My Two Cents: Cochlear Implants

I used to feel sorry for children who had cochlear implants. I did.

When I saw them it broke my heart because I really believed that their parents just didn’t understand deafness. I judged those parents. I assumed that the parents were looking for a quick fix to something that in my opinion didn’t require fixing. I said things like, “I would never do THAT to my child.” Aaron and I talked about giving Leah choices and we decided that she could choose to have an implant when she was age 18.

We think that Leah was born profoundly deaf. We didn’t discover her deafness until she was 14 months old. When her deafness was diagnosed we immediately started signing with her. It seemed the obvious choice, I mean, she was deaf. We never bought into the old wive’s tale that signing would delay our child’s speech. Many people warned us that Leah might never learn talk if we signed with her. I always laughed and said, “She’s deaf, she might never learn to talk anyway!” My concern wasn’t for my child’s ability to say words. I wanted much more than that! I wanted full connection and communication with my daughter. I wanted her to be a critical thinker.

When Leah was seven she was no longer using hearing aids, because, as she put it, “They don’t work! They don’t help me, they just make my ears itch.” She had gone without amplification for a few years and then, at age seven, my daughter asked for a cochlear implant.

Let’s just say there were a few things I had to get over… oh, like realizing that some people out there might judge me, just as I had been so judgmental of others. (Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! Don’t you hate that one?)

Leah has now been implanted for seven years, the same amount of time she had gone without hearing a thing.

I have found that one of the BIGGEST misconceptions still floating around when it comes to choices in deafness is in thinking that sign language and cochlear implants are mutually exclusive. They are not. Actually it is our family’s experience that Leah’s success with her cochlear implant was because she was already fluent in American Sign Language* when she got her implant AND because we have continued to sign with her. We never stopped signing. (*She was also already fluent in written English by that time)

When someone receives a cochlear implant there is a period of adjustment as the recipient begins to understand the sounds of the world around them. It was invaluable to us to have a full language (American Sign Language) to communicate with Leah during this new learning period. We had full and complete communication as our child experienced the sometimes scary world of sound. Yes, our ENT told us to stop signing immediately after Leah’s implant surgery, which was baffling to me. “She just had major surgery and you want us to refuse to communicate with her through recovery? Her implant won’t be turned on for weeks and you want us to stop communicating with her?” To me that sounded like a form of child abuse. We never stopped signing with Leah and we never will stop.

Leah is a very successful implant recipient, we feel that these are a few of the factors that helped her to use it so successfully.
1. Leah chose to have an implant, it wasn’t something that was done to her. She was old enough to control the settings and she was old enough to ask to be “re-mapped” when she was ready for more sound. We viewed the implant as another tool to help Leah communicate, not the only tool.

2. Leah was already bilingual when she was implanted. She understood ASL and her written English was exceptional. She was reading beyond her grade level. With the addition of her cochlear implant she could simply focus on acquiring and improving her listening skills and pronunciation, because now she could actually hear some things. She wasn’t trying to learn English with her cochlear implant, thankfully she was already fluent in it and her focus was entirely on learning what English sounded like and how to make those sounds herself.

3. We always focused on our child’s strengths. Prior to her implant, we did not do private Speech Therapy. Why? Simple. Because Leah couldn’t hear:) We didn’t need her to learn how to say words in order to connect and communicate because we all learned to sign. Speech is a skill that your child has a lifetime to acquire.
Speech is not a language. Speech is one way to deliver a language.
English is a language, American Sign Language is a language, but speech… speech is a skill.

You want your deaf child to learn their first language before the age of 3 if possible. If they can’t hear, don’t waste your time and theirs trying to get them to learn a listened to, spoken language. Since Leah couldn’t hear English we didn’t try to get her to learn it through speaking. She learned it through reading and writing.
(If your child is deaf please read #3 until it makes sense. Do not get stuck with the thought that you “just want your child to talk.” Trust me, you don’t just want that. You want so much more for them!)

4. Language doesn’t delay language. The fear of signing is ridiculous and thinking that a child will not talk because they first signed is as preposterous as saying, “don’t let your child crawl or they will never learn to walk.” Babies crawl before they walk and they sign before they talk. If your child has the ability to deliver a spoken language, they will acquire that skill whether or not you sign with them. If they happen to have a speech delay or a disability that gets in the way of speaking, then thank heavens you are signing with them and giving them a way to be understood. If your child’s speech is delayed, it is not the signing that delays speech… it is something else entirely, because communication doesn’t delay communication.

Technology frequently changes and even fails. Cochlear implants can be rejected by the recipient. The implant may fail or simply never work at all. Batteries die and parts break. Programming can accidentally get erased. Sign language will never fail, the batteries will not die, you can use it while swimming, you never have to “turn it on” or struggle to locate it in the middle of the night. Sign language can get soaking wet and it’s always at your fingertips.

Leah will always be deaf. Her first language is American Sign Language. She has learned English as a second language through reading and writing. With her cochlear implant, Leah has learned how to pronounce words and to understand English when it is spoken to her. She is a child who has it all.

If you are considering implanting your deaf child, my recommendation is this – do not put all of your eggs in one basket. Give your child EVERY opportunity to communicate. Give them many tools! Cochlear implants do not work for all children, implants are not always successful and should not be portrayed as a “cure” for deafness. Similarly, hearing aids do not work for all children, they are not always successful and should not be portrayed as a “cure” for deafness. You might want to consider that deafness doesn’t need a cure.

Leah recently saw her ENT, the same one who had asked us to stop signing with her seven years ago. He asked her this time if she would like to implant her other ear, since she only has one ear implanted. She looked at him and said, “Tell me what you think that would really do for me?” He smiled and said, “actually not much, you do so well. Leah, I think you should save your other ear for the future. There are some exciting medical advancements that you will see in your lifetime.”

My two cents: Sign language should be the first choice for a deaf child, no matter what additional options you pursue.

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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.

150 thoughts on “My Two Cents: Cochlear Implants

  1. I just wanted to tell you that I totally agree with you. My daughter was born profoundly deaf also and we didn’t find out until she was 10 months old. She is almost 18 months old and in October she will be getting her CIs. From the minute I found out she was deaf I have been learning sign language. I have been told be other people not to do this since we were getting her implants but I just didn’t see why I shouldn’t. Why not give my daughter every possible way to communicate, no matter what happens? I have heard stories from other parents about their CIs failing, their child chooses to take it off for a period of time or they are swimming and they get frustrated because they can’t communicate with their own child! I won’t do that. Yes, it won’t be easy but it gives my child every possibility to communicate with both hearing people and other deaf people. But that’s just my two cents also. πŸ™‚

    • Angela, SWEET! Now we are up to 4 cents:) Sometimes I have felt so alone in my view on this, especially when interacting with the medical community. Too many parents are not getting the whole story when it comes to choices for their deaf child. We shouldn’t be forced to choose one thing or another with the fear and guilt that WE might accidentally make the wrong choice and fail our child for life. It’s a miserable predicament. Leah was denied an implant at age 7 because we she had never had speech therapy, even though she was bi-lingual and had a better grasp of English than many children they implant… only her English was written down. Then, I found myself fighting for her to get implanted… too weird! Best of luck to you and just know that you are not alone:)

      • I am sure you are not alone Rachel, my cousin who is Deaf refused any and all hearing aids and cochlear implants. Many many Deaf persons reject being forced to make these changes. My cousin says that at her Deaf school it was mandatory for them to wear hearing aids, of course she said it was ridiculous because she couldn’t hear with them anyway. So it is us the hearing population who must educate ourselves on the matter and take in their perspective of life into consideration before trying to force them to do something. I’m glad you allowed your daughter to make her own decision about her hearing. You and your family are very inspirational. We become what we make of ourselves; as your family is an example of that.

        • Also, I love how your daughter challenged the doctor she knew well he was not putting all the cards on the table. I just love it how doctors will do anything they think will make us happy(sarcasm). Thumbs up to your daughter for questioning the doctor.

  2. Personally, I think that’s worth way more than two cents. I totally agree that speech is a skill and thank goodness William could sign to communicate while learning (he’s still working on speech) language. In fact, we still use ASL to help him learn spelling words, concepts, and to help him communicate those hard to understand words to us.

  3. I used to want my deaf and disabled baby to speak. Then she signed Mommy for the first time at nine months old, after her three year old sister taught her how. The sheer joy of that moment really brought to light how little I am missing by the fact that she can’t speak.

    My daughter Lily has, among other things, cerebral palsy, hydrocephalus, and is trach/vent dependent due to central sleep apnea. She CAN’T speak… but she can communicate. She’s delayed due to her disabilities and 272 days in the hospital during 15 months of life. She has difficulty signing because she has had to work for every slight movement her hands can do.

    But she can call me Mommy.

    We’ve thought a lot about CI for her. We’re interested, but waiting. She’s not stable enough for the surgery now and we’re battling it out with her other conditions. She also recently had a very serious near-death experience with a rare infection in her body that had her team considering replacing the patch in her heart and the shunt in her brain… both things necessary for keeping her alive. CI is optional. Hearing is optional. Not worth the risk of infection at this stage. So we wait, and we sign… because we want our deaf daughter to know sign, even if she later is able to add hearing to her abilities via technology.

