Deaf-Centered Topics

Your deaf kids and the dinner table

This is a post for hearing parents of deaf children, who have not learned to sign. I write this knowing that you love your children and that you try very hard to make the best decisions you can for your children. This is not a post to bash you for your choices, but to perhaps illustrate some possibilities through a simple scene: the dinner table.

Obviously, not every family is able to get together at the table for dinner, and some can but just don’t bother. I’m a big believer in the value of having family time at dinner to be with each other without distractions. We do this in my own household every night, with the exception of weekly movie night.

I’m going to paint two pictures for you. These are just two possibilities, which will purposefully be very stark in contrast. The reality is that families will have a wide range of differences in how they communicate, which would affect this scene, but I cannot describe every single one.

Picture, if you will, two households. In both houses, there is a deaf child, about 8 years old. In one house, Sophia is a child who has used American Sign Language since before she could talk. Her parents, both hearing, learned ASL shortly after learning that she was deaf. The father had taken one semester of ASL when he was young, thinking it would be an easy A, and promptly forgot nearly all of it when the class was finished. Although he had forgotten ASL, he remembered the value of the language and his teacher’s positivity. He remembered his teacher’s wit, her sharp mind, her full engagement with the hearing students. That alone was enough for him to tell his wife that it would be worthwhile, and important, to learn ASL for Sophia. At the same time, they stressed the importance of reading, and showered her with comic books and novels. They felt it was worthwhile for Sophia to learn to speak as well, but they didn’t make it a big focus during the school day.

Next door, there is Caleb. Caleb also signs, though his education has included more than a little speech therapy, which has taken him out of his class enough that he is slightly behind Sophia. Still, he is doing alright in school. Both Sophia and Caleb are fortunate enough to have a teacher that is fluent in ASL and understands their needs. His parents do not sign, because they strongly feel that Caleb needs to be able to communicate with the hearing world. While they somewhat understand the value of sign language, they prefer Caleb to build his lip-reading skills and use his cochlear implant at all times. When he takes off his behind-the-ears Cochlear Implant (CI) processor, they are upset. Caleb can communicate okay with his parents a fair amount of the time, but he has to ask them to repeat what they say. A lot. So much, in fact, that they get annoyed. Over time, Caleb has learned that it’s best to pretend to understand more than he does, so he will annoy them less.

Image by Offutt Air Force Base, via Flickr. LICENSE
Image by Offutt Air Force Base, via Flickr. LICENSE

It is evening. In both houses, these families are sitting down to dinner.

In Sophia’s house, they begin the meal by sharing about the best parts of their day. Sophia signs a story about something that happened at school, and her parents ask her questions in ASL. It is a funny story, one involving a missing dodgeball, and they all laugh. Sophia’s dad tells her about a big project he’s working on at work that has been challenging him. She is not familiar with what he is working on, a fundraising event that he is planning, so she asks questions. She feels comfortable asking him, because she knows he has the ability to answer her effortlessly and will not be bothered by her questions. Her mom had a better day, no stress at work at all, and shares a funny anecdote about a dog wandering into her office. Sophia’s eyes light up with the mention of the dog and she asks her mom to describe it, which her mom happily does. In ASL, the adjectives of small, brown, and cute are all emphasized, and Sophia smiles contentedly. They eat the rest of their meal, talking more about the day, about what plans they have coming up, and the house is full of laughter that does not need to be heard in order for it to have value.

Meanwhile, in Caleb’s house, he is sitting, fork in hand. He’s been enjoying his mac and cheese, which is his mom’s specialty. He smiles at the taste, tells his mom thanks for making it, and she says he’s welcome. He understood that, but he has no idea what his parents are in the middle of talking about. They have been conversing now for the last ten minutes about something, he thinks he caught a mention of a project but he’s not sure. His CI processor is turned on, as always, since his parents expect that of him, but what he hears is not really making sense. He can hear them, for sure, but it might as well be Shakespearan English that he’s listening to. His parents laugh, his mother playfully pokes his father in the shoulder, and his father smiles as he takes a bite of his own food and shrugs. Caleb smiles as well, because he likes to see his parents happy, even if he knows nothing about what they’re saying. He has not learned anything from this dinnertime, but he doesn’t usually, so he does not think anything of it. His dad asks him a question, and at first utterance, Caleb doesn’t know what his dad said, so he asks for a repeat. His dad repeats the question, a little slower and a little more clearly enunciated, and Caleb catches: Better brush teeth, bed soon. He nods, and his dad smiles again. Caleb clears his plate and leaves the room to brush and ready himself for bed. He is not unhappy, and is in fact mostly fine, but there is a subtle quietness in his heart that he doesn’t completely understand. He can’t identify it yet.

In each of these houses, at each table, there is a deaf child who is with loving parents. In both cases, the parents want the best for their children. They want a life full of possibilities, but they have different ideas of how that is to be achieved. In each house there are similarities. Both Caleb and Sophia speak, though perhaps Caleb speaks a little more clearly than she does. But in Sophia’s case, she is getting more educational minutes on other subjects, so she is doing better in school.

When we look deeper into the benefits of the conversations that Sophia has with her parents, we see that the opportunities for learning simply skyrocket. At every turn, she is able to learn. With every conversation, there is a chance she will be presented with information that is new to her. Even in situations where she might have misbehaved and must face the angry signing of an angry parent, she will see the words illustrated in sign language and know how to improve. She will not face an anger that cannot be deciphered, for in these moments, lip-reading and striving to understand with hearing aids can become an impossibility.

