I’m Sorry, Your Child Is Stupid

I asked myself, Rachel, if you only had 1 year left to blog. What would you write?

I would write this…

Our experience raising Leah is not typical, not typical at all. I dare say, we have successfully raised a deaf, bilingual child.

We did it in a school environment that called us “crazy.” In Leah’s Individual Education Program (IEP), where she transitioned from Early Intervention to preschool, we were asked,

“Why do you want ASL? No one else wants ASL.”

I didn’t care what the district said, because really, we had nothing… or was it everything, to lose.

The Parent Infant Program representatives from the state agencies told us that our child would graduate from high school with a third grade reading level. Then we asked them,

“Why do you believe that a child who cannot hear does not have the ability to learn?”

We asked them,

“What are you doing wrong? What is wrong with the education of deaf children in America?

These questions kept us awake at night. Why on earth was it acceptable that generations of deaf children were being failed by the only school systems available for them to attend? It became VERY, VERY clear that we could not and would not entrust our toddler’s education to such an admittedly broken system. They could guarantee that after TWELVE years of schooling Leah would have broken English and at age 18 she would be able to read like an 8 year old. They would not prepare her to compete with her hearing peers heading to college and into the work force.

The solution offered was an embarrassment and I imagined what the reaction to that statement would be if it was said about any other group of individuals… Take a deep breath and try out the following~

“I’m sorry, your child is black. They will graduate from high school with a third grade reading level.”

“I’m sorry to tell you that you can expect your child to graduate from high school with a third grade reading level because she’s a girl.”

Go ahead and fill in the blank- “Hispanic” “gay” “has blue eyes” “short”… fill in the blank!
ANY of those statements would be met with riots! No one would swallow it as truth! No one would stand for it! It wouldn’t just be the parents up in arms, the entire community would fight for those children!

Imagine that your state-funded school had the balls to say that about ANY child!! These are your tax dollars at work.

Now, my friends, let it sink in that this is the reality for parents just like me. The Utah School for the Deaf and Blind said, “statistically you can expect Leah to graduate from high school with a third grade reading level.” Parents of deaf children have been hearing that sickening statistic for years and not just in Utah- this is a nationwide epidemic. The worst part is… parents believe it! They look at their little deaf child and believe that their potential is limited because some stranger from a state organization says so.

Where is the class action lawsuit?

Every child with a disability is guaranteed a “free and appropriate education”.

This conversation should make you feel sick.
It should make you angry.
It should be on the local and national news repeatedly until it is resolved!

For some reason, Aaron and I didn’t believe them. Instead we believed that we could offer Leah something much better than that. We would do it. We didn’t know how, but we knew that she was deaf, not stupid.

We sought out deaf adults and found many who had college degrees and PhDs!! Proof that a deaf person could succeed academically! Most of these deaf adults had deaf parents. Their parents had never struggled to accept that their child was deaf. These deaf children were in a signing environment from day one. We asked deaf adults for their advice on raising our deaf child. We asked them because they had lived the life that we wanted Leah to live… a life without limits. We followed their advice. We looked to the Deaf Community as our compass. They told us that Leah’s first language should be American Sign Language. They said that once Leah had a solid first language (ASL), we could then teach her English through reading and writing.
Finally something that made sense!

We were excited to share this breakthrough with the Early Intervention team, with the School District, with all of those people who could make a difference for every deaf child. We told them what we had learned and what we wanted for our child and why we believed it would work. They looked at us like we were crazy. They told us we needed to pick a program that they offered, they weren’t going to make up a new program just for Leah Coleman. It was such a slap in the face to have them simply re-offer their broken system, since that was all they had.

We visited every preschool in their system. We drove hundreds of miles to do so. We were looking for a teacher, the right teacher. At each school we saw the same sad scenario, the deaf children did not have free, expressive conversations, they were signing by rote.

Each time we met the teacher they would ask, “What’s her name?”
I responded, “Ask her.”
“NO! Don’t tell me she can…” and they would turn to Leah, asking her in sign, “What’s your name?”
Leah responded by fingerspelling her name “L-E-A-H” and then showed them her Name Sign.
The teachers, one after another were stunned.
“How old is she?” They asked me.
I rolled my eyes. “Ask her.”
“NO!!!” They turned excitedly and asked Leah, “How old are you?”
Leah smiled “I’m two-years-old almost 3. I’ll be 3 in December.”

It was as if they had just discovered a new species. They were fascinated by her. Then they would then sit down with Leah and ask her everything they could think of. Leah chatted on and on about this and that, her favorite colors, foods and the people in her life. The teachers were completely engaged.

And every visit ended with them saying, “We really would love to have her in our class. She would be such a great language role model for the other children!”

It was nice that everyone wanted Leah, but I had a sick feeling in my stomach.
A nagging question.

Who would be Leah’s role model?”

There was no ASL classroom and so we created one. We chose a deaf teacher and then we wrote into Leah’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that she needed to be in a language rich environment, one where she had access to acquire her natural language, ASL. It sounds simple, really and no one was opposed to writing that in to her IEP… BUT… when we explained that ASL is a visual language and it requires two fluent signers in a room for a child to have natural language acquisition, the team was a little perplexed. See, that is how we were able to get Leah a one-on-one aide. Her aide was fluent in ASL and the teacher that we chose was deaf. Now there were two signers in the class and our child actually had an appropriate and effective language model.

In school Leah could not communicate with her peers. They stared at her blankly as she signed on and on about this and that. Then she started coming home signing like them. I was horrified! All of our hard work seemed to be dissolving right before my eyes! I asked, “What did you do today at school?” Leah would respond in a repetitive, almost robotic way, “BIKE-BIKE-BIKE” she signed, not making eye contact with me. Then “EAT-EAT-EAT” “PLAY-PLAY.”
“Leah. Leah. Look at me. What did you do at school today? I’m asking a real question.” Every day the same answers by rote. She would sign like that for about an hour and then finally ease back into being the expressive, happy kid we knew and loved.

We went to the school and visited the older grades. K-4 we saw the same thing. As I looked at the projects and work displayed on the walls in each classroom, it was obvious to me that these children were not doing grade appropriate work. As far as language level, Leah was testing at the level of the deaf 4th graders, but she was only three-years-old. We couldn’t put her in with nine-year-old.

We also created a Deaf Mentor program for Leah. Leah had a Deaf Mentor when we lived in Utah, a wonderful woman named Diane would come to our home each week and teach us ASL. There was no such program when we moved to Los Angeles. Luckily it was in her Individualized Family Service Plan(IFSP) and so we continued it. We were told that it would be up to us to find the deaf adult. We agreed. We found a deaf man who was a teacher working for our school system. That made it easy for them to pay him. John came to our home once a week for an hour and we turned our voices off and just signed.

People always ask us how we did it. How we were able to smash the statistics. How Leah can comfortably identify herself as hearing and as deaf. The above is just one piece of that puzzle. We knew that Leah’s success was ultimately up to us. We couldn’t even pretend that the current school system would carry her. We took on her education and success as our own responsibility.

Most importantly Aaron and I saw Leah as a wonderful little girl with a bright and limitless future. We saw her as all of that even when so many others… so many “professionals” only saw her as a deaf kid.