    And while we wait… she can call me Mommy.

    • Danielle, beautiful! Just beautiful. There is no hurry, that’s another thing we learned. 13 years ago Leah was considered “too young” to be implanted, she wasn’t even 2 years old. When we looked at it at age 7 we were told that she had “missed the window” and was no longer a candidate because she was too old. (rolls eyes) Now, her ENT, yes the same one who denied her, considers her one of his most successful recipients and at her last mapping the audiologist was blown away as she nailed word after word. He kept shaking is head and said her skills were remarkable (grin)

    • Yes, I believe it is still being recommended that families stop signing once the child is implanted. I will not make choices based on fear. I will make them based on facts. For some reason there is a long held belief in the medical community that sign language interferes with speech development. Even if it was true (which it is not) I say, WHO CARES? American sign language is a deaf child’s first language and through it they can learn their second language, English.
      PS: It’s actually deafness that interferes with speech, not sign language. Not being able to hear REALLY interferes with learning a spoken and listened to language:)

  4. Rachel, as a Speech-Language Pathologist…Thank you! I especially love the line “communication doesn’t delay communication”. I work with language-delayed children and their families and the parents will almost always say they want the child “to talk” and express fears over alternative forms of communication be it sign language, pictures, AAC, etc. I always try to impress upon families that what their child wants is to “Communicate”, to be able to express their wants, needs and thoughts. I also commend you on following your instincts about Leah’s “first language” of ASL. With a good foundation in language, regardless of which language, a child has the tools to grow and learn anything else!

    • Thank you Lisa,
      It’s great to hear this from a SLP, I hear from too many families that their SLPs do not encourage signing for fear it will interfere with the child acquiring speech. To which I say, “signing doesn’t interfere with the ability to speak, but deafness does. Yes, not being able to hear a language sure makes it hard to speak it. Imagine that!” Last week I shared that sentiment with a SLP in Canada and she added, “In my experience it’s an SLP’s ignorance and the parents’ ignorance that interferes most with a deaf child’s ability to speak.”

  5. I can’t tell you how much this resounds with me. It is such a sad, pervasive misconception that CIs somehow “cure” deafness. My daughter Calyssa (“silly” from the Roseville show) wears bilateral hearing aids, signs, and uses increasingly clear speech as well. So often strangers will ask me “Why doesn’t she have those implant things? Wouldn’t thaat fix it?” As if she were broken. I get so tired of explaining that her deafness is a permanent part of her. Her loss is sensorineural, so she is not a candidate for implantation at this time; even if she were I decided long ago that the implantation decision would be hers alone to make. This post is so validating, and so true. I’m glad Leah has had such a positive experience with her CI!

    • Whoa — misinformation here! Cochlear implants ARE for sensorineural hearing losses. Perhaps your child’s hearing loss isn’t severe enough to qualify for a cochlear implant, but it’s not because she has a sensorineural hearing loss. Please learn more before you make such a decision.

      • I have done all the required research, including visiting the medical library at a renowned teaching hospital, so I’ll thank you not to insult my intelligence or my intellectual curiosity. My daughter’s cochlea work just fine; the damage was to her auditory nerve. At this point in time, she is not a candidate for implantation due to the type of PROFOUND precipitous high-frequency loss she has. Her hearing aids gain her a few consonant sounds. Once CI technology progresses to the point where she might become a candidate – current estimates are that this may happen in her early adulthood – she may wish to reassess and I’d support any decision she makes. Until then, I’ll continue to read and research so that we are prepared.

        • Julie, it was great to finally meet you and Calyssa in Roseville. It’s clear you understand the importance of being an educated parent:) Too many parents quickly surrender to their Professional’s opinion without realizing that they and their child are the ones who will forever live out that choice. None of these choices should be taken lightly. We have pictures of Leah post-op and one of her friends fainted (yes, hit the deck) when looking at them…

  6. I am one of those parents who wishes their child could “talk” with words coming out of his mouth. Who wouldn’t want the norm for their kids especially when there is a mental disability? One of my biggest fears is that he will be insulted someway and he won’t be able to tell me. Talking would be the easier road…for everyone. That being said I AM so thankful for sign language and ST!. I believe my 6 year old Joey with Down syndrome has Apraxia of Speech. He hasn’t been diagnosed as I’m told you can’t test until there are enough words being spoken. Seems odd to me. The only 2 consonant sounds he can make are the “g”…a throat sound and the “m” but it is never on demand. He started kindergarten a couple weeks ago…the first non-verbal child to walk through those doors…ever. Sign language has never been used in our school…ever. We are walking on new ground and it is quite scary. I started teaching (well, Rachel, YOU did) sign language shortly before age 1 thinking it would be cool and NOT that it would be his first language. By the way…if Joey has total hearing but is completely non-verbal and we mainly use sign language…would that be considered his 1st language? Or would I say it is his 1st “expressive” language? Our school bought the whole ST! series a couple years ago to “get ready” for Joey. His teacher is starting to incorporate it into the classroom. Today was the first day and she did the days of the week and his aide told me how surprised Joey looked that “HIS” movies are being shown in the classroom and the other kids are doing “HIS” signs. Pretty cool. It is amazing how Joey retains signs even when he hasn’t used one for a long time. Sometimes I question myself and trust that Joey is doing it right…haha…even if his tiny little hands can’t do them perfectly. I taught him The Pledge of Allegiance this summer so he could participate in the classroom and he literally learned it in about 4 tries! Many times I have caught him by himself signing The Pledge and he gets it word for word (or is it sign for sign)…way too cool. Now we are working on The Lord’s Prayer. I wish I could borrow you to show me things like that and explain them. It takes lots of time you-tubing watching all these people sign the prayer and not sure which sign to use. There is an episode of Little House on the Prairie what shows the prayer in sign language. Now my/our challenge is to figure out how to teach Joey to read. Any advice?

    • Steph, here’s a completely free source to download much of the Bible (& other publications including a Bible story book) in Sign Language you may find useful:
      ASL: www.jw.org/index.html?option=QrYQZRQVNFVTr
      Bible in ASL: www.jw.org/index.html?option=QrYQFVTrlVlYR&selLang=ASL
      You may also download it in other signed languages from American Sign Language to Venezuelan Sign Language:
      www.jw.org/index.html?option=QrYQFVTrFRYYNrT

      Although my children aren’t deaf, they have truly benefitted learning ASL from infancy. They are able to communicate clearly so much earlier than spoken language, which truly reduces frustration and enriches our interaction. Currently my 11-mo-old only says a couple of words, but she signs several (mom, dad, milk, tree, dolphin, car, dog, cat, eat, bye-bye). We love the delight on her face when she wants to show us something like a tree & is able to communicate what she’s looking at although she can’t speak it’s name, & we understand her. πŸ™‚ [It also comes in handy when we need to communicate with our kids quietly such as at meeting/church. ;)] Signing Time & Baby Signing Time have proved so beneficial to my husband and me in teaching ourselves & our children ASL.
      Thank you so much for your encouraging, informative, & personally honest posts, Rachel. They inspire & motivate me to continue pursuing teaching myself & children ASL to benefit not only ourselves, but also to be able to communicate with other ASL communicaters we come across. It also encourages me to to be confident in our other “against the grain” decisions like extended breastfeeding, cloth diapers, etc. πŸ™‚

    • Steph, it is normal to want your child to talk. There is nothing wrong with that. What a blessing that even though he is non-verbal he can communicate. You could say his first receptive language is English and his first expressive language is ASL.

      Rebecca, oh just wait until I post my tandem-nursing experience! LOL, you are in good company here.

      • Rachel, ooh! I eagerly await reading about your tandem-nursing experience! You’re an amazing mother, & I’m not surprised that you’ve enriched your children’s lives in every way you can – including breastfeeding to the full. πŸ™‚ I love that you baby/childwear, too! It’s nice to be in good company. Natural/attachment parents are sadly in the minority where I live. People tend to blindly follow the majority of the crowd – from doctors’ rec’s to diapers.

  7. I LOVE LOVE LOVE how you explain how Sign Language can get soaking wet and it’s always at your fingertips. BRILLIANT!

    My son is now 22 months and was diagnosed at birth with a mild-moderate hearing loss. We’ve tested him forward and backward and were STRONGLY pushed towards hearing aids. We bought the aids and then were told by these same people that right now in his small circles of hearing – his loss is such that the aids won’t make all that much difference, but he WILL benefit from them later. (grr!) So as his Mom – I’ve decided not to “fight” him on the aids just now.

    HOWEVER – one major gift from our journey thus far has been Baby Signing Time and Signing Time. Tyler has a FANTASTIC signing vocabulary and now that he’s growing more and more verbal everyday – he EXPECTS that there is a hand sign for each new word he learns. It’s awesome! Signing has not slowed his communication in the least. He is SO proud of being able to tell me what he recognizes in the grocery store, in books and all around him. He embraces using his hands while learning his speaking skills. I’m so grateful for Sign Language in our lives. It’s been beautiful to watch my young son be able to reach out to those around him because he’s got the tools – his hands and fingers. We’re so blessed!