In each family, there is love. I have no doubt about that. Yet in Sophia’s family, where communication has not been placed upon a shaky foundation of technology and sometimes insurmountable expectations, Sophia is thriving. In her family, communication is placed on the foundation of language itself, the most easily accessible one for her: American Sign Language.

I am not asking you to stop speech therapy for your deaf child, nor am I saying that you need to toss the CI processor or the hearing aids away. I am not trying to convince you to abandon these choices. Whether the speech therapy or the hearing devices are proving beneficial is not the point. Whether your child is one of the rare exceptional lip-readers is not the point. What I am asking you, on behalf of these children, is to make sign language the foundation.

ASL can work beautifully with any language, really. It’s a myth that learning ASL will hinder the development of written or spoken language. Those that spread this myth are motivated either by fear of losing money or losing authority. The deaf community does not have this fear. We are, believe it or not, on your side. Because we know that if you really understand that we’re on your side, trying to help you create a more open world for your deaf children, that you will be our allies. We will work together to make this world one that is not limited by the perceptions of others.

We will, both you and the deaf community, remind people that deaf people are not limited by being deaf, but by hearing people (and sometimes, sadly, by deaf people who have bought into the myths of our inabilities) who choose to limit us. You do not need to be one to limit us, to limit your own child, but instead you can choose to be someone who obliterates those limits.

Can you let yourself consider these words, imagine these scenarios, and ask yourself if you are willing to give this a wholehearted try? I hope the answer is yes.

By J. Parrish Lewis

J. Parrish Lewis was born and raised in Maryland. In his youth there, he and his brother had many adventures in the dogwood forests near his home. His nostalgia for these adventures has strongly influenced his characters, their relationships, and their perspective on the world they inhabit. He moved to California’s coast to earn his degree in communications and now lives with his family in the San Joaquin Valley. Lewis is profoundly deaf and uses American Sign Language to communicate. He enjoys hazelnut coffee, captioned movies, and walking his dog.

70 replies on “Your deaf kids and the dinner table”

Outstanding. I agree with this all. The only thing I might change is the 4th from last paragraph, the last two words “the foundation.” Instead, I might suggest “is to make sign language an equal part of functional communication.” It is not that I disagree with “foundation.” But I know hearing parents see it as one over the other and this may prevent them from making a choice for their child, allow them to be strong advocates for communication first, and teach their child to be advocates for themselves.

Thanks for writing this, shared this to my pages for the Deaf community ! ASL is our communication key !

Beautifully written. I wholeheartedly agree with you that ASL makes a world of difference. Introducing ASL at infancy is the foundation of learning. From personal experience growing up without ASL until college, I didn’t realize how much I missed out. Once I took classes to learn ASL, I became a sponge soaking up all the information via ASL. I regret that my parents didn’t sign by choice and it ultimately impacted our relationship. Thank you for sharing this. I appreciate it 🙂

Mary, I agree with you and grew up the same way like you did. I started to learn ASL in college right after high school. ASL really changed my life in education and life. I did not even realize how much information that I missed through spoken language. I grew up just like Caleb from the story. My parents were and still are full supporting in my life but they still have not realized how being deaf is like. Right now I have both hearing and deaf friends that sign and we all communicate with each other in ASL, which my parents are not used to. Believe it or not, I am a lot happier in my life than I ever was. I am not longer being confused or left out from conversations. I am grateful that my wife signs and it kept our relationship stronger than I ever had. Thank you for sharing this. Very well written.

my gson is hearing impaired…(double hearing aids)… my daughter-in-law already knew ASL and had been signing to him AND his older sister from the time they were born..(realization of my gsons hearing didn’t become apparent until he was about 16 months old) …both my son and her are not deaf…they now have 4 children and all know sign…I’m guilty of knowing little, partly because I live 500 miles away and he can hear me . He has also had classes on reading lips and is getting better at it…..I think its wonderful that my daughter-in-law has been taking classes and is aiming at teaching ASL one day…

From a mother of a 27yr old daughter who missed having family relationships PLEASE for the sake of both you and grandson learn to sign. It has led my daughter down paths of searching for those extended family relationships elsewhere. I feel she would not have gone these routes if she had those important relationships growing up. We also lived far away all her growing up years but please do not let that be an excuse. It is so important. We have always signed in our immediate family but those extended family relationships are so very important too. Good luck

This is a very biased and self-serving blog entry. Does “Sophia” represent every Deaf child who communicates using ASL? Does “Caleb” represent every child who hears using cochlear implants? You have literally created a fake story that doesn’t represent all cases and only serves to promote your ideals and the ideals of your subscribers. I’m very happy for families who have chosen to teach their child ASL. Clearly it must have been the best choice. After all, parents know what’s best for their child. So, if I respect your decision to teach your child ASL, why is my decision to not teach my daughter ASL not respected? It’s because you feel the need to spread your ideals on others, even though they did not ask for your input. Why does it matter to you whether my daughter learns ASL or not? Did publishing this blog entry prove anything? Will this entry help you improve your child’s life? You already have the freedom to educate your child in whatever manner you see fit. You are a warrior without a war. Lastly, I’d like to answer your question: No, I won’t give it a “wholehearted try”. I will continue to go down the path that I have chosen based on the advice of leading surgeons, audiologists, and speech therapists. I also have no intention of convincing you that I’m right. You’re right too, but for your situation. Leave others alone, please.

Sadly, Sophia and Caleb ARE typical Deaf students. The Caleb used as an example in this article is actually more functional than the average child who receives CIs and is urged to focus on speech. On top of this–“leading surgeons, audiologists, and speech therapists” are hardly experts in Deaf”ness”. The average teacher of the Deaf knows a lot more than these three combined. The author presents an alternative perspective that is not as skewered as many of the articles/blogs/entries out there on Deaf children who are put on the oral path. I suspect that the author, like me, is tired of seeing, teaching, and advocating for the kids that are lost in the system because their parents relied on surgeons, audiologists, and speech therapists.

