Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Thank You, Anonymous - Part One

"Feeling guilty your child is deaf? One CODA's advice..."
My son was born profoundly deaf. We as hearing parents learned to sign and used total communication at home. He wore hearing aids, which didn't help much because the sound was so distorted. Our son opted for a cochlear implant starting at 12 years old, and was finally allowed one at 15. He enjoys the pure sound that hearing aids could not provide. He never attended a deaf institute, but was mainstreamed throughout his public school tenure. I'm proud to say, with both pidgeon ASL and working with him at home he graduated from high school reading and writing at high school level, he tested into college English 101 (immediately), and graduated from community college with an AS degree and a certificate.
My point is this, if you have children YOU are responsible to raise your children, no matter what they are or if they have a handicap. This does not include sending them off to be raised by others. Your child is a part of your family and you should love them and pay attention to them so they are nurtured. It is my experience that most of the students (that I have met) coming out of deaf institutes today lack the ability to read and write English fluently. I believe in the past the curriculum for deaf institutes was more oral and English based, so a lot of deaf people who attended them were able to obtain adequate lessons in English. What a blessing for them!
I do not intend to insult you, R.M. Fraser, but until you have a deaf child and have lived through raising one I believe you may not really understand what it is truly to be a parent of a deaf child. Thank you for your opinion, but I must agree to disagree
This comment was posted recently to that blog post, and I responded with this...


Thank you for your comment as any perspective is welcomed to be shared. Having said that, I am informing you now that I will be responding to your comment in my future posts. You mentioned you do not intend to insult me, and I take it on face value that it is not your intention. Regardless of that, you still have.

You have brought up some important counterpoints that I feel need to be addressed. Throughout these posts, I hope you will come to understand why I see things so differently.

R. M.
Now here is where I can break down everything in Anonymous's comment and bring up some great points. Anonymous, I want to thank you again for sharing. The first thing I would like to talk about is Total Communication.

For those who do not know, Total Communication (TC) is used as a method of instruction in many schools for the deaf across the country. I have seen it in action first hand as an educator and have even tried it myself to see what it feels like. It's not a good way to expose a deaf child to ASL. In fact, it's a very poor way to display it, and here's why.

TC is speaking English and signing at the same time. the idea is that by doing so, a deaf child has a greater opportunity to learn and understand English. It couldn't be further from the truth. Can anyone in the world speak two languages at the same time? Could anyone in the world understand two languages being spoken/conveyed at the same time? If you just answered yes, please kick yourself :)

For spoken languages, a person can only handle speaking one at a time, for obvious reasons. The same is true for TC even though one is signed and one is spoken. One language will dominate the other, meaning the dominant language comes through cleanly, while the minor one is broken, and does not follow its grammar or syntax. It basically becomes words that attempts to follow the dominant language, so in effect only one langauge is being spoken. When a hearing person uses TC, the dominant language is spoken English, and there a some signs thrown in along the way in support. Even if you are capable of signing most of the words you are speaking, it loses meaning in ASL without proper facial expressions (part of ASL grammar), as it is not needed in spoken langauges. It also loses conceptual meaning as well. ASL is a visually conceptual language, and the brain cannot process two languages with such different features at the same time, and therefore it can't be produced that way either. Imagine you are deaf and cannot hear the spoken language when someone is talking and signing aty the same time. If the spoken English is dominant, then you obviously are not able to access that language fully, and what you are seeing is a few signs here and there without any grammar structure to tie them together, possibly trying to read their lips for more information (keep in mind that lip reading is a weak strategy that even the best lip readers can't follow 100%), leaving you with no access to any langauge that makes any sense whatsoever.

When I tell you I've tried it, I have. I have worn earplugs while a person communicated to me in this way. this person was hearing, and a fluent ASL signer, but the ASL was the minor language, and not being able to hear her, I got everything all screwed up. Chances are I would have understood more of it than a deaf child because I can speak English fluently and sign ASL fluently, too. Imagine how tough that's got to be without full access or exposure to either language.

There is plenty of research out there that can be found at Gallaudet University supporting the theory that deaf children who have exposure to a fully accessible langauge from birth will have the same level of social and academic skills as any regular hearing child. Reasearch also shows that deaf children who have fully mastered ASL have an easier time learning to read and write English, and are often at the same grade level for reading and writing as regular hearing children . This is because when you can fully use a langauge to express yourself and communicate with others, you have acquired the concept of language. The concept of language is the same whether signed or spoken, regardless of its differences in grammar, syntax, and the rest of the individual facets of languages.

Anonymous wrote that "We as hearing parents learned to sign and used total communication at home. He wore hearing aids, which didn't help much because the sound was so distorted." This statement tells me a few things.

First, the son had no chance at fully accessing English through sound.

Second, TC was used at home.

Third, "learning to sign" doesn't tell me that these parents learned ASL. American Sign Langauge is not just "sign" or "signing". Just because one takes some classes doesn't make one a fluent signer.

Granted, I only have the comment itself to go on, and that means there is possibly some missing information that could help clarify some things. Did Anonymous take more than a beginner signing course? Was it instructed by a Deaf person? Speaking to what information I have in front of me, and that part of my brain that speaks from a lifetime of experience, I can only surmise that this deaf child was never really given a chance to succeed with ASL. There was probably little to no exposure to ASL on a regular basis, and that would have been the only fully accessible language that child had, especially when one considers that TC was used in the home between parents and child.

Here is a situation that looks to me as though the parents did what they thought was right. Both sets of my grandparents thought the same way towards their deaf children, too. The results will vary, but many are common to each other, and that common fact is that the deaf child doesn't get a fair chance at Deaf culture, and more importantly, exposure to a fully accesible language from birth. There are a lot of missed opportunities there, and Audism is the main culprit. Those who believe hearing and spoken languages are superior to deafness and signed languages have the majority of influence on that child. It is the parents who make the final decisions, and that is their right, but it saddens me to know that in most of these cases there was never an opportunity to explore all the options equally, and Deaf culture and ASL lose out. What's worse is that deaf children could have had opportunites for greatness through a natural and accessible language that is not only fully accessible to deaf people, but to hearing people as well. I see so much more that can be accomplished and I watch those opportunities get thrown by the wayside, dismissed, neglected, and many times not even noticed because of Audism. It seems to me that Anonymous could have been misled by those who advised them, and had never been given an opportunity to equally explore Deaf culture for them and their child. If so, it was a disservice to them. It's a shame sometimes to think what my parents could have been, and even though they were both happy for what they had, they we just as bitter for what happened outside of their control. It's a tragedy that few hearing people ever get to see, and many of us CODAs bear witness to that all our lives. Not just through our parents, but their Deaf friends, children, and any other Deaf person we have come across through our experiences. We sometimes see it in the faces of other hearing members of our families, like grandparents, aunts, uncles, and close cousins. We also sometimes see that even they are close to us, they still might not get it. It's amazing, and not in a good way.

Please don't get me wrong, Anonymous. You also told me that he earned an AS degree in community college and easlily placed into English 101, and that is a success to be proud of. I will never take that away from either of you. Be proud of what your son has accomplished, but please do not diminish my experiences because I haven't been a parent of a deaf child. As you can see, I have plenty of experience to bring to the table, and its just as valuable.

In future posts I will be addressing Anonymous's other points in the comment post. This was Part One of many. To be continued....

R. M.

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