    Hooray for Leah and her remarkable skills all around. She is a champion for our family – as you all are. Leah proves to us that there ARE no limits or obstacles too large to communication.

    THANK YOU!

    • Lisa, Oh I remember Leah’s first hearing aids and how we hoped it would land her in the “Speech Banana” (Aaron and I still laugh about that ever-elusive Speech Banana) Sure, she had a few frequencies in the banana with hearing aids, but not enough for her to speak clearly enough for anyone to understand her.

      It sounds like Tyler is doing great! Our children are so full of possibilities. Sometimes I think a parent’s love and commitment can carry a child beyond medical limits and expectations.

  8. I could not agree with you more! I am not a parent of a deaf child, but I am an elementary school special education teacher of many (over the years) children with hearing impairments. Several years ago, one of my 2nd grade students received a CI. His parents made it very clear to the school that they did NOT want their son using any sign language. I worked with him on a special reading series, and once when we were reading a story about holidays throughout the year we came to the word wreath. He had no idea what a wreath was. Not how to read the word, but what a wreath actually was. How do you explain to a 2nd grader what a wreath is with Christmas still months away? A circle decoration, usually made out of pine, that we hang on doors during Christmas… or do you simply sign wreath in the language that he is already familiar with? I chose to do the latter, and although signing was forbidden by his parents, by explaining a unfamiliar word with one sign we saved 5 min of frustration! Would we ever expect others to learn a foreign language without first saying the word in English? On a side note there were multiple occasions when his batteries died and both he and I were glad that we still had some way to communicate. Any and All tools of communication can only benefit our children!

  9. My enthusiastic Lily (you have met her in Mpls) has used sign and speech since we began in the NICU. With her energy/sensory overload, it helps her focus better. Our CNP wanted us to stop signing saying it was delaying her speech. We had her tested by the school district and they said her speech was off the charts ahead of a few years. Apparantly she talks too fast wanting to squeeze in too many words. We are returning for another assessment for articulation-as you say, speech is not a language and I agree.

  10. Thank you Rachel,
    Every since my son was born (5 years this Nov.) I have felt the need to teach him ASL I did not know why at first I thought that I would find out that he was deaf, but that has not been the case. I am so glad that I found ST. He has watched you Alex and Leah since he was about 8 months old he knows over 400 worsd now. It has helped him in many ways of course communicating with us before he learned speech and also He has been able to read at over a 3rd grade level since he was about 3. I am still not sure if that is the reason I felt so impressed that he learn ASL or not, but I am so glad he did.
    On the subject I am so glad you voice your opinions and concerns for those that need this either with or without a hearing child. People need to be made aware of the way they act or treat others with different abilities and be open to all. Not to criticize but to get informed.
    Thanks again

  11. I LOVE this post. I especially love “Language doesn’t delay language.” Perfect.
    I worked in a school with a deaf population for a few years and became fascinated with ASL and the deaf culture.
    When my daughter was born, I knew that I wanted to teach her ASL from the beginning. I wanted her to be able to communicate with us as soon as she could. We found ST and when people saw that she could ask us for milk when she was only 8 months old, they were amazed. But then we got so many questions about whether it was really a good idea because “aren’t you worries she won’t talk if she signs?” Really?! Of course not! That concern never made any sense to me.
    Now, she talks up a storm (she’s a little over two and will meet you at your Vegas ST event πŸ™‚ and people are amazed that she still signs. Why? She loves it and I absolutely encourage her to keep using it. “But she doesn’t NEED to anymore” I get now. It’s another language people! Would you be worried about it if she was speaking Spanish?
    I can’t imagine why in the world someone wouldn’t want their child (hearing or deaf (especially)) not to learn ASL. Everyone is all over teaching their children Spanish, French, whatever-other-language at a very young age and there’s no problem. Why is ASL such a hot button subject? I just don’t understand.
    Thank you Rachel for making ASL accessible to families like ours and for having the courage and strength to raise your amazing family despite some pretty crazy medical advice. πŸ™‚

    • I too was met with criticism and disbelief by family and friends when I ventured out to teach my daughter ASL from birth. Now that she is almost 2 & 1/2 and has the vocabulary of a 4 year old and signs nearly every word she can speak they see the value in it. She even learned to count and recite her ABC’s via ASL and Signing Time. I think that it is hands-down the best thing I did for my daughter and I am proud that I stuck to my guns and did it for both of us!

    • Kate, You are so right! If your child knew Spanish and English… or English and Mandarin Chinese people would be so impressed and not concerned at all.

      Hailey’s Mom, following your instincts in the face of no agreement is a pretty amazing thing to do. Congratulations!
      This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

      When a thing is new, people say: “It is not true”.
      Later, when its truth becomes obvious, they say: “It’s not important.”
      Finally, when its importance cannot be denied, they say “Anyway, it’s not new”
      -William James

  12. I am so proud of you for writing about this subject in your blog. My daughter, Hailey is now 29 months old, and I used Signing Time and courses on ASL at our local library to teach both of us ASL as a second language. She started to sign at 9 months old and we continue to use it everyday. When she was about 15 months old we had an experience that I will never forget at a local waterpark. We were showering off to go home and there was a boy about Hailey’s age running around the shower area while his mother proceeded to scream and yell at him and push and pull him to where she wanted him to be to shower him off. She apologized to us because in the midst of it they nearly knocked us over, but her apology was this, “I’m sorry, my son is deaf and has to take out his implant around water so it is hard to handle him.” I took this as an opportunity for Hailey and I to sign with them (We are always looking for that opportunity so we can continue to learn the language since no one in our family is deaf.) and responded, “This is Hailey and she knows a lot of sign language, maybe they can sign together?” She got very defensive with me and told me absolutely not, and even forbid me to sign in his presence????? because their pediatrician told them not to use any sign language with him because he would never be able to speak. (summarizing the conversation) This left me speechless, sad, and frustrated. All I could think of was the fact that not only did this little boy have no means of communicating at the water park, but at all of the other times the implant would need to be turned off, removed, etc. In addition, here I am, the parent of a hearing child, teaching her a language that I have already seen benefit her cognitively, emotionally, and verbally, and a parent of a child who could rely on ASL as a sole means of communication has denyed their child that. To this day it bothers me, and after the incident I spoke to Hailey’s ASL teacher at the library and she told me they have an entire program devoted to helping families of children with implants. Their sole purpose is to show them the value of ASL despite what their pediatricians recommended to them. They had fifteen families in the program last I heard, that means at least fifteen children had/have absolutely no way to communicate with their loved ones or anyone for that matter. What I liked about the situation was that Hailey’s teacher said the majority of the children eventually decide to turn the implant off and not use once they learn ASL. Again, I am so proud of you for posting this blog and telling your story. In addition, I have to thank you for being an integral part of learning a language that has provided my daughter and I a wonderful form of communication in addition to spoken English as well as the opportunity to utilize ASL to communicate with those who may not have any other means of communication. It has not only taught Hailey and I a new language, but an appreciation for the differences among people and their abilities and has shown her that even though people may not hear like we do they are still in fact people. πŸ™‚

  13. I love to read blogs just because you get to see different point of views. Every point is different so here is mine. My daughter was diagnosed with severe to profound sensory neural hearing loss at age 6 months. It was a huge shock to my husband and I being that we have no family history of hearing loss. When I heard the news my world stood still for a good 30 minutes. My first thoughts were I would never hear the word mommy, she would not have an amazing singing voice as her father and I do. How would she speak to her grandma on the phone? When we found out about CI surgery it gave me hope that my fears did not have to be a reality. I spent weeks doing my research. And took a tour of the Auditory Verbal Center here in Atlanta. These kids were amazing. Most of them you could not tell were born deaf based on their clear speech(depending on the age of implantation.) My husband and I made our decision. My daughter has had her CI now for 8 months. And is bilaterally implanted and is 22 months of age. She understands every word that comes out of my mouth. If you say her name she pats herself on the chest. She loves to sit and listen to her father play his guitar. And will sit for an hour at a time for story time on my lap. Shes a Celine Dion fan as well as Ella Fitzgerald. And as a matter of fact she has been doing the “Your Baby Can Read” program. Not only does she respond to the words from the program when called out to her. But she also when given a choice of two words that she has never seen before when called out, chooses the correct word. That is a blessing in my life. And I would never ever change my decision. To say the device can fail. Yes and so can a pace maker or your brakes when driving down the freeway. We can’t make life decisions because we are afraid of failure. We would get no where fast. I would like to teach her ASL as SECOND language in edition to Spanish and French etc. Thanks to her CI and other programs the sky is the limit for her. They expect her first words in a few months. And from the new sounds she produces everyday she is well on her way. What melts my heart the most is I can call her from another part of the house. And here comes my princess with a smile on her face. I love her so much. But Jesus loves her more.