Thank you. I agree. Our son got a late diagnosis. At the time we knew 2 things, we wanted him to go to the school for the Deaf and we wanted to try cochlear implants. We got to do both. It wasn’t until he started at OSD and we started doing our own research, that we learned more about the Deaf community. I do not regret getting the cochlear implants, however if our son decides he don’t want to use them, I am fine with that too. At first we didn’t know any better than to listen to what the doctors, audiologist ect were saying. Things like do not encourage sign language. Do not let him turn his processor off. Basically don’t let him choose. They wanted extensive speech therapy which would require a lot of travel, a lot of time, a lot of money, and a lot of missed school. Now understand this, if it was in my child’s best interest, I would do all those things with zero hesitation. I wanted my son to communicate. It was not about talking. It was always about communicating. He was way more comfortable signing. I was not going to take that from him. We all made the decision to learn and we are still learning. It is so hard to find resources to learn ASL. I can find all kinds of resources to do speech therapy and try to force my child into doing something that benefits myself and the rest of our hearing family, or we can accomodate him. The most important thing to remember is every situation is different. Every family is different. Cochlears work for some, but not all. I don’t judge any parent based off the choices they make for their own children, but as for us, we want out son to be raised to be proud of who he is. We want him to embrace his deaf community. We don’t want to try to fix him because this is a “hearing world” I dont believe we are limiting him. In fact I believe that knowing sign has helped him to speak more, which is just icing on the cake. I agree with what the author is trying to convey. Kids who can be proud of who they are, and have parents willing to accommodate them as we all learn sign, will thrive. I also don’t see how it will hinder them to know sign! If they eventually learn to talk, they will know 2 languages (yay!) In our experience learning sign has not hindered his talking, but has helped him. Like I said before, every family, every situation, and every child is unique. Find what works for you and your child. I encourage you all to consider your child and how they feel, always.

You are doing what I hope to see more often: being responsive to what the child wants and needs. That’s really fantastic. I’m confident your son will grow up appreciative of your efforts. E-mail me or message below with the name of the closest big city to you and how far it is, so I can check into resources. I’m always wanting to help parents get connected to more free resources. By the way, this also applies to parents who are not interested in ASL. I’d be glad to look into other resources for them as well. I really am trying to support all families as much as I am reasonably able to do.

We are in the same boat with late diagnosed/implanted/followed (somewhat) the advice of no ASL with therapy for a while, until we saw the frustration that died away without the therapy, and again the immediate benefits with ASL. We are focusing more on ASL now, but agree that there are such limited resources. We homeschool,and the state’s only deaf school is not within driving distance. I shared this article to my husband to help him realize the necessity to learn ASL and incorporate it more in our home/family life.

Two things:
-How do you define ‘being able to develop speech’? In the blog, Caleb used and understood speech, just not at a completely age-appropriate and IQ appropriate level.
-How long does it take to identify the 15-20% who don’t develop it well? And what have they missed in that time?

Personally, I grew up speaking three languages (two from early childhood and a third starting around 10 at school), and went to university in a city with a very high level of bilingualism and trilingualist (Montreal – many people fluently bilingual from early childhood), and even with hearing kids, I’ve never really understand why anyone would deliberately raise their kid to be unilingual if they had a choice. If you add deafness on top of that, and the risk that the child may be going years with less than age-appropriate access to language around them, it just seems that much odder.

“Parents know what is best for their child…”.


Are parental instincts curing childhood cancer, diabetes or ADHD?

Are parental instincts enough to teach a child to read, or to do calculus? And if so, is the parent doing that?

Are parents performing routine dental exams and removing plaque from their children’s teeth out of parental instinct?

I mean no disrespect. I only mean to point out that as loving as parents may be, they don’t know everything. A good parent keeps an open mind and is always trying to learn and improve and apply the best for their child. And a good parent knows their limitations, and seeks the knowledge and counsel of others more knowledgeable than they to fill the caps where they are not an expert.

A loving parent might want to question him- or herself in those dark hours of the night when it is just him or her, alone with his or her thoughts, as to whether what they’re doing is best for their child or simply easier for themselves.

Matt, as a speech language pathologist who has worked with many deaf individuals, as well as being a hearing member of a local Deaf community, your post is disturbing. As a parent, it is your job to provide your child with the best access to language and communication from as early an age as possible. If the child happens to be deaf, this does not change. So, if the individual has reduced access to communication with their community, they will suffer from a reduced quality of life. The community may include their family, the deaf community, and the hearing community. If you choose oral speech only, which most quality speech language pathologists do not support, that person now has increased difficulty for the rest of their life, difficulty that can be easily reduced by learning a new method of communication. If you are going to go through the very difficult and long process of implanting the child or even getting hearing aids, you are willing to put the money into the child to “fix” them. Are you not willing to put in the time? Technology has come a long way in the past twenty or so years, but when technology fails, as it often does, we still need to have a manual means of getting by. Please help your deaf children in as many ways as possible. If you decide to implant or do aides, great, fine, dandy, but don’t stop there. The child has already missed crucial language development opportunities simply by reduced access in utero, no matter what age the diagnosis happens. This is just one more reason that signing with young children from a very early age is so beneficial!

I think I went off on a bit of a diatribe…. Bottom line: provide your child with access to communication and hold nothing back!

