really do… but coming from a CI recipient, if I have a deaf child, I will let them choose. I have heard from many adult recipients, who were children when they were implanted who turned against their CI, who stopped speaking entirely, why? Because they felt their parents were trying to fix them, because they were deaf they would never be enough for their parents. On the flip side, I also have met quite a few young adults who were implanted as children and LOVE their CI’s (one of my friends actually, one of her CI’s after 20 years just broke, and she elected to have it replaced, because she loves it)… what is the difference between these two groups? Access to a visual language, bilingualism, acceptance. The second group didn’t feel they were less because they couldn’t hear without their CI, they knew their parents loved them enough to learn to communicate with THEM, no matter the situation… they were loved enough every opportunity was given to this child, they were loved so much their parents learned a whole language to be able to communicate with their child… nothing was tried to be “fixed” the children still knew they were deaf, and many of them actually identify as culturally Deaf, they weren’t stuck in-between worlds, but they had the best of BOTH worlds… the hearing world and the Deaf world… able to function wonderfully in BOTH worlds, in all situations.
Imagine the difference a thing like that can make… or better yet… let the child choose if they want an implant, its a scary process, it takes a lot of work… but when a child is old enough to choose if they want an implant, they are also old enough to say it needs remapped, when it isn’t working right, when its too loud, when its too quiet, when settings need to be changed. This blog might help to clear some things up too, from a well known mother to a deaf child, who at the age of 7, decided on her own she wanted a CI.
Here is an interview from them both, (with captions!!)