    • I do not think the decision not to implant is based out of fear of failure at all. Like any other medical decision we make for our children, it is based on doing what we as parents feel is best. Cochlear implants can fail. That is a reality that needs to be faced. Just as driving classes have instructions on what to do if your brakes fail, and people with pacemakers often take medications to further regulate heart rates, how are you equipping your daughter to communicate should her implants fail? Do you think that all of the accomplishments you listed would not be possible if you had not implanted her? If you ask the older of the two children I nannied for who her favorite musician is, she will excitedly tell you Justin Bieber (she’s 12, cut her some slack :)). She is profoundly deaf and loves to listen to music. She does so by way of a special wire that plugs into the headphone jack of her iPod on one end and directly into her hearing aid on the other, which had the added bonus of allowing her to listen to her precious Bieber, while mercifully sparing the rest of the household! She plays piano and drums. She loves reading and, for having absolutely no language input for the first 5 years of her life (she was in an orphanage in China), has pretty awesome skills in spoken and written English and constantly pesters…er, asks me lovingly and in a totally non-annoying manner to tell her how to say things in Spanish. Deafness is not a burden or hindrance and ASL is not a “well, I suppose it is good enough…”.

  14. I cannot thank you enough for this post. I am literally in tears right now.

    Up until last month, I was a nanny for two Deaf children. My son, who is severely speech delayed, came with me to work and, as tends to happen when you are immersed in a second language, picked up a lot of ASL (so much so that his last speech therapist classified him as a dual-language learner). Now, at age three, he signs more than he talks (and he loves his “signing movie”, as he calls ST :-P). His receptive language is tip-top in spoken English – he just prefers to communicate with others in sign when possible. Which is a-okay with me. The problem has been my mother, who we are temporarily living with. She refuses to learn any sign, tells my son to “use your real words” when she is trying to get him to use spoken words and steadfastly clings to the old wives tale that signing with him is what is delaying his speech. Since moving in with her, my son has started throwing temper tantrums like you wouldn’t believe. He is frustrated and I have been trying and trying to put into words how to explain to my mother that it is her actions of refusing to communicate with him in his chosen language that is causing this frustration, that maybe instead of pushing him to talk, she should put some effort into learning some sign. Now, you have given me the words (like you have done so many times before…). Thank you, thank you. I have to go hug my baby now…

  15. If you read what I had to say I am teaching her sign. So to answer your question I am equipping my child in case her CI fails. And you ask would she have have so many of the accomplishments i listed with out the CI? Uh……no. All the ones I listed are based on listening skills just after 8 months of hearing. How many 22 month old children do you know can choose a word correctly when asked “which word says”? I am preparing my child to communicate with everybody. We can say what If all day long. But she belongs to the Lord Jesus and if all else fails that will never change. He has her covered.

    • I sincerely hope someone else in your family has a better grasp of the English language (both spoken and written) to help her.
      P.s: Jesus doesn’t speak English. So, don’t know how well you’d like your daughter speaking Hebrew if Jesus has her covered.

    • Actually, your exact sentence was, “I would like to teach her ASL as SECOND language,” which implied to me that you are not teaching her to sign yet, but would merely like to at some point in the future. Sorry if that is not the case and you are currently teaching her to sign.

      Also, from what I have seen/researched of the “Your Baby Can Read” program, it leans primarily on a system called whole word recognition (which doesn’t actually teach kids to read, as it does not equip them to figure out new words when there is no visual queue to help them). It shows you a picture of something (let’s use a car as an example) and then shows you the word “car”. Then, again, it shows you a car, and then the word “car”. In doing this over and over (I read one parent’s account of using the program and it says to use one DVD for two months before moving on to the next), you learn to associate a car, with the specific letters C-A-R in that order. Which, wouldn’t ya know it, sounds a lot like how I teach my son sign. I show him a car, and sign car. Then I do it again and again until he does it, too. I could easily add in a flashcard with the letters “C-A-R” if I wanted him to be able to recognize the printed word.

      I find it severely problematic and hurtful that you think Deaf children are of such low intelligence that they could not recognize words when given a choice between the two, or that not being able to hear precludes a child from early learning (I am sticking with early learning, because I already set forth clear examples that Deaf people can and do listen to and love music. And your child could still very well understand expressed words, they just may need to be expressed in sign instead of spoken English) and how you use some one’s use of spoken English as a marker of intelligence. These are exactly the kinds of attitudes that used to send the older girl I nannied for home in tears, sobbing to me how she was stupid because she was Deaf.

      • Wow!!!! You again totally missed my point. I am listing my daughters accomplishments based on her AUDITORY Awareness. Nothing else. Her response to SOUND. You know, WHAT SHE HEARS.I am currently teaching her sign as a second language. Maybe I should have been more clear but that is neither here nor there. The reason I say second language is because we did not start off that way. And In defense of YBCR. My child is choosing words she has never seen in her life. I also included that if you scroll up and read it again. So that means she is associating the letters with the sounds they make.I have not insulted you or anyone else for that matter. There is no need to throw jabs so please lets stay mature and humble about this subject. I would not have found this blog if I was not PURCHASING Signing Time DVDs for my child. No one is better than the other and everyone has a different walk. I just wanted to put my experience out there. Thank you for your time but this will be my last day on this blog. God bless.

        • Yes, thank you, I am well aware of what “auditory” means. And you are missing my point that those accomplishments could have happened without implants. You would just have to change the way the information goes in so that instead of reacting to auditory stimulus, she reacted to visual or tactile stimulus. Auditory cues are not the only way we take in information and certainly not what we base 100% of our responses on. My goodness, how do you think Deaf children learn to read the printed word? From reading your responses one would think it was impossible simply because they couldn’t hear.

          Also, I at no point insulted or threw jabs at you, and I certainly don’t represent Rachel or Signing Time in any way, so no need to leave this blog for good. We are all adults here and we can agree to disagree. I realize we all have different experiences and paths and opinions, and just as you have the absolute right to put yours out there, I have the right to put out mine. And, again, since we are adults, we can simply agree to disagree.

        • Hi Amy,
          I know I’m a year late, but just wanted to say that I did understand what you were trying to say, and appreciated reading about your own viewpoint on CI.
          I do appreciate that deaf children or adults do not need to be fixed, and each family and individual can choose for themselves whether they want a CI.
          At the same time, as a mom, I identify with what you are saying, and have two deaf friends who benefit from their CI.
          One of my friends who is fluent in Sign Language as his first language, chose to have a Cochlear Implant at age 30, and remarked that what he enjoyed was speaking on his cellphone (before he would only text), and listening to speeches at a friends’ wedding (unfortunately, our community (in South Africa) doesn’t know a lot of sign language, otherwise I supposed the wedding speech could have been given in Sign Language).
          My second friend, was given a CI at a young age, does not sign and uses lipreading when her CI is off.
          I think that like many things, a Cochlear Implant is obviously a personal choice, and we can all learn from others and appreciate their views without judging them and their English- or at least try to.
          P.S. as a doctor myself, I definitely agree that you should always question your doctor, and if you have evidence that they are wrong, take them the evidence!, perhaps they weren’t aware, or perhaps they can explain why they disagree – but in the end, it should always be YOUR choice as the patient.

  16. You made a lot of great points in this blog. I want to say that I think Leah is doing wonderfully speaking with her cochlear. I think it was a good idea for her to get one, if that is what she wanted. She is surrounded by a loving family that is very knowledgeable in sign (an understandment!). But the world does not all know sign, only a fraction does, and this way, she can communicate more easily orally, if she so desires, with those who do not sign. That is awesome she was reading and writing so well even before her implant. The important thing, that you hit on, is that a baby is taught a language from very early on. It doesn’t matter what language, but they do need to be exposed to one. The statistics do show that the child’s verbal reasoning scores suffer longterm without that early language, naturally. When a deaf child is born into a deaf family already fluent in sign, they become fluent easily. But when a family is hearing and have no knowledge of sign, it does take a lot of work on their part to learn it. You guys managed to learn it so fluently and smoothly that Leah became fluent very early in it, from reading your past posts. Sounds like she amazed everyone! You gave her the best, and then let her decide if she wanted full access to her second language, verbally, and she did. Just like many of us are learning a second language now, sign, for one reason or another, relating to our children. I am sure this access has enhanced her life. But I am also sure you do not regret one moment of ASL, nor does she, as that’s her first language, the language you’ve helped bring to so many homes. And she can use it anytime, as everyone’s said…the batteries in your fingers don’t burn out, and they are safe to go in water! If a family doesn’t for some reason have the ability to take on a new language (perhaps due to a learning disability or sadly, lack of effort on their part–no desire), then I think a cochlear implant from the start is the way to go for that child if he/she is profoundly deaf. They will need something to allow them to gain access to a language while still in infancy. But in my opinion, ASL is a must for babies with hearing loss–actually, I think it should be a must for all babies!

    I like what the doctor said to Leah about her other ear. I have heard they are currently working on stem cell treatments for hearing loss, and that they may be promising. I’ve also heard the military, specifically the Navy, may be working on something related to hearing as well (from our speech therapist). Having one ear nonimplanted will be important for the future, because if both ears have implants, then the newer treatments won’t be possible.