Good luck with your child whose future is determined by surgeons, speech therapists and physicians – and you – who know almost nothing about deafness. The surgeon is 99% likely to be in the cochlear industry’s pockets. They are paid abhorrently for talking miracles to grieving parents into CI surgery for their deaf children. I know because I am on a board with a CI surgeon and was invited to his home – a mansion quite like a Hollywood celebrity’s, not a local and regular physician’s home, thanks to having contracts with several different CI companies. They are only interested in making money. Speech therapist is invested in regular sessions to support herself (they are mainly women) and like the surgeon, will talk miracles to ensure weekly or daily sessions with the deaf client – your child. The primary physician knows nothing about deafness and follows advice of – you can guess who – CI surgeons and speech therapists and state agencies who are collaborated with the CI associations and pathologist associations. I am telling you what is the reality out there. Parents don’t know the realities behind the scenes. Now states are passing a bill called LEAD-K to force the state to include ASL as an option (it always has been excluded, thanks to the CI and Pathologist associations) and if the non-ASL child falls behind on the milestones and later, on the benchmarks, they will be made to make other choices. In other words, if the parent chooses CI route without ASL, and the child falls behind, fails to reach milestones by kindergarten, the state will step in and work with the parents to make the changes in their child’s educational path. That tells you how vast the number of CI failures are out there that are not reported, leaving parents unaware and given false hope, all thanks to the CI industry. Wake up. LEAD-K promotes BI-LINGUALISM. Spoken English AND ASL, both, equally. Spoken English should not supersede ASL to the point ASL is forbidden. That is language deprivation. The CI industry knows it and does not care. Speech pathologists know it and do not care. They only care about money and assurance of income.

BTW, I am a teacher. I see CI students transferred to my classroom, the ASL classroom, around middle school, after failing in the public schools during their K-6 years. They are seriously behind compared to their counterparts who have been in our school since kindergarten. Caleb, fictionalized by the author, is indeed the TRUE representation of many CI students I have had in my classrooms in my 15 years of Deaf K-12 Education career.

I suppose on the other hand, though, you probably don’t meet the kids who are happy and doing well in school and have lots of friends quite as often, since they don’t usually tansfer to Deaf/signing schools, I imagine. So happy kids might be more common than you see?

Though IMO it’s not worth the risk to ‘wait and see’ if a family should learn ASL. If they get to adulthood and don’t ‘need’ ASL, they will still know a second language whichis obviously good for them anyway. And if as they get older they find speech is not quite enough, they’ve already got ASL.

Important understanding to keep minds open and let one explore what s right tool to learn/teach child. Involve in the family and try ur best to make child feel in the family. Communication tools have many ways, sometime not work then find another way. I read the Journal of Medicine (I m not sure of the correct name, which I’m trying to recall) about the continuing research on CI. Not all deaf children had succeed understanding most of word via CI. Parent should not give up the meaning of communication. Can use both sign language and speech if keep child happy and more understanding. Win-win? That’s my opinion, since I’m fully Deaf born in the hearing family and fully use ASL and sometime speak some words. Only peeve was someone expect me speaking fully sentence without hear sound myself. How do I know how right sound to say….
Thanks for sharing.

My parents didn’t know the best for me and my deaf sister and we, both struggled with English mastery for years because they were not able to carry conversation with us all the way until I was 10 years old. Unfortunately they were brainwashed by audiologists based on the philosophy of Alexander Graham Bell. Finally Mom woke up when we repeated 1st grade so she learned to sign with help of my sister. As a teacher, I have seen too many struggling children with cochlear implants transferring to Deaf school from public schools and often they feel more like home with full access to full communication and education. We love what we are doing in our Deaf world where we can participate anything..anywhere…we want. We have to remember there is a variety of learning styles and we can’t control everyone. We learn more visually. Parents need to check with professionals at Gallaudet University about how deaf brain works. It proves that visual teaching is working. We want the public to understand our needs. We are normal and we can do many things like everyone. Taking American Sign Language away is like communication abuse.

Please let me know if you’re ever in Austin, TX – I would love to introduce you to my lovely CI wearing son. Of course, he’s only three, so he still has a lot of words to learn, but it’s pretty impossible to leave him out of the conversation!

I was saddened by your description of the little boy only wearing his CIs because his parents want him to. I’m afraid that is incredibly inaccurate. Just try taking my little guy’s implants off – he loves to hear!
It is disappointing to see a portrayal of a CI family that is so insensitive and bad at listening.

There is a sincere value in ASL, but as a parent who has chosen spoken word as my son’s primary communication method, I can tell you – learning to listen and speak is a lot of work. If we had time to learn a second language, we would. But as it is, we spend our time making sure our son has the best language he can.

I hope you can get a chance to visit with a few CI families. I think you’ll find we talk around the dinner table just as much, if not more, than any other family. If you’d like to stop over at our place, dinner is at 6…ish. I’ve gotta get my little boy to stop dancing and turn off the music first.

I’m happy for you and your son, Hannah, but sadly, Caleb–as portrayed in this article–is all too common and is, in fact, more “functional” than many children who have CIs. I’ve been teaching for 17 years and this story is all too common.

My son has bilateral CIs…we chose not to sign, other than baby sign when he was in daycare, just like my first, hearing son did. My son is ahead of many of his hearing peers in math, reading and science in his public school in his regular classroom. He loves music and cartoons and video games. We are all talkative and loud, and he UNDERSTANDS US ALL, including his toddler cousins. He loves his CIs, as he frequently tells me, because he gets to hear EVERYTHING. To somehow insinuate that we have deprived him, when we have done quite the opposite, is quite hurtful AND biased and intolerant.

This has been our experience as well along with many implanted children we know. I wouldn’t have it any other way. She never feels left out at any function. She is mainstreamed and has many friends.