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About Rachel Coleman

The opinions and late night musings published on this blog are Rachel de Azevedo Coleman's alone, and are not ever intended to represent the opinions and sentiments of any organization or product that Rachel is, was, or will be associated with. Rachel Coleman is the creator and Emmy-nominated host of Signing Time!, the children's American Sign Language vocabulary building series. She is also the creator and host of Baby Signing Time, Rachel & the TreeSchoolers, and Rachel & Me. Rachel now serves as the Executive Director of the American Society for Deaf Children, a 501c3 nonprofit established in 1967 by parents of deaf children. ASDC is the American Sign Language organization for families who are raising deaf children. www.deafchildren.org Motivated by her child, Leah's deafness, Rachel has spent the last 18 years creating ASL products to help bridge the communication barrier between hearing and signing communities. In 2006 Rachel founded the Signing Time Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit dedicated to putting communication in the hands of all children of all abilities. In 2014, the Signing Time Foundation launched a 50-Lesson online ASL curriculum called "Sign It: ASL Made Easy" that is available free-of-charge to families with deaf or hard of hearing children ages 36 months and under. Apply at www.mydeafchild.org. For those who do not qualify to receive Sign It ASL for free, they can find it for purchase at very reasonable rates on www.SignItASL.com. Rachel and her husband, Aaron, live in Salt Lake City Utah. They are parents to Leah who was born profoundly deaf, and is now a senior in college at NTID/RIT in Rochester, NY. They are also parents to Lucy who has spina bifida and cerebral palsy, and recently graduated high school. In 2010 the Colemans were joyfully reunited with Rachel's daughter Laura. Rachel is proud to be Laura's birth mom. Laura was placed for adoption as an infant in 1992 when Rachel was 17 years-old.

308 thoughts on “I’m Sorry, Your Child Is Stupid

  1. Thank you for sharing this! I have a cousin who is deaf and he has just graduated high school and is on his way to college. I know that so many people doubted that he could accomplish all that he has. I wish there were more people out there that understood that just because you are deaf it doesn’t make you stupid. Thank you for sharing your story! I have two hearing sons and I have been teaching them ASL from your videos. I feel that it is important for them to be able to communicate with their cousin! What amazes me is that people don’t seem to understand this either. People have told me that teaching my boys ASL was going to hinder their speech development and that they were not going to want to speak because they would want to sign instead, or I have been told that I was teaching them too many signs at once and was going to confuse them, and that ASL was too hard for children to learn! Funny how they don’t seem to have any of those problems, in fact their vocabulary and understanding of the English language is higher then most children their age. And neither one of them has any problem talking! I am always amazed at the ignorance of people. I ask them do you only use 3 English words with your child, because you are afraid you are going to confuse them? Do you speak to them in broken English because English is too hard for them to understand? Then I ask them how do you think deaf children learn sign language? Do you really think that their parents teach them a made up language because ASL is too hard? I am proud to have a deaf cousin, I am happy that I am able to communicate with him, and that my children can too! Thank you for opening peoples eyes to the problem with our schools and how they perceive the deaf and for helping people to realize that ASL IS A Language!
    Thank you for shedding light on the deaf community and for showing the world how important it is for ALL children to be given a proper education no matter what!

    • Hannah, Well said. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Well I did write one up that rhymes 😉

      “Babies CRAWL BEFORE they WALK and they SIGN BEFORE they TALK. It’s natural.”
      ~Rachel Coleman

  2. We have been “lucky” as our school has no experience with deaf kids or implants so they are doing all of their own research to help our 3 year old be successful. We are heading into the iep business as well so this post came at the perfect time. My son has bilateral implants but I expect many great things from him and hope we never come across someone that believes his deafness makes him less that another.

  3. I’m angry hearing the negative things about people with different circumstances. What happened to loving a challenge? The world is simply…lazy.

    • April,
      Or maybe they are just uninformed, unaware or unwilling to do what it takes to take a stand and make a difference. Possibly unsure of where to start and very sure that someone else will eventually handle it;) which is sort of like lazy

  4. Rachel, I just wanted to say that you guys are awesome. I just read your blog and it hurts me that our educational system is so flawed and parents have to work so hard just to get their children a good education. I do not share the same trials and tribulations that you have, but i deeply appreciate your experience as if it doesn’t help me personally, it may help me help someone else. My mother recently asked me for a Signing Times DVD like I have for my 3 year old as she wants to learn to be able to help a customer that comes into her employment. I just want to say thank you again Rachel for all that you have done and all that you will continue to do!

    • Kitara, the good news is that we did it and we did it well. I hope that others can glean something from that. Even in the face of complete disagreement we can be amazing and create a new outcome!

      Go mom!!!! I love that she is learning from Signing Time!

  5. My son is deaf, has severe vision loss, cerebral palsy, and we experienced the DHH program at his school label him “autistic” because they didn’t want to manage some of his challenges. We are trying so hard to nurture his ASL communication, but our community doesn’t have ASL resources for deaf children. They have sign classes for hearing children, and it is just the basics. He is far beyond that and he does so much better communicating in ASL. I thank you for your post, Rachel, because now I know to seek out members of the deaf community. I am hoping I can find someone who would like to donate time to nurture a young deaf boy who is just so charming and such a miracle. Thank you for inspiring all parents-my son was so excited to see you in LA-he loves Signing Time and talks about Rachel, Alex and Leah as though you all are his friends. Thank you for your voice. It speaks to us all as parents of extraordinary children!

    • Tonya, part of the issue is that only 1 in 1000 children are born profoundly deaf. It’s SO random! Your deaf child ends up in a class with the other randomly deaf kids. Leah explained her feelings about that experience when she was younger by saying, “I don’t feel like I really get to choose my friends.”

      When other disabilities are tossed in the mix your child’s needs become even more specific. We were in LA when we found a deaf mentor. John was a teacher at the school for the deaf (which takes care of the background check) Talk to teachers of the deaf and ask for resources.

  6. Wow! What a powerful, damning indictment of the educational system! You two obviously have your heads on straight. I wish more parents of Deaf children were like you, and you were in the majority, not minority of Hearing parents of Deaf children!

    • Don G., was it a little harsh? 😉 YES it is harsh. It is hash to have to fight for your child in a system that is supposed to be set up to help them excel. I hope that through sharing our story and experience more parents see what is REALLY possible for their deaf children. I was asked to speak in Chicago at the recent EHDI conference, I laid it out. I told the truth. I think I offended every person in the room at some point in my hour presentation and still received a standing ovation. The truth will set us free.