    There is one more reason for parents of severe/profound cochlear implant children to make sure a cochlear (especially two) is the right way to go in infancy, especially if the baby was an early preemie. A mother of a 24-weeker I met online said that her son, who just turned one, was diagnosed with a severe/profound sensorineural loss in both ears, based on two separate ABRs after he came home from the hospital. Since that time, his hearing has improved by 30 dB in at least one ear, and she was going back in to check the other because he was showing signs that it too may be better. He is no longer a cochlear candidate, as his loss is only moderate now. And before anyone says this must be a mistake, I must tell you that the same thing has happened with my own son, who was born at 23 weeks. He wasn’t a cochlear candidate, because his loss was only moderate to moderately severe. He had two ABRs, like the other baby, after coming home from the hospital, and they were very similar. Sensorineural…permanent…across all frequencies…we’ll see about the progressive part. My son is now 2 and can hear me whisper behind him, without his aids. He can hear me whisper, head angled away, all the way across the room! No number on his audiogram is above a 50. One ear averages 52 1/2, the other 60. Yet he’s hearing my whispers now. We will have an ABR soon under anesthesia, following his tonsillectomy, and will get to the truth–just how much improvement there is and whether it’s one ear or both, across all frequencies, or only a couple. My audiologist was in disbelief for a long time when I would tell her what we’ve seen. It isn’t anything she’s encountered before. The only thing I can come up with is that perhaps, in the extremely premature, something is put on hold in a baby’s brain so that they can concentrate on breathing and surviving, and then slowly, over time, their brain eventually gets back to everything else. Just a theory, but nothing else makes sense. Granted, this isn’t the norm with deaf or HOH micropreemies, I know that. But it seems to be something that’s happened in at least a couple such babies with hearing loss, so I imagine there are more out there. I do wonder now what would have happened had they told us that day that our son was profoundly deaf? What if we would have had a cochlear implant, or even two, before he was a year corrected? I am thinking we probably would have had one ear done, anyway. And then his ear could never have done what we believe it has done, against the odds. Just a warning to those moms of micropreemies in such a situation to make sure your child has subsequent ABRs before going through with the procedure, just in case your child is that one in a million like my son and the other little guy. As you said, I don’t consider it a “cure.” I don’t think he needed to be cured in that sense. But nonetheless I am happy for him. We’ve decided to go without his aids until his test, just in case, so his hearing isn’t harmed from them. But it tugged at my heart when he reached for them after I put him in his crib, to hand to me as he always does, only they weren’t there. I am sure you know what I mean…it’s bittersweet in a way.

    Re: the theory that signing could delay spoken language–we got that too from our ENT team. But our Early Intervention team, thankfully, believes that every child should have access to all the tools they could possibly need. They encouraged sign, as did our hearing specialist. And thankfully we found you and Signing Time. You are my little guy’s hero, by the way. He lovingly calls you “Ruh,” signed too now with his best attempt at an R after having your ABC Signs DVD for a month. πŸ™‚ He does have a speech delay, including clarity, and we are so very grateful for Baby Signing Time and Signing Time for helping him communicate more fully with us. He almost always speaks as he signs, but the signs help us understand him better. And some things he simply can’t say, like please and sorry, but his signs for them are golden. I can’t imagine not having access to those words with him! Signing has opened up the door to a second language for him, and as a bonus, it’s even helped him read words! He’s picked up a good two dozen from your DVDs, books, and flashcards. Just wanted to say thank you, and keep up the wonderful work. Leah’s deafness sparked a movement that has taught thousands of little ones to communicate. My son’s hearing loss led me to you, and in the end, gave us a good foundation for him to grow with sign, so that now, when it’s evident he does have a speech delay even if his hearing has possibly improved, he already is way ahead of the game with ASL. I think sometimes things happen for a reason, things we can’t always understand. But one thing I’ll never regret is teaching my son ASL. He gets 5 new DVDs every 4 months now (his birthday, Coming Home day and Christmas), and we watch one together nightly. It’s the only thing I let him watch, and he wouldn’t have it any other way! πŸ™‚

  17. Ok good. I just see that somehow my words got twisted. I never listed what children with hearing loss could not do. The title is ” My Two Cents:Cochlear Implants”. My prospective seems to be a little different about them. I have had a very positive experience. My child would have excelled regardless.Sound or no sound. But again what I listed is based on auditory skills. Hearing me from another room, listening to grandma on the phone, understanding written language based on what I am saying to her. After only 8 months of sound. This is all due to her CI. Yes without it she would do very well. I would make sure of that because I love her. But this is what we decided for her. There is no history of hearing loss in my family and she will be able to communicate with all of us and people who have hearing loss as well. Over the past few days she has learned her first words. Mama and NO. That is the sweetest sound to me. I waited almost two years to see this day. And I know she will one day have a singing voice as that runs in my family. But please do not assume that I don’t think children with hearing loss can accomplish things. Again I was listing the things that are available to my child because of her CI. That is all. Bottom line is no matter how you slice it she would not have any sound without it. Her ABR showed no response to sound at all.Hearing aids and other devices would not have been good enough for her to go to school with her hearing piers. But that is not the case now. I have great things to say about CI’s. I know several people that have had them almost 20 years now with no problems. Maybe this blog isn’t the place for comments such as mine. No you didn’t insult me directly but to put words in my mouth is an insult. But thanks for talking and sharing your views.

    • I am truly glad your experience with implants has been so positive. And, no, I was not twisting your words. Since when did a difference in opinion become an intentional insult? Also, whether or not you intended to convey the feeling that deafness somehow affects intelligence or ability to learn, that was definitely the message that I and several other people who I shared this with (both Deaf and hearing) got out of your words. And, whether you intentionally smack some one in the face, or do it by accident, the pain is not any different. It still hurts.

      And now, since we have heard your experience, let me tell you mine. Maybe that will give you an idea of why I personally find sign so vital.

      As I have already mentioned, the children I used to nanny for are both deaf. (And they are so much more than just the kids I work with. I am very, very close with the family and love those girls like they are my own.) The older one, R, has a structural malformation of her inner ear that causes her deafness. Her doctor told her mother in no uncertain terms that, while hearing aids may help to start out, they always see a change in hearing and it is never for the better. Hearing aids did not restore her hearing to a normal range (she is incredibly smart and got by in school watching her terp) and, one day, her hearing would most definitely worsen. And sure enough, a year or two ago, R (much like Leah) started complaining her one hearing aid “sounded weird”. She stopped wearing it and leaned even more on ASL and lip-reading. Eventually, she expressed her desire to get implanted. She did, and everything was fine…for a little while. Then, her brain remembered she was a kid. She lost it. More times then I can count. Sometimes it would turn up. Other times, it didn’t. She is currently on her third processing unit in less than a year of being implanted. And what did we do in the times when she didn’t have it? Signed, of course. We also signed when we would all go to the pool together and she would have to leave her implant in the car so it wouldn’t get wet, or when we were in a crowded area and she was having trouble weeding out our voices from the rest of the crowd (because CI’s transmit all sound, not just voices), and in countless other situations where wearing her implants was not practical or possible. These are some of the reasons why I feel ASL is so vital to Deaf people. Implants get lost, batteries die. Life happens. Does that mean a person should never get implanted? Of course not. As you said before, if we lived our lives based on the fear of what might happen, we would live pretty sad lives. But, if the Scouts have taught us anything, it’s to be prepared. And, as much as I love Signing Time (and dear heaven if people from ST are reading this, I seriously owe you a kidney or something because that is just how much I love you guys), it does not prepare you to effectively communicate in ASL. It teaches you signs, not ASL. ASL has a unique grammar structure, relies heavily on bodily queues and facial expression, and so much more that could never be adequately expressed in 30-minute segments. So if you are relying on ST to teach your daughter ASL (which I am not saying you are doing – notice the “if”), she is going to be woefully underequipped to handle life when the inevitable occurs and you are waiting for the replacement processor to show up in the mail and even more woefully underequipped to communicate with other Deaf people who have ASL as a first language.

      Also, I visibly cringe every time you say, “There is no history of hearing loss in my family and [because of her CI] she will be able to communicate with all of us.” You know how else she could communicate with your family? Your family could learn to sign.