Then your son isn’t one of “Caleb” peers. Congrats Molly. Apparently, We aren’t talk about your son with a great parent as you are. Author is broad about the MOST common issue out there.

In my household we value having dinner together. We talk about the day, sharing about what has gone on at school, work, life and everything. It brings us close as a family… sharing our collective journey. The same happens in the car, around the house, at church,,,
My oldest daughter is now 9yo. She is happy and age appropriate in language and schooling. She has only ever heard through her cochlear implants.
In the morning when she wakes up her processors go on. When she goes to bed her processors come off (eyes open, ears on approach). She speaks English and is learning Maori just like her school friends at school.
In our family we have no background with hearing loss, deafness or sign language (NZSL). We now know a lot about hearing restoration and language development. My daughter has no need for sign language. The majority of children born without hearing in 1st world countries are now taking this path. It is super exciting to be part of a generation where this is possible.

My very deaf, very verbal, CI- and HA-wearing daughter has no use of her hands, fingers, or arms. She can’t feed herself, write, type, brush her teeth, or get herself dressed. How much time should we spend teaching her ASL? Speaking is her only form of communicating, other than texting and emailing with her mouth stick on her touchscreen computer. Sometimes technology is the key to inclusion for deaf people. Very nice article, although completely biased without consideration for other possibilities. ASL is not for every deaf person for a variety of reasons.

Hi Cherie,

I’m going to reply to yours but also touch base with other recent comments. I’m glad you all shared your thoughts! I’m not anti-CI. If you read other posts I write, you’ll see me say that. I push for the inclusion of ASL and flat out state my bias toward ASL as a foundation. Obviously in the case of your daughter, I would never push for her to sign if she couldn’t. If she has sight, however, I still think she’d benefit from you knowing ASL and using it. That’s my perspective. At the same time, I don’t know her. Perhaps she doesn’t need it.

Please understand, and I say this to the other parents, I am sharing this based on both my own life experiences (and I have CI) and 15 years in social services. The fictional stories I shared are composites of actual stories. I changed a lot of identifiers so that it’s not obvious who I refer to. I know there are exceptions. I know there are cases where it does work out, but I still feel ASL’s inclusion, where possible, is so beneficial. In some cases, vital.

Finally, in the post itself I included one part that clearly did not do its job well. I did not make myself clear enough. That part is this: “These are just two possibilities, which will purposefully be very stark in contrast. The reality is that families will have a wide range of differences in how they communicate, which would affect this scene, but I cannot describe every single one.”

That statement is obviously unclear enough or too generic. It was intended to explain that I know there are so many different families with differing degrees of success with communication, some with CIs and some without. I purposefully made the contrast stark because I wanted the kids to be different in some ways, but both using ASL, and the major difference being that one set of parents signs and one set doesn’t. Yes, I am biased toward ASL because of the impact I see. I believe in its value wherever it is possible to include. In the post, I said you don’t need to toss the CIs. I have friends with kids who have the CI. I have it myself. My feelings about it are complicated.

I know I won’t convince everyone and that’s okay. I’m sorry if anyone took offense, because that’s not my intent.

Best wishes to all of you…

By your own admission you created a deliberately false dichotomy, then proceeded to base your whole argument on it. It’s pointless.

Suffice to say the experience in my sign-language- free home is nothing like you describe and your argument is irrelevant to me.

Which bit do you disagree with?

That you created a false dichotomy is absolute fact. You only describe two of the countless possible scenarios and then based your argument on those two as if they were the only ones. You could just as easily describe a situation where the ASL child is isolated and frustrated and the CI child is not. Equally pointless.

That your description does not match my experience is also fact – and hardly surprising either.

So… which bit do you disagree with?

As for respecting opinions: only if they’re well founded. Not if they’re built on logical fallacies as yours is. I don’t respect it at all. It’s mendacious.

Reposting part of another comment:

“Finally, in the post itself I included one part that clearly did not do its job well. I did not make myself clear enough. That part is this: “These are just two possibilities, which will purposefully be very stark in contrast. The reality is that families will have a wide range of differences in how they communicate, which would affect this scene, but I cannot describe every single one.””

This is a blog, not a scientific journal. Not a research journal. Not a publication of an educational institution. It’s my perspective based on personal and professional experience. That’s not a secret. I have known thousands of families with deaf kids to base my perspective on. Nowhere in my post does it say this is the only possible scenario. If what you are doing is successful for your own child and your own child is able to have full access, then that’s great. I still promote ASL.

The point choosing to describe the two scenarios that I am very well familiar with, that are based on actual realities, is that I am trying to make a difference specifically for the families that fit Caleb’s scenario to some degree. That is not your family if your experience does not match that situation.

I don’t see situations where a deaf child with ASL is isolated when the parents use ASL, so why would I describe that? Such instances, if they exist, would be rare.

As for a situation where a child with CI is NOT isolated and frustrated, of course that exists. That’s why I had the paragraph above. However, two points: In my experience, it’s far less common than the situation I describe. And secondly, what would be the benefit of describing that? How would describing a situation where it is successful help all the kids in situations where it is not? Do you see what I mean?

I’m sorry you don’t respect my opinion. I still respect yours.

Absolutely beautifully written. I am a parent of a deaf child that is now grown….we were not always perfect but we certainly tried to sign everything. Thank you!