  7. Rachel,
    I am a hearing, middle school, Language Arts teacher at a state school for the deaf. I read your story. I hear and understand your frustration with the current state of deaf education! Like you, I do NOT accept the fact that most deaf high school graduates have a 3rd grade reading level. However, it is often the case. I believe, though, that it is something that is partly out of our hands as K-12 educators. Too many deaf and hard-of-hearing children out there do not come from families like yours. They come from families where they do not get any accessible language input until they enter school. The children can’t hear enough spoken English to pick it up and the adults don’t learn ASL. Please understand, I know that there are many hearing parents of deaf children out there who love their children, accept them, and work very hard to make sure they have access to language. Parents like you. However, of the 20+ students I served last year, I can count the number of parents like that on one hand. When students enter school in kindergarten with no first language to speak of, they are behind. When they enter kindergarten and have to immediately begin learning TWO languages, ASL and English, they have a hard road to hoe to make up 6 years of language learning PLUS learn all they need to learn that first year of school. Because of the lack of early language input, many of the students never really develop a strong first language and therefore always flounder academically. I think there is much more we need to learn and do as educators of the deaf… much, much more! It is going to take more parents like you, though, getting involved at birth, learning ASL, finding Deaf Mentors, making language accessible during those crucial early years for us to really begin to turn around the education of deaf children. I’m going to venture a guess… if you asked those deaf adults who have their PhD’s if their parents were actively involved in their lives and education, the vast majority would give a resounding, “YES!” I know that is the case for the successful Deaf adults that I work with. As I said, this is not the case for many deaf children, though. You are to be commended for all you have done for Leah so far. Keep fighting (even though it shouldn’t have to be a fight)! Keep spreading the word about early language learning through ASL and Deaf Mentors! I wish every hearing parent of a deaf child was as invested in their child’s future as you.

    • Carrie, You are absolutely right. 0-3 is critical. Leah knew her manual alphabet before she was 2. She was fingerspelling words and asking their meaning as a 2 year-old. She could out-communicate her hearing peers from 16 months on. 0-3 is up to the parents. But here’s yet another part of the problem… In my experience parents of deaf children are bombarded with pretty scary information during that time. We are trying to sort through it. It’s crash course of the worst kind. It is set up so you feel damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If you choose ASL your child is isolated from the oralists. You are looked down upon by many people… you’re asked how could you “give up” on your child?
      If you choose an oral route, you better not muddy your choice by using sign as well. Once you make your choice you are invested. You can’t just jump tracks, there’s no support for that.
      What about a holistic view of a deaf child. Give them EVERY tool without fear mongering.

  8. Our son is nearly a year out of the PIP program (almost 4) in Utah and has been completely dropped from any USDB or School District services because he is above the 7th percentile. What a ridiculously low standard. He did not qualify for any IEP or 504 program because his language skills were age-appropriate.
    We feel completely on our own. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad he’s doing well, but I wish there was still more of a support for parents regardless of their child’s “tested” levels of progress. We had a fabulous experience with our PIP provider although I’ve heard things are changing for the worse in that program and the Deaf Mentor program.

    I also think I am part of the problem because as a parent, I am so wrapped up in where we currently are, that I forget to do anything to help change where we’ve been to help those coming after us. Any suggestions on how to be more involved? I have 5 young children and it’s hard to find time.

    • Amy D, If I recall correctly, Leah tested out of special ed services based on her language skills. Since she is deaf she qualifies for services based on her disability. My recommendation is do the work. Look at the programs and like I said look ahead, look at the older classrooms as well. And in my experience EVERYTHING will change for the worse if no one asks any questions or makes any requests. Be sure to look at JMS as well. You’ll get a lot of recommendations, but tell them you would like to see EVERY option.

  9. I could not agree any less with Don G! Your story as a Hearing parent of a Deaf child must be spread out near and far. I am an ASL signing Deaf mother to three Deaf girls and one Hearing (Koda) boy. Every Hearing parent with a Deaf child must not depend on medical professionals and IFSP/IEP team members who aren’t Deaf for advice as to how to raise their child, but to reach over to Deaf adults (near native to native signers of ASL) for advice and support.

    • Nikki, For some reason my first instinct was to talk to someone who had actually LIVED what my daughter would live. I knew nothing about deafness or deaf education. Most professionals that we came into contact with- Speech therapists, ENT, audiologist, pediatrician, even Parent Infant Program Advisors knew nothing firsthand about deafness and deaf education. These people didn’t have the life experience to make an actual, reliable recommendation in my eyes – they haven’t lived it themselves and not one of them had a child who had lived it. They weren’t making these choices and living with their consequences.
      So I looked for deaf people and asked them what they would do. I asked the REAL professionals what course we should follow in educating our deaf child.

  10. Wow. I am sad to say, my uncle is deaf and so is his wife. They are in their early 40’s and I believe the school system failed them. My aunt is not able to read lips and is often times secluded when we have family gatherings because she is unable to communicate with other family members who do not know ASL.

    My uncle has learned to read lips and can talk to some extent but neither my aunt or uncle can read or write very well. My uncle is working at the Oregon school for the deaf in Salem and unfortunately, I heard the school may be closed soon due to lack of funding. I am trying to learn ASL on my own to be able to communicate with them better.

    I am so proud of you and Aaron for taking some initiative and being great parents to Leah. I am also an elementary school teacher and I am always so proud when parents are working with their children outside of the classroom to help them to learn and grow.

    Thanks for sharing your frustrations with us and also your success in raising Leah to be bilingual, smart, and educated!

    • Rebecca, I know a family who always had an interpreter at family events so mom and dad weren’t stuck by their deaf child’s side as interpreter. They also felt like it would allow their daughter to have the teenage conversations with her cousins without feeling embarrassed to have them “filtered” through her parents. You may be able to find someone who would volunteer to do this for the experience or just because they love doing it.

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  12. This was such an inspiring post. We’ve been through the same struggles to get services for Hallie, who was first diagnosed as globally developmentally delayed and then, more correctly, as high functioning on the autism spectrum. The ‘system’ is happy to write her off as cute-but-dumb-and-kind-of-out-of-it and quite satisfied to have her in the back of some (no doubt overcrowded) classroom as long as she’s not disruptive. But to get her what she really, actually needs–which is an individualized educational plan tailored to her particular abilities (and that doesn’t just shunt her to the side, focusing only on what she cannot do and her dis-abilities) has been a fight. And of course, in our case it’s just begun. I’m glad we have the law on our side; I just wish that people (here the school districts and their gate keepers) didn’t see the law as something to get around as opposed to something to uphold. So we parents have to look the system in the eye and refuse to take ‘no’ (or ‘we don’t do that here’) for an answer, educate ourselves about what resources there are out there (and thank heavens for Signing Time–I can’t tell you how important it’s been in our lives and in the lives of many families we know in the micropreemie and autism communities), and gear up for a fight.

    I just want to thank you again for giving Hallie (and us) the gift of ASL. At Hallie’s first IEP meeting when she turned 3, everyone’s jaw dropped open when they read that this kid who was testing as 32% delayed pretty much across the board (so at a 2 year old level) knew hundreds of signs and their meanings and could sign the alphabet in ASL and identify it in writing.

    Hallie used ASL before she ever spoke and she continues to sign (both at home and at school, where several of her teachers sign when they sing and talk. Hallie often does the same). Because Hallie’s vocal quality is so poor (her articulation is great, but she has a paralyzed vocal cord and a soft, raspy voice) we’ve been encouraged to have her continue to study ASL as a way of being heard.

    The struggle you mounted to get Leah what she needed really did blossom into something so significant–both for her and the broader community of our kids-who-are-too-easily-left-behind. I think it’s wonderful how you guys channeled anger–because having your kid written off is a surefire way of producing anger–into something so productive and so amazing for all of us out here!