      • I am currently a college student studying to get my degree in ASL in order to become an ASL interpreter. I initially started using ASL with my young daughter who was diagnosed with High Functioning Autism and I was not sure whether or not/to what degree she may or may not develop language…fortunately her language took off greatly and so the ASL, which I had barely started at the time, ‘fell to the wayside’. I, being a lover of all languages, was still hooked on the beautiful language that, for me, was more like singing than ‘speaking’…my daughter and I became RABID fans of Signing Time and it’s once-a-week slot on our public tv station. Thanks to ST, I entered my college ASL program knowing the full alphabet and at least 100 or more ASL words/signs, discovering too that there were some ‘subtual differences’ in some of the ways that Rachel signed things and my professor signed them (we are in Michigan and that’s a long way from where Rachel lives, so ‘regional’ differences are not such a strange thing….although I agree that ST is NOT a vehicle for teaching someone ASL on an interpreter’s level, I do think that it is a WONDERFUL vehicle to showcase special needs individuals of all types and ASL. Rachel you are a great mom (love those Lele and Lulu nicknames too!) and THANK you for what you and Emily did to put my foot on this path, maybe OUR paths will cross one day in the world of ASL πŸ™‚

      • My family did not learn to sign. They should have. i wish they had but they did not. Neither have many people I know. they have no idea, intention or desire to learn to sign. Look up how many people in this country know ASL. Less than those who speak spanish. Because of programs like Sesame Street and St, there are more hearing people who know some rudimentary signs and for that I am grateful as there makes it more people who can understand if I have to resort to sign because ASL isn’t going to cut it in my world. My personal family, like spouse and children will learn ASL; I’ll make sure of that, but sadly I have no control over most other people even some family members dear to me. My grandparents paid for my education and have given me a lot of support, but they won’t learn to sighn and thank goodness I have the implants and can communicate with them. They loved me even when they could not communicate and would not communicate. You have to be flexible in this life and you have to be the one to learn more because you have no control over others. With out CIs, I would not have my current job, and it was hard enough to find it. Most of my ASL only friends, some very dear ones from camps and programs over years, are not self sufficient and it’s harder for them to find decent paying jobs without being able to hear. It’s hard enough for me with not so great hearing. That’s the reality. I hope none of my children turn out deaf or otherwise handicapped because it does make it addtional problems to overcome. I am grateful that I have the CIs.

  18. *reads blog*

    *looks at comments*

    YAY! Cultural debates! I’m gonna go grab me some POPCORN! *signs popcorn crazily like the little girl in Time to Eat*

    In all honesty, though, Rachel, great blog post! It always seems that when people write about this subject, they always put a hostile, audist, show-offy, accusatory, extreme Deaf perspective, or I-hate-CI spin on it. However, you’ve managed to tell your story and what you think without using any of those tones, and you’ve done it with a relatively low level of bias. Great job.

  19. Rachel,

    As a Deaf person who uses ASL, I used to feel the same way about C.I.’s as you did, and I also changed my mind, the way you did.

    I’d like to keep this short and non-controversial, but I thank you for taking the guts to talk about this so openly and positively.

    Every word you said in your above post makes complete sense, and I’ve shared this page with lots of my other Deaf friends who also use ASL as their primary language.

    I do not have the C.I., but more and more of my Deaf friends have been getting them.

    I am currently building a website JUST SPECIFICALLY for parents of Deaf children, and totally plan on debunking lots of ‘old wives tales’ and stereotypes, like you do so well.

    Communication comes FIRST!

    I LOVE the part that you said that speech is NOT a language, but it’s an option to carry a language.

    As a person AND as a person who is Deaf, I’d like to THANK YOU very, VERY much.

    With peace and respect,

    AV

  20. W O W. I loved your blog post. Yes, yes, yes, I agree all the way. I’m new here, a friend shared this with me.

    I’ve always been uncomfortable with the idea of cochlear implants but I always believed it should be the individual’s choice and not a choice other people make for the individual. Like another comment above, I praise you for your guts to share.. exactly what I also think about pricelessness of ASL and using cochlear implants as a tool. Hallelujah!

    I am a Deaf mom of three children- Deaf nearly-7 year old boy, hearing 5 year old daughter, and Deafblind 14 month old son. The oldest 2 are signers, my youngest one, since he cannot see signs at all, we use touch cues that we are working on transitioning to tactile signs. We’ve used our own touch cue for “Milk” since our son was hours old in the hospital. I’m all for readily accessbile language FIRST!

    Also, our youngest recently had his CI activated 2 weeks ago for access to the sounds of his environment… he doesn’t have a ‘distance sense’ (sound, sight) so this will give him more information, for example, dogs barking, car horn beeping, laughter, siren, etc. (Not to be misunderstood with understanding spoken language by sound.)

    Again, excellent post!

  21. Hi Rachel,
    I am not a mom of a HI child but I do take care of a 9 yr old with Down Syndrome, hearing impairment and a slew of serious medical problems. Her mom thinks that she functions at the level of a 3-4 yr old intellectually. I read about the ST DVD and mentioned it to her mom as something I thought she would enjoy. They are so overwhelmed at her house that I know she won’t look for them. I tried to find them at the local library as I am not allowed to buy stuff for clients. Do you have any suggestions?
    I have a funny story to tell. When my daughter was about 7, she decided to learn sign language. After a few weeks it was apparent what her motivation was…to ‘talk’ to me during church when she needed to be quiet. I must have looked like a terrible mother who didn’t learn to communicate with their deaf child as I told her to stop signing and just talk.

    • Cathy,
      I don’t know where you live but where I live (SoCal) they show ST on PBS and we record them with our DVR. I don’t know if this family has one, but it’s been great for us since we cannot afford them right now.

    • Cathy,

      Another option that may be available to you is your local ESD. Our ESD has a loaning library for parents whose children have come in to meet with the speech language pathologist. It’s where I was first introduced to the Signing Time story and series. I’ve since gotten every DVD, most CD’s, and most recently … POTTY TIME! πŸ™‚

  22. My sister’s son has MECP2 duplication syndrome and because of that, even though he is the same age as my son, he is really only at a 2 year old level (instead of 1st grade). I remember when she was frustrated/sad that he couldn’t sign as his fine motor skills are affected by his lack of muscle tone. I had learned something during my education classes and while teaching: speech “spoken” by mouth or signed is a motor skill. Speech as understood is a cognitive skill. No matter what you do, there is some motor skill involved, but the cognitive is what is most important. Give your child a way to communicate and respond, no matter what that is. My sister was so frustrated that she thought her son was even more cognitively impaired than previously diagnosed. I told her this tidbit and then asked her if when she signed something or said it, did he respond? She said yes, he did. Then I told her not to worry so much, the rest of it would come some day at one level or another, but at least he knew she understood him and vice versa. Open those doors of communication however you can!

  23. What an interesting discussion! I am an interpreter for the Deaf and where I have no deaf children, my kids often classify themselves as Deaf. For those of you who aren’t aware, deaf means they can’t hear, Deaf means they are immersed in and part of Deaf culture. My 14 yo son, as hearing as hearing can be, when sad, frustrated or tired, chooses to communicate in ASL. My daughter, when too embarrassed to verbally tell us what she did that got her in trouble at school, signed it to us with clarity. My 16mo son refuses to speak–he prefers ASL and is up to 3 and 4 sign sentences. (I want milk please.)

    My family LOVES it, my in-laws LOATHE! it. Where I appreciate the support and am annoyed at the disgust, it really wouldn’t effect who we are. ASL is an amazing tool. It uses different neurological pathways than spoken languages and helps children and adults create stronger, healthier brains. Anyone telling you differently is completely clueless. It’s horrifying to know that there are Dr’s out there that encourage ANYONE to stop signing.

    No matter what language is used primarily in your home, if you have a child that is going to have difficulties communicating, ASL should be the first thing you start learning. Understanding why your child is the way they are isn’t going to help you communicate with them any better–especially not RIGHT NOW! And communication is the one thing that every child yearns for.

  24. I’m not big on CI but I’ll be objective here. I commend Rachel for being honest with herself on this issue. Many on both sides aren’t wiling to be honest with themselves whenever they have changing feelings about subsets (parts such as agreeing that CI can be used within ASL / Bilingualism) of this issue even if not altogether switching sides on this. Honesty is all that matters.

  25. I do not have a deaf child but my child needs to be able to communicate with his father who is deaf. My son has excelled thus far (he is only 2) at signing and understanding what we are signing to him. Life has not been as frustrating for us as I have witnessed with other parents who do not have an early LANGUAGE. Therefore, I really value American sign language and I value your thoughts and insights here, Rachel. I have told my husband that IF we had a deaf child that I would not pursue the CI option. However, after reading your post, I might give him/her that option should they ask.

    Thank you for your advocacy and support of early language!

  26. Hi
    I read this story and I think what you did was amazing. I am profoundly deaf, have been since a year old. My mom tried to get me a cochlear implant when I was young but I wasn’t ready for it apparently. My mom had friends whose children were deaf and they met some girls who did sign language .my mom and her friends refuse to learn sign because they thought it would delay us. As I grew up my mom decided to take me to sign classes and I thought it was great. I got my ci at 15 years old and it opened up a new world for me. I attended deaf camp and saw all these kids who signed and I wanted to do that. So I started learning sign language and I can communicate in both the deaf and hearing world plus I work with deaf blind and sign is very handy.
    I admire you for teaching your child sign language and wished my mom did that for me. She taught me how to talk and speech but sign would have been beneficial to me too.
    Thank you for sharing your story!

  27. Having spent my entire life around my deaf family and friends, it means a lot to me to encourage those who can qualify for hearing help to do so. I have experienced many joys when fitting hearing aids on the first time user.