There are varying degrees of hearing loss and varying degrees o success with ci’s and ha’s but one thing I’ve found over and over again in my over 20 years of association with the Deaf community, regardless of how they were brought up, the majority of adults who identify as being Deaf prefer manual communication over speech. The one comment that stands out to me mentions the form of communication ‘that we have chosen for our child’. That is a vital phrase. You chose for them. And so long as you can do that, they will try to follow you and do their absolute best to please you in that chosen form of communication. But if they identify as being Deaf, you should be prepared to embrace their choices over your own as they grow and mature. This is no different in families where a child chooses a path different from their parents, regardless of hearing ability. But from what I have seen hearing parents often feel hurt when their growing children choose the Deaf community over the hearing one. They get upset and try to justify their choices. They were given sound advise by (generally hearing) professionals. They were just doing the best they could with the information they had. And their children love them for it! But they’re not going to choose the harder path when it comes to basic communication. If ‘hearing’ is easy for them with the technology that was chosen for them, they won’t identify as Deaf but as hearing. If, however, upon learning about ASL, they find that communication can be effortless without the aid of technology, again in my experience, they’re going to choose to sign.

From what I just read here, this blogger is trying to help hearing parents have the opportunity to connect with their children in every way possible–choosing inclusion instead of exclusion. Then, should their child grow up and choose the Deaf community maybe they’ll choose to introduce them into that community as well instead of leaving them behind in the hearing circles they have chosen. I don’t know a single parent who doesn’t want to connect with their child. This post goes a long way in trying to help hearing parents see through a Deaf lense.

We started with signed English………total communication at the age of 3 years. Our child had severe hearing loss in both ears and nerve damage from spinal meningitis. They never considered her for a choclear implant, because with the one ear she could hear somewhat with a hearing aid.Although some word endings were not in her frequency range. So s,c,d,g…etc. are never heard. She was involved in total communication. Lipreading,signing, and learning to speak.A$ 10,000 grant was given to her by our state for lipreading for one year . She went to a hearing school in a program for hearing impaired, for 5 years,then a School for the Deaf,for 3 years. She went on to learn ALS. We had four other children ,one younger and three older then her. She got emersed in the deaf culture and switched to all signing at school and refusing to speak at home. We pulled her out and she went to Highschool in a regular school. She succeeded, and did well ,although it was difficult. She has since become bitter that her sibblings did not learn sign language,and I did not learn ASL. They were only kids in a family where there was not a lot of extra money and both parents worked outside the home. The deaf culture in California did not like the fact that she spoke and signed. They told her to choose. It is not a perfect world but I guess your best chance is to start when they are young. I tried . The deaf culture keeps to themselves, I did not want that for my daughter who is able to function in a hearing world.

Comments like this often bother me because there’s so much misinformation in it. Deaf adults who grew up in the Deaf culture, using ASL, and who are bilingual often function BETTER in the hearing world than their counterparts. They also often have a better handle on languages and even speech. The Deaf community is close-knit and collective, yes, but that does not mean they do not “function” in a hearing world. On top of that, it’s not a hearing world. it’s a human world and every person belongs to it, Deaf or hearing.

I am profound deaf which I aware that In California, 37% deaf with C.I. student failed in public because they was told to not use ASL ..Some parents choose it without use ASL. Deaf with C.I. feel lost and do not understand what world was about for their children / C.I. struggle with their lives cannot be able to connect with Deaf World.. You need to allow deaf child to learn ASL in public school with ASL interpreter and it will pick it up the words.. Dont dump your deaf with C.I. without ASL. Often doctor in medical field do not training properly. ASL and Speaking often failed their public school do not have training due to not familiar with ASL

In Seattle,WA The Seattle Public School allowing the deaf child to learning with ASL and speech together. They deleted S.E.E.( Sign Exact English often failed for deaf to use S.E.E. same time english their last straw. Recently Legisture Bill passed for deaf student require to hire ASL interpreter instead of S.E.E. Two boy in High School complained that SEE interpreter they were not understand. They drove to Olympia.. Teenager Boy filled out and complain about S.E.E interpreter should not be hire by Public School. End up they were wrong interpreter for anyone in Seattle, KingCo/Snohomish County. S.E.E. program tried to deleted ASL interpreter in Washington State. The deaf community say Stop remove ASL. They vote and say Sorry S.E.E is OUT for anywhere in Washington .. Require to force ASL interpreter is more benfient.. I do not agree with few comment.

35 year ago, I graduated in OSD, Oregon School for the Deaf I am struggled with my “D” due to require to use S.E.E as Total Communicate. I fk with OSD teacher. Today OSD improved lot of educating there I wish I was there in different years instead of 1980’s… I am still dyslexica issues as “Deaf and Dyslexica” I do care what parent choose the deaf school for their children.. If the parent sent deaf child… will hurt on deaf child’s struggle and sending child to enrolling in Gally in Washington D.C. I am little lazy how to spelling the Gally University as short nicknames of college.. It is not ridciliously! I am serious that I am against S.E.E. and C.I .. My hearing daughter took Audiologist and study and say ASL with C.I is better than Oralism.. She found her job to help deaf and deaf blind..

Ironly. Real DUMB to send deaf and blind student in public.. they cannot use oralism because of low vision issues. Dont send Deaf-blind in public school. Conflict and hurt their “D” livehood themselves.

40% percent hearing parent won’t let deaf on their own and hold deaf child became adult cannot able to more independent, Impossible. Today Deaf Women Shelter will help deaf to get out of their parent’s house due to force child into adulthood without socialized due lack of deaf service in small town. So the parents have a enpowered on their deaf child into adulthood would hurt their limiation. Dont hold your deaf child in your house without ASL. Parents do not really understand full about ASL VS S.E.E.

When parent need to resource with deaf service.. Hire deaf teacher to work with your deaf children are so important to socialized. The reason why I say “Don’t dump on your deaf children in hearing world.”