    • Abby, you and Hallie are very welcome. Let’s keep dropping jaws. What makes me crazy is that so many parents who have children with delays and disabilities KNOW.. no I mean KNOW the difference that early communication through signing makes. We KNOW it and yet so many people are afraid of it. Is there any doubt in your mind, from your experience, that EVERY child could benefit from early communication through sign language?

      As far as ideas for in-classroom support the best thing to do is stay connected to other families all around the country who are dealing with similar issues. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel and others will come up with ideas that you have never considered.

  13. you mentioned a few times about the system being “broken” … I find it interesting that people only start to realize that the government education system is broken when things affect them. education should not be a “right” nor is it a right for anyone… anyone. when you look to government for anything you’re always going to get the worst of the worst.

    you see what happened when you and your husband took things into your own hands?

    • Robert, I agree. But currently we are working with the system in place. Public education is a big, huge, waste of money and time. The current system claims to be able to provide a free and appropriate education even for children with disabilities, but what it really seems to do is waste tons of money, protect the rights and employment of those being paid by the system at the cost of the children it was supposed to be set up for. This is why I have nightmares about public health care. I really do. When you get things for free you give up your say about the quality.

  14. Rachel,

    Reading about how the educational system reacted to Leah, I did feel angry. I felt sick.

    I work in Thailand with children from Burma. I just started working at a center for children with disabilities. There’s a range of children who come to the day center, but almost all of them have spent their whole lives relegated to a corner of the room. There is a girl who is about 7 years old who is deaf. No one has ever tried to communicate with her. When her parents were asked: “What kind of activities do you do with your child?” They answered: “She’s deaf. She sits in the corner.” It makes me feel sick and angry.

    The thing is, I think, holding on to that anger and turning it into the fuel for change. Holding onto joy whenever it can be found, letting the losses go, and concentrating on the victories where they can be found.

    I don’t know what I can teach little Lay Lay Soe, the deaf girl at the center. She rarely looks at anyone’s face. I think she’s given up on communicating since everyone has given up on her for so long. And I wouldn’t know what language to start teaching: ASL, BSL, Burmese sign language. Who will sign with her? But I am thinking of what you have written about natural language.

    For now, though, I’m just celebrating every time she looks at my face and keeping myself fueled on anger and joy and the inspirational stories of everyone around me like Rachel and the people who have shared their lives in the comments here, everyone who is making this world a little bit better for someone every day.

    • trickychix, Any sign will do. If you don’t sign with her, no one will so does it matter what you use? Breaks my heart too. When we went to Ghana we heard similar things and worse. Children with mental disabilities are considered possessed by the devil and a danger to their village because it is believed the child will transform into a serpent in the middle of the night and kill other villagers. I kept asking, “Really? No REALLY? People really believe that?” Yes it was 2008 and people STILL believe that.

  15. Hi Rachel-
    My son is a typically developing child, but knows many signs. I love to sign with him just for the joy of communicating. What a blessing to have that connection at such a young age, and that’s on top of all the academic benefits.

  16. I have tears in my eyes and can’t swallow because the lump in my throat. The tears are of joy for your family’s efforts…and tears of anger, anger at the brokenness of our school system, community and world. I am the mom of three kids: two were born in an African village with no formal education for the first 10 years of life.

    After one year in the US, they’ve accomplished a HUGE amount and the teachers are amazed. My husband and I are not amazed. We expected it, and that’s the difference.

  17. My daughter fell in love with the Signing Time videos early on & having a friend as an interpreter, I took it upon myself to begin teaching her ASL at 5 months old. People always ask why?…& I respond with why not? Why wouldn’t I? Why wouldn’t we do everything and anything we can to open up the communication lines? Why does there have to be something wrong & so what if there is? My daughter isn’t deaf but using ASL has been beneficial in so many ways. I strongly feel ASL should be considered a second language. It’s heartbreaking to hear how poorly the school system works. Thank you for sharing your story Rachel. I’m always inspired when I read your blog. Hope you can come to Michigan soon!

    • Wendy, In most places in the IS ASL is now considered a second language. Many high schools and colleges offer ASL as a second language! YAY! Congrats on your success with early communication.

  18. Hi Rachel & Aaron, I am not sure if you remember me, but my previous married name is Petra Rose and I worked as the Deaf Mentor Specialist after Paula Pittman in Utah. Ring a bell? Well, I am just enthralled reading your blog and hearing about your powerful presentation at the recent EHDI conference. What you are doing is exactly what all hearing parents of D/HH infants/toddlers need to know! You guys rock! I hope to reconnect with you guys as Renate is now almost 13 and I know Leah is about 14 or 15 years old. It would be cool if these two girls could meet again! You have my email address now. Hope to hear from you! Take care.

    • Petra, Yes we do remember you 🙂 You were one of the people we first met who inspired us! Thank you for that. I can’t believe Renate is 13. Leah is 13 as well. Wow. Are you in Utah?

  19. Wow, what an excellent post! Great! I especially liked this sentence: “There is still a stigma with ASL, many parents perpetuate it with their fear of allowing their child to acquire a first language that is not spoken. Fear that their child will not speak ever. My biggest fear is that my child would completely miss the learning window from 0-3 if we waited for her speech to develop before starting to communicate.”

    I feel that the medical professionals (doctors, audiologists) only see it from the medical model: they want to “fix” what they see as a problem. Therefore they give incorrect information on the use of ASL – and that is why you wrote is so important! Kids need a language rich environment to flourish! Are you involved in fighting AB20172 in California? It is a bill that will give only audiologist the right to counsel parents of deaf babies. The bill is heavily backed by the oral schools, the audiologists, and the cochlear implant companies, and hardly mentions ASL at all. Very sad!

    Also wanted to point out that I think the average for deaf students is a 4th grade reading level – but what most people don’t know is that the average reading level for non-deaf high school graduate is 6th grade! Parents of deaf children are scared with this information, often by audiologists, into thinking that they have to take an only-oral approach – and then many end up losing the window of learning that you mention. Thank you for being such a great supporter of ASL and of language immersion!!

    • Irene, I am with you. Since most deaf children are born to hearing parents many choices are made from a place of fear rather than a place of an educated choice. What hearing parent wouldn’t want their child to hear? Of course you do! That is a natural thing to want.
      Once you really understand the impact of what you are choosing and at what cost, you might make a different choice. (not “you” specifically)
      We are no longer in CA but I have heard about AB20172. I would have to read it myself before commenting.

  20. This just makes me so sad. My sweet boy has multiple delays including being legally blind and although no one has said it out loud I feel that their expectations are way too low! It’s overwhelming. He has so much potential. We just need to develop it.

  21. This is a very moving blog. You both are good parents who wanted the best education for your child. It is great to use what is the best tool for your child and your family. I do want to say that I am now 43 years old profoundly deaf woman who was born deaf. My parents did want the best education and did moved from California to St. Louis to St. Joseph Int. for the deaf which gives oralism education. I do feel that I was able to become who I am as of this. I was able to graduated from University with BFA in Architecture Design. I was able to work on projects from Disney theme parks to hotels to commerical projects with architecture firms and am now married to a hearing husband who is a professor of physics. St. Joseph Int. was able o get 90% of the students to University levels. Many are able to grow into happy adults with deaf and hearing spouses and children. I would like to say I did learn ASL when I was 18 years old and do enjoy be with other deaf people but do look into oralism as a positive way too. There are many deaf adults in leader positions that have oralism background. Good luck on your future with your girl.