  28. Regarding the benefits of teaching ALL children sign from infancy: like my hubby & me, a friend of mine & her hubby have taught their children sign language from infancy. Recently it has proved to be profoundly beneficial to their family as they have discovered one of their children (3yr) is on the autism spectrum.

    His mind processes too quickly and he can’t form/find the ORAL words to communincate, which makes him very frustrated & upset; however, he’s able to SIGN to communicate with ease. You can imagine the amount of frustration this reduces for him (& his family/friends/therapists) as he’s able to communicate his needs/wants, feelings, etc.

    He’s gone through a stage of regression, and if he hadn’t already learned sign, they’d be having a more difficult time teaching it to him in the stage he’s currently in, so they’re very glad they’d already begun teaching him sign before they were even aware there were any issues. I hope more parents continue to teach their children sign language from infancy – regardless of their situation.

  29. THANK YOU! As a single mother of 8 month old twins I started your signing videos to help ease the frustration of what the three of us were sure to feel during toddlerhood. It worked. My babies ASL vocabulary began growing and it truly brought us closer to be able to communicate and gave them confidence to feel heard/understood. At 15 months my daughter was diagnosed with cancer. The number of signs she acquired grew quickly I think out of necessity. It was heartbreaking to see her in my rear view mirror signing what I thought was “cracker” and then soon realized was “gentle” on our way back to the hospital. It was funny to watch her tell the doctors and nurses to wash their hands. She only had 5 spoken words going in to chemo and stopped talking all togetherShe only had 5 spoken words going in to chemo and stopped talking all together. She received 6 doses of an ototoxic drug and has at this point only moderate hearing loss. We will continue to monitor. After her 5th chemo cycle she started talking again. 4 months since her diagnosis she has over 52 signs and 50 some spoken words(as does her twin brother). We are grateful to be learning speech through the help of a local clinic program and ASL from a school district teacher. No matter what she can or can’t hear or say my daughter, son, and I will continue to learn signing. We are now part of a community of same aged children and parents who have a variety of hearing loss. Many just aided and many with cochlear implants. I want to give us every opportunity to communicate with anyone we come across in any situation. She got her hearing aids 3 days ago and is to my surprise wearing them and liking them! One more dose of chemo next week and we are done with treatment. Her tumor was completely resected and her prognosis is good. Thank you for helping us get through this!

  30. My daughter, Sloane (‘red’ at the last Seattle show), was born with a profound hearing loss (diagnosed at 8weeks). I had already been planning on using baby sign, so it wasn’t a language barrier for us. I sobbed for months, mourning her loss, her being different than her family. Until one day I started asking if she had been born with different colored eyes would I want to change that?
    She got hearing aids around 4 months old. She didn’t mind wearing them, and started asking for them before she could walk! By a year we were already discussing CI, I vehemently stood opposed to them. She was signing, she could kind of hear ‘danger’ noises (her name, a car horn, etc). Her dad was all about them and he had the support of our entire families. It took a solid 5 months of convincing. I really had to look at her personality(she’s super outgoing and social), and how much joy she did get out of the few sounds she could hear.
    Our conclusion/compromise was that:
    -we would still learn/continue to sign
    -she would still have an interpreter (when she starts school)
    -she will never be forced to wear them
    -if family members want to be around they will learn to communicate with her, she does not need to accommodate the adults

    Her implants were activated 9months ago. She astonishes me everyday, in the way that she progresses both verbally and in signing. I did not put all my eggs in the CI basket. I want her to have a Deaf identity. I want ASL to be her primary language. I think she may have a different plan, and we’re okay with that.

  31. Hi Rachel,
    My granddaughter lives with me. She is 7 reading on grade level and writing well. Her english is very good. She became profoundly deaf this past summer, she wears 1 h/a the other ear is nonfunctioning and she uses an FM system in school & home. Still she is begining to struggle with new words and sounds.We too were advised against “sign language” b/c no one else knows it, it is a dead language and who would she “talk to”?
    That does not make sense!!!So here we are AMA!! B/c of h/h I had also stopped reading to her this was our nightly routine, Parents this is a mistake, they learn even if they do not hear! Actions speak louder than words!! We have sought out Deaf and Signing Groups. I take every opportunity to bring her to h/i functions. (Do Not Tell Her ENT) We have been having so much fun on this journey once I got past the heartbreak of it all. Because of her age what video would you recommed we start with?

    • Debra, it depends on her signing level. You want the Signing Time series for sure (not Baby Signing Time) Our DVDs are created to build on the previous vocabulary and they also do perfectly well standing alone. For example, if you are going to the Zoo, pick up The Zoo Train. If you want signs for waking up, getting dressed and your daily routine, pick up My Day. We have 26 options for you:) visit www.signingtime.com and keep signing!

  32. Rachel; Amen! Thank you for putting it into words so clearly!

    Purplewowies; I love that little girl crazily signing popcorn!

    NAK, Theresa

  33. I’m Leah’s Grandmother. Nothing has touched me so deeply and immediately as the first phone call I received from Leah. “Hi Grandma, this is Leah and I can hear you now, I love you”. I was instantly choked up with tears spilling from my eyes when I heard her. I couldn’t speak (she probably thought that I was now deaf)… I knew sign language but didn’t see Leah often enough to practice…so our ‘talks’ together were slow. I still use sign with her as I speak, but she’s so far beyond me in comprehension that it’s crazy. I just love that girl, with or without hearing. Not everyone knows how gifted she is, truly remarkable.

  34. Rachel, I love your two cents. I am deaf (and have a daughter with Down syndrome), and I often find the “fix it” mentality dispiriting. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I loved the video of Leah drumming too – I also drum (taiko)! Nd have you heard of that famous deaf drummer – a woman – Grrrr, I can’t remember her name….?!!

  35. Meriah (and Rachel),
    Her name is Evelyn Glennie. My husband is a percussionist and has had the opportunity to perform with her. She is an amazing lady! There’s also a documentary about her called Touch the Sound.

  36. Rachel,

    I just discovered your blog after using your baby signing time with my 10 1/2 month old daughter (who is in love with your dvd’s and can sign “all done” “milk” and “more” already). I took several university courses on deafness taught by a deaf professor. One course was on deaf culture and how amongst their community cochlear implants are discouraged for the reasons you specified at the beginning. I think if people followed your lead and taught sign first rather than tried to mold their deaf child to their hearing world then people wouldn’t be so upset with the idea. I completely agree, it’s a tool not a solution. I’m so impressed with all the strength you and your family have and what a gift you have given children and infants with your products. Thank you for being such an inspiration.

  37. Granted that artificial aids are not like the real thing, however it does provide a measure of satisfaction in lieu of “doing nothing.” I remember a deaf man 60 years of age living in a nursing home here in Texas. No one ever took the time to teach him sign language. Then he became blind – how devastating that must have been to him. My aunt who was crippled by some kind of disease could not walk nor talk from the age of 2. But she was a joyful woman to be around. She spent 70% of her life in bed in a nursing home. She lived to be in her 80’s. Communication was the only thing that kept her going. She could hear but preferred ASL Sign Language. I miss her so.

  38. Hi Rachel, I love what you said here. I am a mom of a child with apraxia, a severe speech delay. We used sign when he was small, he had no speech till long after he was 3, probably 4, maybe even 5. He is 8 now, and his language skills are more progressed than his singing skills. The only reason is that we didn’t fit into the deaf world. I so wish we had. I didn’t know how to teach my son fluent asl. We didn’t fit, didn’t have an audience, as he was hearing, we were in the hearing world, not the deaf world. But he could not interact with the hearing world. Enter signs, but the audience wasn’t there, outside our home. My son now is learning language, he has learned his speech first, it is still lacking, but better, and functional in some ways, he can tell me what he wants, but not what he feels. He has not had “it all” like Leah. He has unfortunately had much less than I ever wanted to give him. I didn’t have the tools to give him what he so needed. So now, he is struggling to learn the language pieces, the tenses, the word order to make his fledgling words actually make sense in the larger picture. It is so hard. I am glad you have been able to give your daughter what she needed. I wish I could have done, could do the same thing.

  39. Talk about somebody that was prejudice about deafness. My father and I were rather belligerent when anyone suggested we get some kind of hearing help for our deaf family. It was not until I started dispensing hearing aids that I fully realized what was missing in the life’s of those who could have corrective hearing, be it with hearing aids or cochlear implants. When my sister first attended the Texas School for the Deaf at Austin, Texas, they wanted to put hearing aids on her. NO NO NO was our answer. Oh if only I could go back to those early years. I am a total believer in “total healthcare” now in any fashion, shape or form. After dispensing hearing aids for 40 years, I realized what a change could be made in the lifestyle of those who could benefit from hearing help. GO FOR IT! IS MY CRY NOW! – GO FOR IT!