Sorry about my english is not the best as much I can.

Every parent chooses a language for their child, whatever their hearing status is.

One phrase in your comment stood out for me. The majority of adults “who identify as Deaf” prefer manual communication. What about deaf adults who don’t “identify as Deaf”? It’s almost a tautology since “identifying as Deaf” (Big D) virtually means the same thing as manual communicators as other deaf people are excluded from the clique!

My daughter has zero interest in manual communication, despite encouragement. She literally doesn’t see the point. If anything we worry about it more than she does as there’s always the fear of CI failure.

I am hearing with hearing children. I am also a trained interpreter. I, personally disagree with CI’s. Everyone is born differently and I don’t believe God makes mistakes. I entertained the idea of adopting a deaf child when I was younger but wanted that child to know Deaf Culture. There is a whole, rich culture that many deaf children miss out on because hearing parents want doctors to fix their child(ren). I am too old to adopt now but wish all children, hearing or deaf, could grow up in their as they were originally and wonderfully made. It’s the job of the parents to make accommodations for their children, not the other way around.

God doesn’t make mistakes, but men do. My daughter was born hearing but lost it due to malpractice.

This is very biased. I know a lot of CI kids (my daughter included) who have excellent communication, are in advanced classes at school, and have loving, attentive parents. For a balanced perspective, how about your next hypothetical article prove your point by depicting an ASL family who neglects their child’s well being, and an oral family who’s deaf kid is high functioning, with attentive, inclusive parents? CI’s have come a long way in the last 10 years so maybe some of your observations are dated by now?

After 15 years in social services, I can tell you I have never seen a family with deaf kids where the hearing parents sign and the kid is neglected. As for the oral family like you describe, certainly that happens, but in my experience, far less. My info is current. This is something I see all the time. In the post I state parents in both families love the kids. They are attentive in their own ways.

As a final note, let me add: this is a blog. I write my perspective and I don’t hide that it’s my perspective. I’ve said I have a bias. I use ASL and I speak as well. I’m not a scientist. I’m a person sharing my opinion based on my personal and professional experience.

I have one comment for the gentleman who was so disapproving of the article. You accused the writer of being biased, but you yourself had no desire to look outside your world either. There are many deaf children that don’t have communication skills because parents don’t know what to do or don’t want their child to be deaf. One person who replied said it best,
“It is all about communication”. I enjoyed the article and the perspectives of the comments, but I feel you were so nasty and actually doing the same thing that you accused the writer of doing. As I work in this wonderful field of communication, I encounter hearing people on a daily basis who have absolutely no clue about deafness, the culture or anything else involving the Deaf community. Articles like this need to be written and you need to be able to see another side that is real world and is out there…..

Ellen, I understand that you feel disagreed with someone’s post.. Honesty.. I am high recommened deaf child to socialized without C.I. user.. because of distract and would not learn ASL and socialized less and less.. Often I notice some Deaf with C.I. user often fear or not socialized with other deaf student peer.

Who is “many”? Where are they? I have met hundreds of parents of children who are deaf and not a single one has EVER abdicated their responsibility to give their child a way to communicate, and especially not because “they don’t want their child to be deaf”. That is a horrible accusation to make.

Oh wow! J. Parrish Lewis, you touched on a sensitive topic, man. I applaud you for it and for the thoughtfulness that you put into it. I read many of the comments below it, too, and debated whether to add my ha’penny at this late time. I’m new to your blog but am totally enjoying it.

First of all, I am a deaf person with hearing family twice over. That is, I grew up with a hearing family and I have a hearing husband who has hearing children. I received my CI at age 15 — unilateral, left ear. Right ear is totally unresponsive and dead. I’m going to state this straight out for these parents who talk about their children with CIs: It is not a cure. It is a tool. Your child is still deaf. At the end of the day, your child is deaf.

Their little ears grow tired faster than normal hearing people’s. Their brains, no matter the young age, process sounds different than hearing people do because of the electronic pulses that differ from vibrational, natural sounds and the fact that all sound is processed through a mic and processor to the brain. When they take it off, they go back to their deaf selves. Can you love that deaf self as much as you love that CI self? I love my CI. I love listening to sounds. But again, it is a tool.

I’m afraid I have always been confused by people who withhold one access to the world while praising another. My mother wanted me in public school, but she advocated strongly for me by ensuring deaf equality on my behalf. I learned ASL from age 2 (when I was diagnosed deaf after being born hearing). I had an interpreter. I had deaf educator. I had speech therapy. I sat in the front of every class and received assistance on my tests. I had hearing world and deaf world — two distinctively different cultures in one little world of ours. My brain is allowed to rest in ASL, it is allowed to work harder in spoken English. ASL allows me to express myself far more creatively, speaking English allows me to convey a message faster.

My mother knew what she was doing. She wanted 100% language access. You see, to her, the world is based on social interactions. It is based on communication and reaching out and friendships that helps us to grow and take in the rest of the world far easier. I could be a little genius perfect at lip-reading and performing little tricks for hearing people to be shocked and awed at my ability to integrate into mainstream world — but that wasn’t what she wanted. Her choice was to facilitate my own way into the world. So, as I grew up, I had two sorts of access. I got to choose.

Awesome! Well explanation! I’m glad u have very good opportunities to learn both tools to use in those worlds.