    • Lynn Hnat, Thank you for sharing your story and success. I agree there are many pathways to success. I have no doubt that Leah will grow up to be a happy adult and she can marry deaf or hearing. She has told me she hopes her children are deaf too.

  22. My little Madi is 2 and some of her signs are unique. I recently had to start working and wrote all of her signs and how she does them down for her day care provider. My biggest problem I’m having with them is to get them to pay attention. Since she is not screaming and demanding attention, she just sits quietly and signs drink, the teachers tend to ignore her. She has Down Syndrome and is very patient, but she still has needs and the quiet kids don’t always get what they need.

    • Carla, We have had some families take the Signing Time flashcards and simply put their child’s most frequent signs on the plastic ring and send them to their day care provider (rather than all 20-25 cards). You still would need the provider to learn the signs or at least start looking for them, but maybe something like that would help.
      www.signingtime.com/shop/flash-cards/

  23. I am very inspired by your story. I am not deaf myself, nor do I have deaf children, but I am encouraged that you focused on your child’s potential and strength and did not let the words of so many change your determination. That is what parenting is about…knowing your child’s strengths and weaknesses and using them to grow them as an individual.

  24. My youngest daughter just had her 3rd child. Thank God for you and Leah. We love you guys.
    The first two can sign… we hope the third one will also, for they can communicate with those whom need communication… Thank you leah, Thank you Racheal.

    • Thank YOU Nevelle,
      I too thank God for Leah and her deafness. It is impossible for me to even attempt to quantify the impact this one little girl has had on so many lives, including my own.

  25. Hi Rachel,
    I can’t help myself… I have to comment. First and foremost, not only are you inspirational but you and Aaron are the exception to the rule when it comes to parenting. Carrie who posted (#57) has a very accurate perspective on the reality of what we see in the system. Granted, I agree that the system is broken and as parents you are your child’s primary advocate. Getting to the core issues though is essential. The folks reading your blog post are your supporters, they probably have similar parenting skills, and it’s almost as if preaching to the choir. As you continue your path you are gaining leverage….every day…little by little. We, you, … need to get our hands on these kids during the most critical years between ages 0-3 while the brain is establishing neural pathways and the foundational linguistic and cognitive skills are being formed. Parenting classes, how to communicate with your child through play, how to build foundational language skills that will support literacy, how to engage through multi-sensory activities, how to embrace ASL as a first language so as to ease cross-linguistic transfer to English..are all workshops you are equipped to teach. I see the same issues with kids from Hispanic descent who come from poverty. We need to mount efforts at a national level so that we can begin to affect change.

    • As per above: “As you continue your path you are gaining leverage….every day…little by little. We, you, … need to get our hands on these kids during the most critical years between ages 0-3 while the brain is establishing neural pathways and the foundational linguistic and cognitive skills are being formed.”

      -Rachel, Get your HANDS on the numerous NICU babies being born, receiving heavy duty- OTOTOXIC medications that are also LIFESAVING…but leaves many, many babies discharged from the NICU with varying degrees of Hearing Loss. AS a parent we would never choose hearing over life, but no Neonatologist EVER even told us about the Ototoxic side effects, honestly (and we had 7 long NICU months to be told!) I cannot tell you how many parents of former NICU babies/Premature Babies ASSUME their child was born deaf… and even worse, how many medical professionals just let the parents believe that!

    • Gloria, I think this one may have reached far outside my normal audience:) The message I delivered at the Early Hearing Detection & Intervention National Conference was not candy coated at all. I had no agenda but to share my story and my truth and I will continue to do that with anyone who will listen… plus it’s one hell of a performance if I do say so myself

      Renee, I would love to. If someone can show me the way or create that connection while navigating privacy laws I am there… the best I have come up with was a national platform, public television, in hopes those who really needs us happen to find us in their living rooms.

  26. Wow, I am SO glad to come across your blog as you are reaching out to numerous parents who relate to you, sharing the route you have provided for your deaf daughter Leah. I thought of you in midst of the assembly bill introduced by California Assemblymember Mendoza (AB 2072) that causes great concern. The bill does not go far enough to help inform parents about what it means to have a deaf child. A Senate Hearing in front of the Senate Health Committee was postponed to next Wed, 6/23. Those of us in opposition continued with a rally and a press conference that will lead a pathway for the future. A perfect timing as you came to mind, and then your blog post was mentioned. I wasted no time to check what you have shared with the public.

    Yes! Just like you, we see the importance for language acquisition right from birth for every baby, which is an approach that looks at the whole child, not ears. Deaf babies should be given the SAME opportunity to acquire and develop general language proficiency as early as possible. Language is more than speech, and it is more than listening. This is often where many parents are misled or confused. Our world needs to refocus from fixing the problem to a broader consideration of nurturing the child as a whole individual, emphasizing the importance of the child’s mind. Our prime concern is to have new parents on a journey to accept their deaf child, and to understand what it means to raise a deaf child and stories like yours show them the way.

    Supporters of AB2072 have done everything in their power to marginalize ASL users (and it’s been going on for the past 100 years!). Assimilation into society or even enjoying life is not measured by anyone’s ability to speak. I do not think you would find that belief acceptable, and a knowledgeable parent like you could understand that AB 2072 claims to close the gaps for parents who have just had a newly diagnosed deaf baby, but it does not come close. We ALL recognize the importance of providing information to new parents as part of the Newborn Hearing Screening Program requirement at acute care hospitals, but this is not the bill.

    What I am hoping is you are familiar with the AB 2072 dilemma we are having out here in California. I can see how you epitomize the best route for all new parents to follow. Look at all these testimonials from other parents on your blog to whom you have given hope and insight. You will make a great ally for many!

    I would like to ask that you to take the time to check this website, www.opposeAB2072.com to learn about our movement to make changes in ensuring early language acquisition for deaf babies.

    As showcased by your series, “Signing Times!” you have encouraged many families sign even with their hearing babies. We would LOVE to have you jump on board to show the rest of the world how essential it is for Deaf babies and children to have access to visual language. Can we ask that you mail or send a fax to oppose AB 2072 to Mia Orr, the consultant of the Senate Health Committee? Here is her contact: State Capitol, Room 2191, Sacramento, CA 95814 FAX 916-651-4111 and her email is Mia.orr@sen.ca.gov

    As you quoted, “Babies crawl before they walk and sign before they talk,” the supporters of AB2072 need to “listen” to the reality of parents before they can learn what is best for Deaf babies.

    Thank you for your consideration, and for sharing your important story.

      • THANK you for considering offering a hand. The most helpful thing you could do is tell your story about the struggle to get information early on, and the medical field’s pessimistic and negative attitude about Deaf babies. Right now AB 2072 is undergoing more changes, with the next step a vote on the CA senate floor. I will try to keep you posted as soon as we know the final version of the bill.