  40. Hi Rachel,
    Where to begin? We adopted our daughter from China in 2009 (she was 2; now she is 4 and a half), and it wasn’t until we brought her home to Canada that we discovered she was Deaf. I immediately went into research mode because I am a teacher, and needed to find resources. Your signing videos saved me. Saved us, taught us, entertained us, made us feel normal, helped us teach our family and friends to sign. There was never a question in my mind as to whether or not to learn sign. The question was, “How fast can we learn/ teach signs so we can find out what’s going on in my girls’ brain?” It was absolutely essential to begin communicating ASAP in order to bond and get to know our new daughter. Fortunately our large extended family also began to pick up signs, even my Mom who has arthritic hands :). In February 2010, our daughter had CI surgery. That didn’t go well (ossified bone), but after a second try in March, they were able to do a split array. My daughter has done very well with new sounds and is chatting up a storm! But she is also signing nonstop! I think we have a chatterbox in both languages. And we will NEVER stop signing. We love the beach and swimming, and signing works perfectly there. On Monday we will talk with the surgeon about a possible second ear surgery. She goes to Kindergarten in 2012, and I want everything for her…ASL, SEE, English…and yet it does scare me, this next step.
    Anyway, my point to make to you, Rachel, is that your products, your DVDs, you, your story, has impacted my family hugely. Thank you.

  41. Our daughter lost her hearing at 5 months (due to meningitis) and was bilaterally implanted at 8 months. When she was about two her therapist gave me a Signing Time DVD that completely changed our lives. It opened the world of total communication with her and caused me to seriously look at all ways to communicate with her. Sign is the key to communication with our daughter. Our oldest son has been studying ASL and actively interpreting in different ministries through his college and various churches. Grace is 6 1/2 now, she is still working on her expressive and receptive language. Because her sister and brothers (five of them), grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, even some in our church have all learned sign ( at various levels of course) so they can communicate with her, it has not only enriched our lives but those who would not otherwise have considered learning a second language or think about deaf people in general. Thank you for your heart, not just for your own children, but for our children as well.

  42. I love this post and the discussion. I’ve been considering an implant and went to a meeting recently where there was a group of people who had the procedure done. Only 1 was unhappy with the result. I’m still waiting for technology to come along a little further before I make my decision. I was told, however, by one member that she decided to only have 1 ear done. She said that one night there was a fire drill in her retirement community. She heard nothing from the ear that had been implanted because she was in bed asleep. But her other ear heard “something” and she tried to find the source of what it was. She said if it had been a real fire, she may not have been alerted. So, for her, she is not having the other ear implanted at the moment. The consensus of the majority I talked to with the implants encouraged me to “go for it”. I think I want to wait a bit longer for the technology to advance before I have this done. Ideally, I would prefer they not cut the auditory nerve at all. That is my hesitation because I do have some “sense” of hearing. I just don’t know what I’m hearing when I hear it these days. πŸ™‚ How confusing is that?
    Rachel, good luck in Ghana, and I love how you continue to educate and enrich the lives of so many of us.

    • They don’t cut the auditory nerve in cochlear implant surgery. The cause of the possible loss of residual hearing is from damage done to the hair cells inside the cochlea when the electrode is inserted. An intact auditory nerve is necessary to get benefit from a cochlear implant.

  43. I am 100% on board with what you are saying here. I may not be deaf but with my very limited contact with deaf individuals I’ve found that the deaf community is very proud of being deaf, and I feel that that is a great thing for the community and the deaf culture. By having your child receive cochlear implants before they can decide is unfair to the child. They should have the option to pick what they want once they have experienced the deaf culture and life. They may want the implant or not, I think it should be up to them. Again, I may not be deaf but that is just my point of view and the things I have noticed in the deaf culture.

  44. Rachel, this is such a wonderful article! And it is SO very important that other parents see it… as many as possible. We would LOVE to repost this on DeafEcho.com (please check us out) and put the article on our Deaf Echo Parent Page (which includes a link to a Facebook page). If you don’t mind a re-posting, please do email us at the address provided, and let us know if it’s okay to repost with a link back to this site.

    THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR WRITING THIS! THIS IS WHAT PEOPLE NEED TO KNOW.

    -Deaf Echo Editors

  45. Gosh, we need to get more parents to read this. Parents need to realize the importance of being able to communicate with their own children. It baffles me that some of parents would choose their kids to be able to speak few words over a complete convesation. Sign language is the essential key for d/hh children to be able to learn and expand their communication skills, including the ability to speak… Only a very small percentage of d/hh managed to learn to speak without sign language. Really, we would have had more d/hh people with ability to speak today if we all started with sign language.

    CI or not, we should be trying to encourage our children to the maximum of their potentials. Not all of d/hh would be able to speak but if one shows that skill then maximum that skill to its potential. CI may help but unfortuately it’s not always the case like you mentioned– especially with audiologists & doctors giving odd advices and without realizing that it may servely impact negatively in their lives. It amazes that they would often forget that they are still innocent children.. A part of my experience were similar as yours when doctor told my parent to not use sign language which it was only thing we used to communicate. My mother explained this to doctor & he still insist to us to stop to see the results. Finally, at one point my mother asked if he had any children of his own and whether he could take out their current form of communication for several weeks/months to see certain results, etc. He responded that he wouldn’t. At that point, she told him that she wasn’t going to raise a child like a parrot and we all walked out.

    Thank you for sharing your experience!

      • Miss Kat’s Mom,
        You speak with a tone of authority. I wonder where you get it? What studies have you read? What statistics do you site with your statement? I would be interested to see some data to back up your statement.

      • Thank you for pointing that out and yes you are right. I wasn’t clear on that part, what I meant was that there would be more d/hh people having the ability to speak fluently as if they could carry a near complete conversation. It really doesn’t make someone to be qualified enough if they could speak 15-20 words to be considered as someone who could talk.
        There’s definitely a lot of d/hh capable of doing that but for having the ability to speak more than few words, there aren’t that many out there.

      • Can you get the title and date of that research release? I am very interested in seeing that.

        We have to keep in mind the range of ‘hearing loss’: mild, moderate, severe, profound. ASL is just one part of sign language… there’s SEE, PSE, home signs, etc. Also, how does one determine a child is proficient with spoken language? Do they need to be proficient in both receptive and expressive English or just expressive? (I’m sure the research results will explain that when I read it.) I personally know those of us who speak well but can’t get what the other hearing person is speaking.

        In case some of you don’t know, today with video relay services, there is also a way to use VCO (voice carry-over). The deaf person speaks, yet requires an interpreter to sign what the hearing caller is saying.

        Forgive me if I went off on a tangent here; my point is that sign language is still much needed even by Deaf/HH speakers. Don’t wait til the kid is 6, 7, or 8 years old and say, “Ohh, OK, he doesn’t entirely understand spoken language after all, let’s start using sign language.” Starting sign language at infancy works as a beautiful language safety net. Just like Rachel Coleman’s doing ‘planting language seeds’ with the Signing Times DVDs!

        • A responsible parent and educators would absolutely be tracking receptive as well as expressive language. A child would need to be making at least 6 months worth of gain, every 6 months, in order to “close the gap”. I don’t believe that anyone in oral deaf education (parents who choose it, or professionals who work in it) EVER advocate for continuing on a path that is not helping a child blossom. I know that my child’s school refers parents to sign language because they do sometimes see children who are not making appropriate progress or do not have the skills needed to be an auditory oral learner. It is not the majority, but it happens. They do NOT allow a child to continue until “6, 7, or 8” and not be able to use the language.

      • Miss Kat’s Mom: I’m glad it is working perfectly at your child’s school. Unfortunately it’s not happening everywhere.

        A lot of us have a hard time finding the ideal setting, teachers, support providers; continue evaluate and re-evaluate and continue to learn the importance of the IEP. There’s always something just not right, even if it’s not a language issue.

        Adult D/HH speakers continue to come out of the woodwork saying sign language is awesome and some even said they wish they knew years and years ago.

        What can we do about it? My recommendation is continue with the ‘language safety net’ of teaching sign language starting at infancy. Why, even babies and children with perfect hearing are learning sign language. Barnes and Nobles has plenty of shelf space for books on sign language. I recently had a parent come up to my hearing daughter saying it’s cool she knows two languages. It’s FUN! It’s healthy! πŸ™‚

  46. I am also a parent of a deaf child. When we discovered my daughter’s hearing loss and began to sign, we felt the same way about implants. At the time my daughter was not a candidate, so I sat on my soapbox and judged all the “CI parents”. Didn’t they know that deaf kids NEED ASL! Their kids are going to grow up and hate them because they didn’t sign….Well, things change!

    My daughter’s hearing loss progressed to the point that hearing aids were of no use to her. We decided to look into a CI when she started being upset when she could no longer hear things she had heard before. We had some opposition when we wanted an implant because she was in an ASL school, and she solely communicated through ASL. We won the battle and my daughter was activated at 5 years old.

    While I agree with Rachel that “speech is a skill”, speech is not the “end goal” of a cochlear implant in conjunction with a spoken language education. The goal is fluent English. Speech is articulation, the language is English. Speech can be improved at any time, but language acquisition must be in those early years, and if a parent want the native language to be acquired to be English, early implantation is probably essential.

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