Oh, my! Thank you for your article – so aptly written! I can’t tell you how many times I had missed out important life lessons and family conversations at the dinner table and in the living room in my childhood days. My parents loved me and they did what they thought was best for me but something was missing – sign language. My husband experienced that too. We have two deaf children and they never missed out – we all sign in ASL. Thank you for writing this article! ~ Anna Harman

My daughter is deaf, she wears a cochlear implant in one ear.
She sits at the dinner table every night with her whole hearing, speaking family.
She is fully engaged in our conversation. She hears what we are saying, adds to the conversation and seldom ever asks for anyone to repeat themselves.
With her implant on she hears even a whisper, she also is on the A honour roll at mainstream school.
Her implant works very well. We learned ASL for her, but she never uses it. She hears so well with her implant.

I’m glad it’s working for her! It’s not the norm, unfortunately. In my post I said “These are just two possibilities, which will purposefully be very stark in contrast. The reality is that families will have a wide range of differences in how they communicate, which would affect this scene, but I cannot describe every single one.”

The reality is that what I described is far more common than your experience with your daughter.

Research suggests you are not correct.
First Voice research suggests that at least 2/3rds of kids with CIs catch their peer group in speech – which includes fully functional conversational listening and speaking.
AV UK research suggests this figure is 80%
The myth that the majority of CI outcomes are poor is just that – a myth. The vast majority of kids with CIs completely mainstream and are living lives like every day hearing kids – swimming, having fun with their friends, not needing significant support. Because of this they drop off the radar and people see them for whom they are… not as that deaf kid.

In my family’s case, my daughter who has bilateral CIs and has had them for over 8 years has no issues at the dinner table. In fact I frequently wish she would be less involved as she bosses her little sister and plays being mum and dad 🙂 She can over hear conversations in different rooms in the house and can hear me call out to her from down stairs or even outside. And that’s without assistive devices.

This is the current norm for kids with CIs.

But 20% and 1/3 are both massive numbers? And if they were raised bilingual those kids would be protected.

As a teacher of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, I see a wide range of students with hearing aids and CIs. The more tools a child has to gain language, the better. It saddens me when I hear parents say that they were under the impression that it is either one or the other. And studies show that learning sign helps children develop language faster. That’s why so many hearing parents of hearing babies teach them baby sign before they can talk. All that “training time” when first receiving a CI is time that language acquisition is missed – why would anyone think that signing at this time would be damaging?!
This wonderful story that J Parish Lewis has written does a great job in describing not only about access to language (which is of course instrumental in cognition and learning) but also about incidental learning. Hearing children -and grown ups too -learn so much just by “overhearing” on the street, on the bus, train, in a waiting room, and at home and at their own dinner table. Try taking notes on all the incidental learning you do in one day and you will see what I mean. …

And then there is Kat’s home. Kat does not sign, she uses cochlear implants to hear and speak. Kat is able to follow the dinner conversation with both her hearing family and the strangers she encounters throughout life. Her family is smart enough to know that they need to speak one at a time, and make sure that Kat is seated away from sources of noise. Kat even has an FM system that works in multi-talker mode, so that even in the noisiest environment she hears well.

I would like to tell you another story about a deaf child. This deaf child is named Susie. Susie didn’t get a CI because the Deaf community told her family that Susie wasn’t “broken”. Susie used hearing aids, but they gave her almost no benefit. She couldn’t hear any speech and she couldn’t lipread (it is a very difficult skill to learn and Susie’s family didn’t want to waste their time on it.) Susie’s mom learned to sign, it was easy for her. She was great with languages. She quickly learned from a community class and then spent thousands of dollars on community college classes. Dad learned some basic signs.

As Susie got older, she attended a bi-bi school for the deaf. In preschool she had the only hearing parents that signed. When Susie’s family asked about her ASL development, they were told that she was “doing great for a child with hearing parents”. When the family asked for more specifics, they were told that they couldn’t provide them because there are no standardized ways to measure ASL acquisition. There was one, vague checklist.

Susie gained more ASL, and her family worked hard to stay ahead of her. They attend Deaf community events and even switched to a Deaf church. They didn’t want to attend the church they had been because the people in the nursery were so negative towards Susie. They said things like, “What is she doing with her hands?” and “She acts like I’m supposed to understand her!” All of Susie’s friends are from her Deaf school. She doesn’t get to see them much though because they live so far away. Susie’s extended family live very close by, and they love her very much, but they struggle to communicate. Her grandparents tried to learn ASL, but struggled, even with a plethora of free resources. Her great-grandparents live nearby too, but they say that they don’t want to be left alone with Susie because they can’t understand anything she says/signs.

Susie has three girl cousins her same age. When they were young, they were inseparable, but as they get older, they drift apart. Susie’s cousins want to play elaborate games that they just don’t have enough ASL to explain to Susie. They get signed up for dance and gymnastics classes, but Susie never gets invited to join in. She does attend one Karate class at a gym 45 minutes away from home because that instructor knows some ASL.

As Susie enters Kindergarten, she begins to learn to read. Susie’s family is extremely involved in her education, so they ask how it is going with her learning to read. They know that literacy is a huge issue for deaf people, so they want to be pro-active. The teachers say she is doing great for her age. When pressed about HOW Susie will learn to read, the school just answers, “Oh, she has a great first language, she should be able to learn a second language. Susie’s family continues to push for more information. They ask, “Since she can’t use phonics, (since she has no sound/letter association) and knows no English vocabulary, HOW will she learn to read?” The school finally admits that Susie will have to use sight words. The plan is to have Susie memorize enough words to become a fluent reader??

Susie family thinks they have made a terrible mistake.

Melissa Jensen,..nice story. You should be a fiction writer. One can learn to read quite well without sound and one can learn to speak and a deaf or hoh person can function normally without a CI. The “story”—fictional,..of course, of one child and is not of all deaf children. There is a whole Deaf culture out there, and inviting and ready for all who are ready to take it on!!

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