        A friend just yesterday shared that a family in Descanso was struggling with the Early Start providers to get IFSP goals written for ASL. They did not even offer to pay for their ASL tutor for which the family paid out of their pocket. The onus is on the family to fight to receive those services. The family said the resource specialist was very, very nice until she found that the family opted for ASL!

        We know this is a long fight, but it is so important for Deaf babies! Again, THANK you for taking time to reply amidst your busy schedule.

  27. You’re doing the right thing! I was in your shoes 16 years ago. I was told the same thing. It is sad to say things have not changed here in San Diego. They are still telling hearing families they can’t learn ASL and their kids will not learn ASL either.

    I fought for my son and we respected that his first language would be ASL. Speech was provided and he decided to stop in the third grade. Our focus has always been literacy, English and ASL.

    His is a fully mainstreamed junior and doing great. He is the only deaf student in his school (hard sometimes) but he loves going to school there. We are blessed to have a wonderful Deaf community here.

    • Loni, congrats on your successes as well.
      Leah stopped wearing her hearing aids when she was 4. She was adamant, “Mom they don’t help me hear ANYTHING!” It may seem silly that we would respect the wishes of a 4 year-old but she had more experience wearing hearing aids than I did.

  28. Your story brings me to tears every time. I am thrilled to know that you, and others like you, exist. The flaws of our society will not be fixed unless we, as individuals, do something about it. It might take a million years, but a million is better than never, I guess. Your children are blessed to have you and Aaron as parents. Cheers to taking on such a noble quest.

    I did not realize you guys live in LA now, I’m up in the Antelope Valley! I’ll definitely keep my eye out for you coming to Santa Clarita, and any other things you guys do down in the city.

    We made the decision that before my son was born, we were going to get rid of cable/satellite TV. So, we’ve been using the TV as an educational tool through out my son’s life. We watch a couple of Signing Time episodes a day (via DVD- we own like 20 so far, lol!), and that is almost ALL we watch. I try and squeeze in a Spanish or French program in there every other day, too. But aside from ST/BST and Brainy Baby French and Spanish, he will not watch anything else. We also have about 8 ST CD’s in the car (for those cranky moments). My son is not deaf, but I knew that this was the kind of program that any child could benefit from. And Naeem, my son, is just absolutely enamored by it.

    I thank you all so much for enduring and prevailing for, not only the sake of your own children, but to share the benefit with all of us. There is a lot of crap on TV, but when my son comes up to me and starts signing to me his tall tales (at the age of 1 1/2), I fight the tears, am in awe, and find myself whispering “thank you” to God and to the Azavedo-Coleman families.
    You guys rock hard core.

    • Nikki, We are actually in Utah. We left L.A. in 2002.
      You may not have heard but we just released the first 3 DVDs of Signing Time with Spanish words included. In addition to the original play option, you can now watch the whole thing in Spanish or just watch the English ASL version and hear/read each word in Spanish as well!
      www.signingtime.com/signing-time-dvd-gift-set-vol-1-3
      and you are very welcome. Early communication is a true gift. Thank you for signing with us:)

      • Thank you!! I have been anticipating the release of these DVD’s!

        I have also recently discovered another wonderful language program, Little Pim. It was designed by the daughter of the man who created the Pimsleur language-learning programs. This time, it is for kids. They have a large selection of languages for those interested in Spanish, French, Italian, Chinese, Russian, German, and more. We actually purchased the Arabic one so we can get my son acquainted with the languages of his heritage. It is so exciting that there are people creating wonderful programs to broaden the world-perspective of our children. 🙂 You, included!

  29. Hi Rachel and Aaron,

    You know it amazes me how you continue to inspire after all this time, but every time I check back in and see what you’re up to, I find another round of encouragement with a matter of fact attitude so seldom found in today’s politically correct world. We give so many excuses to those we deem to be “different” and never even think about how we are affecting their future. When you so plainly discussed the fact that your child deserved as equal a chance as the next one, you made us all stand up and realize that our labels are not only hurtful to society, but to the individuals to which these stereotypes are applied. Leah deserves to be the best possible person she can be, just like anyone else, regardless of their race, religious views, sexual preferences, language barriers, etc. Why are we limiting our children to the preconceived notions some unenlightened professional has set for them? Thanks for showing us that all it takes is a new way of looking at each other, and finding solutions that work rather than calling it impossible! As a teacher, I find it refreshing that there are still parents out there raising children with no boundaries. Thanks for removing excuses from yours and Leah’s vocabulary. I hope more individuals learn from your example. Just maybe our future and the future of our collective children doesn’t have to look so bleak. Keep up the good work!!!

    • Lynn, I am by no means always inspiring. Sometimes I am embarrassed to catch myself in a first reaction that would limit my kids if I didn’t let it go and really look at the situation. For example, when Leah told us she wanted to participate in the school Spelling Bee all I wanted was to save her from this highly likely let down of an experience… my little Leah against 29 hearing kids? Instead we worked through the details and asked her how she would like us to support her efforts. Long story short she won.. she won! What if… what if I had talked her out of it because I was so afraid of how she would handle that failure?
      www.youtube.com/watch?v=LbBTJFy87cE

  30. I agree on one part you mentioned a while ago about the professionals… Being a professional does not automatically mean you are the best of the best. Let me provide a summary of my background before we dig deeper.

    Born into a hearing family and in Hong Kong, a country they highly rejected deaf human beings, really all disabilities. My mom was born and raised there while my father played professional soccer. They found out I was deaf a bit later than usual, BUT because of their efforts, I am who I am today. They moved to THREE COUNTRIES for me (HK, Ireland, America) in pursuit of high quality education. Went to an oral school then went to an awesome program called “Tripod” in Burbank. That day I enrolled into Tripod, it was like night and day for me. I established my identity as a DEAF person plus learned the beauty of ASL. Due to my parents and my willingness, it was a breeze for me to merge both languages – English and ASL – in this universe. As I grew up, I see a reason for hanging around in both worlds. Both have so much to OFFER!!!

    Let me speak as a mother now… My husband and I just HAD a baby girl last year. Giving birth to a deaf baby really bought a whole new perspective on the table. As I was sitting around waiting for Shaylee to finish her hearing test…I came across a book that was somewhat disturbing: “Wearing hearing aids will help you make friends.” There were other messages like these which made me quite upset because I know PLENTY who wears hearing aids do not have friends or vice versa. Imagine a parent grieving in the same room I was in and to imagine them crying more when they read the above words.

    Like you, Rachel, we go through IFSP/IEP detailing goals for Shaylee throughout the year. I’ve had some professionals who emphasized too much on her hearing skills. That is what kills some of our children’s potential in becoming who they desire to be. This is why I sought for two services – IFSP in our area and the other one from Maryland School for the Deaf. My husband and I take in their input – we filtered them to fit Shaylee’s needs as well as wants.

    On the bright side, it’s such a JOY watching Shaylee at this age being able to see our hands moving in the air. When I was a baby, all I saw was lips moving. LANGUAGE is AMAZING. Currently, Shaylee at the wee age of one has the ability to sign more than 20 words and even signs her OWN NAME. That does not stop us, we are still providing other options such as hearing aids. Thank god for EXCELLENT parents as they continue to provide the essential tools to a child like us.

    All in all, BALANCING is really the key to any child’s success. I would love to speak to you personally (not in the public eye) about this.

    (BTW: Which school does Leah go to in CA? I know California very well.)

    • Sheena,
      When we moved to CA Leah was 2 and it was our intention that she attend Tripod in Burbank, CA. We are long time friends with the Walker Family. We moved to Studio City without realizing that we were outside of the Burbank School District’s boundaries (argh) we still made it work through LAUSD as I mentioned but it was not easy and our methods were not supported. Leah received additional language/reading services through CSUN, but she attended school first at Chase Elementary in Panorama City and then the Charter School CHIME opened up in Woodland Hills and even though Leah was a year too young, they allowed her in based on her test scores and being a least restrictive and appropriate environment.
      Leah is mainstreamed and attends junior high school here in Salt Lake City, Utah. She is the only deaf student in her school.
      I will be in California soon for a Signing Time Event. Here are the details:

      When: Friday, August 27th beginning at 6 p.m.- 7:00 p.m. Seating begins at 5:30 p.m. You will also have a chance to meet and greet Rachel after the show!

      Where: Northpark Community Church, located at 28310 Kelly Johnson Parkway in Valencia, CA

      Additional Information: The ticket prices are $10 for adults and $5 for children ages 2-12 yrs. Pay at the door or send payment payable to:

      Christina Haselbusch
      P.O. Box 10030
      Canoga Park, CA 91309-9909

      Please include with the payment your name, phone number & email address; you will receive an email confirmation within 10 days of receipt of your payment. You can pick up your tickets at the Will Call table at the event.

      • Rachel,

        Tripod? That’s where I went and graduated from Burbank High School. Leah would have loved the program! :o) And I’ve known the Walkers! Its not only a small world within the Mormon community, but the deaf as well. I would love to come to your event in Valencia as I have a house there, but we just moved to Maryland for our daughter Shaylee a few months ago.

        I hope your paths will cross each other’s one day. Keep up the work!!!!!

  31. We were told the same thing when my daughter was younger, it was drilled in my head to ensure early literacy skills when she was not even 2. Good for you questioning that fact. It is really sinful to stereotype a young child because in the end without dedicated parents children will fall into these ‘expected’ statistics.
    We too were encouraged to not choose sign for our daughter. We did choose AVT but taught her sign as well and luckily over time she regained most of her hearing. It is a parents choice to decide how their child will communicate and more than one means to communicate is not a sin, being frustrated because they have not been given a way to communicate is.

  32. Thank goodness Leah has you for a mom. As a general ed teacher I am always AMAZED and the number of parents who not only do not make the time to show up for IEP meetings, but don’t even call in or ask questions about their child’s plan.
    So glad you did your research and did what you knew was right and THRILLED you have allowed all of us to be a part of your ASL experience!

    • donna, “It’s some body else’s problem/responsibility” is such a dangerous game to play when it comes to your own children. Not showing up, not staying informed? Yikes!

  33. As an audiologist, one of my greatest frustrations is when a school system fights parents over recommendations I’ve made. A major problem I’ve run in to is when the school system tells me (as if I’m a child that needs things explained) that the law may say ‘free and appropriate education’ but that there isn’t the funding available to ACTUALLY uphold the ‘law.’ It boils my blood when a child is denied equal access to education because they aren’t failing first.
    Another frustration of mine is when families I have counseled about language options tell me that other professionals have told them not to sign with their children. I have a patient whose parents, upon going to a cochlear implant evaluation, were told this. The baby had well over 15 signs and no spoken words. We’d demonstrated time and time again that his hearing aids were not amplifying speech in to the audible range. Yet these other specialists were advising this family, like so many others, to cut off the child’s access to language and communication. I told that mom, “I hope you ignored their advice.” I cringe at the idea that because a child has a cochlear implant, they don’t need ASL. What happens if they go swimming? Or at bath time? Or at night when it comes of to sleep? Does the need to communicate dissolve in those situations?

    I find myself telling families that the advice that I give them and that other professionals give them is exactly that, advice. And that they need to look at all of their options make the decisions that are best for their family.

    One more tidbit in support of using sign language:
    I have a three year-old daughter without any kind of delays or disabilities, but still used signs with her. One reason was to plant the seed that there are many languages and ways to communicate. The other was to promote early language learning and ease the frustrations of not being able to communicate as a baby. She signed her first word at 5 months old – ‘milk’ – and took off from there. I honestly can’t remember a time when my daughter was not able to communicate with us.

    • I am so glad that someone in the field is offering this advice to patients. I started signing with my first child for fun and I, too, have enjoyed nearly continuous communication with my kids.

      I have been asked about signing by parents/grandparents of children with disabilities, they have all been discouraged from using sign with their children. Many of them believe that signing is only good for children without difficulties (I’m still trying to work out the logic of that one).

      Your professional advice bears a lot of weight with people, thanks for getting out the word that communication does not delay communication!

    • AuD, Are you for real? No seriously! Can I PLEASE keep you in my back pocket? Do you know how many times I NEED support from a real LIVE audiologist who isn’t afraid of small signing children? Whenever a parents tells me that their child’s audiologist or speech therapist has told them to stop signing I tell that parent to fire that person and find someone who actually keeps up on current information. Oooh, I so want to pick your brain! Would you be willing to partner up with me and co-host a live chat on the subject?

  34. I had to write to thank you for writing an inspiring blog. I’m a deaf mother, from a deaf family, with PhD degree so I am very well aware of the bleak reading level progression/oppression that is given to deaf children. I have a hearing sister with down syndrome who signs fluently, yet it was a constant battle for my parents convincing the school that her primary language is ASL and it needs to be incorporated in her education because she IS hearing! It was not until I had a child of my own who is hearing with Autism that I understood how hard it is to sail the uncharted water even if other parents have gone through it as well. We are given with the responsibility of opening the eyes to the world to children with gifts. Often I question when or how to push the limit of the boundaries created, yet it has to be done even if we weary of the battle. HANDWAVES to you for navigating through this and influencing other parents on the importance of ASL!!

    Both of my boys enjoyed Signing Time tremendously when they were young. I also bought DVDs for my family and friends. I know you already know this, but you deserve to hear (read) it once more – You’re doing awesome work! You go, Mother Warrior!

    • Mei, “weary of the battle” is such a perfect description. It should not have to be this hard. There are so many children who can hear who still need the benefits of ASL in the classroom and at home. I have heard of IEPs where families are told that an ASL environment or interpreter would be a “luxury” for their hearing child who has Down syndrome or Autism. Since when is access to information a luxury? Since when is the ability to understand and be understood a luxury?
      As you well know what I shared is just one slice, one facet of the big picture and the big problem. I don’t know how to solve it. I really don’t. It’s simply my hope that others can find something in my story, something in my words that empowers them to make a difference for their child, children, students, community etc. Thank you for being an inspiration and an example to hearing parents who may have had no idea of what is really possible for their deaf children. It really does shake some people up… deaf adults with PhDs 🙂

  35. Bravo for you all. I work in Guyanam,South America and the attitude towards the Deaf is that they can’t learn. Their English skills are nil, nada, nothing. the adults Deaf persons have little or no knowledge of the abc’s. Many have not gone to school beyond Nursery. The Social attitude and Ministry of Education attitude is that “Special Needs” children cannot learn very much. Teachers in the Special Needs Schools are inadequately trained. None know Sign Language (a few know some Signs however).
    Your illustration of statments about other catagories of children (black, girl, etc.) is entirely appropriate. We would not accept such statements but when it comes to Deaf, we do accept it.
    God Bless you and may He grant you further grace to persevere with your daughter.
    PL

    • Lawrence, we spent time in Ghana, Africa and found the same attitudes. Leah traveled to Ghana to work with the deaf students there and to show the hearing faculty what is really possible for a deaf child… yes even a deaf girl. (Layers of stigma at work there too) When we came home Leah said, “I love my school. I love my family and I love my country!” She really was able to see and appreciate the wonderful opportunities she has had for no reason other than being a deaf girl who happened to be born in the U.S.A. And yes, many of the educators were surprised that Leah “knows the same amount as a hearing child”

  36. Applaud! I strongly believe every mother with or without disability should work with a child.

    When you explained your experience with your daughter, Leah, my mother went through the exactly same thing. With her help, my life made a HUGE positive impact. The difference was that I am one of the few people was able to make it though graduate program. Unfortunately, my classmates did not.

    As a young child, I remember my mother would work excessively on my speech, reading, and writing. She used to put 3×5 index cards with English print all over the house. It certainly helped me to read at an early age. Thus, I was forced to skip a grade from pre-school to first grade. It helped me to speed my education up, but again I did miss out some of my childhood experiences.

    Now, I am the mother of two hearing children. My older son is G.A.T.E. (Gifted Academic Talented Education.) I still have to push him onto a higher expectation. My younger son is high function Autism. With my support at a young age, he is in 3rd grade full time mainstream classes, with an aide three times a week (only to encourage him to finish his work ; otherwise, he would leave incomplete work though he has lots of potentials.) and many more positive with the supports.

    For this reason to share my experience from my mother and for myself as a mother, I totally support you for whatever you stand on your child, Leah’s right! She deserves to have on-going education. Supporting and working with the child with or without disablity makes a difference.

    • Laura, LOL we too labelled the house with 3X5 index cards so Leah would know that there was not only a sign for everything but a written word. We had “television” “carpet” “stairs” “table” “door” and countless others all over our little apartment. Leah also skipped her 2nd year of pre-school and entered Kindergarten early Congratulations to you (and your mom) for your successful education. I do find myself wondering where so many of Leah’s past classmates have ended up in terms of their education. Only time will tell.

  37. Rachel, I was just pointed in the direction of your blog. Ive sat here for most of my morning reading through all your post, and I have to thank you for being so open and honest with us.

    We found out that my daughter is severely deaf during her newborn screening process. Of course we went through grief and fear. I even wondered what I did wrong during my pregnancy to cause it. When we shared the news with family and friends we got back a lot of mixed responses. Most people responded that they felt sorry for us and it had to be so horrible…that just made me want to deck them.Those comments made me feel like they thought my child was defective. She is not defective shes just deaf. I found my self telling people time and time again that it is no big deal and that she will live a full happy rich life.

    Her name is Becca and she is my first daughter. When she was 3 weeks old I started looking for resources I came across your videos. She loves Leahs farm she sings Squirrel when she wants to watch it. (we think she really just wants to make googley eyes at Alex) Becca is now two and has a two month old baby sister who we think possibly has some vision issues.

    Signing time has been a life saver for us. Thank you for making that dream of yours come to life.

    • Jamie – I’m so sorry you received so little support when you shared the news with your support system. I think back to the amazing woman I babysat for when I was young (1978). The first time I went to her house, I did not know she was deaf. I walked in and scared her to death! After that, I discovered an amazingly, beautiful, smart woman with two hearing children – and she was a very successful business woman. That was in 1979, with little technology as I’m sure exists today. If I were your friend and you told me you just found out your baby was deaf, my response to you would be, “there will be obstacles, but nothing that can’t be overcome!” I would never feel sorry for you – having a healthy baby girl!

  38. Rachel,
    Good for you and your husband for being so proactive in your daughter’s educational journey.
    I am so sorry you have had to go through this; some states and regions of the country are sadly behind in the special education and IEP department. When I was in k-4, I went to a mainstreaming school where deaf and hearing impaired students were integrated into “normal” classrooms after spending time in deaf only classes. The students were always in PE and music classes with us, and once they showed mastery of lip reading and/or sign, they were placed into normal classes with an interpreter; hearing students were required to learn sign as well. When I moved to a new district, nothing like that program had ever been heard of, and when I moved to a new state a couple years later deaf students were just placed in special ed and only mainstreamed with an aide if they could prove proficiency in lip reading. I never understood that.
    Kudos to you for being an advocate!! Leah is very lucky that you do that. Not all parents do.

  39. My children are in the habit of reading over my shoulder when I’m checking my favorite blogs. Your post today just really spoke to all uf us. I decided that before I hopped onto my blog to put a link to your amazing words, I needed to leave a comment to thank you, and agonized about what to say. 15 year old to the rescue: “Just tell her “YOU ROCK!” She’s a mom, she’ll understand. So there you go. You rock.

  40. Hello, I see your videos on Nick Jr. (and ejnoy them very much!), and I googled you today to find out what your story was. What an inspiration you are! I never would have assumed deaf children are stupid and to hear it from those we rely on to teach us – well, that’s just appalling! I actually googled you to see why you wear the colored “band-aids” on your fingers when you sign? Is that an ASL tool? I’ve never seen anyone signing have them so just curious. Thanks!

  41. Pingback: A mother shares her story on her blogsite | Stop AB2072 Now!

  42. holy smokes woman!
    you are an inspiration. i am floored. i could go on…i am a bilingual teacher in texas and the experiences that you describe- watching depressing conversation in the native language and work that isn’t up to par was considered “normal” for hearing bilingual kids until recently as well.
    i am so impressed with you.
    have you considered speaking to parent groups? i am so impressed.
    kris

  43. Thanks very much Rachel for joining to oppose AB2072!!! yoiur story is powerful! we love you!Leah is very lucky having you who believes in ASL!
    Cheryl in Mass, Deaf parent of 2 beautiful hearing/ASL children

  44. I smiled when read your story. Leah is lucky to have a parent alike you. I assure you she will accomplish with her life. I am deaf retiree and using ASL. I got my degree in Social Work 32 years ago.

  45. Wow! I never heard until this story. I’m glad that you keep find a right asl teacher!! I’m deaf and grew in Tulsa, they has deaf progams. I graduate high school with my 5 grade read level. I’m currently student at Tulsa Community College. Deaf can anything to doing. I’m 5th best in state for chess. I’m beat everyone in last December who is hearing. Your story is so amazing!! I’m happy to being deaf. 🙂

  46. Rachel, u are definitely an inspiration to the deaf people all over the world! This story is good way to spread to the hearing parents who have deaf children who do not know what to do. This story definitely will help lot deaf children to become successful in their life! Continue sharing your story with the world for as long as u live. Double thumbs up to Rachel and her beautiful family.

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