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. 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 For those who do not qualify to receive Sign It ASL for free, they can find it for purchase at very reasonable rates on 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. For one no matter what the point of view you all have I am glad I am learning all points of view. I only have an adult deaf cousin no one whom I must make a choice for. But I am being eductated by reading all of these posts. I was so embarrassed when I made the blunder of asking a little girl with hearing aids in both ears if she signed! I asked because I was and still am learning ASL. I was petrified at the little girls response of no because I made her feel uncomfortable as though she should know but didn’t. My level of ignorance on the subject was so embarrassing! I just figured it was only natural he also used english because her speech was of a deaf person …so no more assuming anything! Any thoughts…? No rude comments please.

    • Patricia, I don’t think it’s a blunder to ask a child with hearing aids if they sign. I ask children with CIs if they sign. My sister-in-law met a deaf boy in high school. She noticed his hearing aids and was so excited to sign with him, because she knew some ASL. He was offended when she signed to him and he said, “I’m Deaf! I’m not stupid!” I think she has been scarred ever since. The bigger issue in that story is that somewhere somehow that boy equated signing with a lack of intelligence and THAT in my opinion is a worse blunder than yours or my sister-in-law’s.

  2. I love the way you explained things Rachel. I am a deaf mother of two hearing children. I am going to share this very blog post with my friends because it explains so well why its okay to get a cochlear implant. Although I don’t agree with babies getting them, I love the free agency they can have when they are older. I love how you explained that speech is a skill. It really is. I grew up orally and never used sign language until I was 24. If I could go back and change things (and I will never regret the way my parents brought me up for this was all they knew), I would do total communication. In some cases that is not helpful but in many it would be. I am grateful for your videos, my daughters love them and learn alot from them. I still have yet to own them all but hope to someday. Thank you for your inspiration to be a better mom. You truly are a great example to others.

  3. Truly inspiring! This is what National Association of the Deaf has been advocating for all along … the ability to understand and be understood. You did the right right for Leah, her right to be her own person. Leah is lucky to have you as a mother.

    • Thank you Bobbie. I wouldn’t wish our journey and the fears and anguish and tears on anyone, though I do wish that every parent of a deaf child and every deaf chid is happy, fulfilled and surrounded by people and programs that can truly support them.

  4. When it comes to communication, there is nothing more important. Communication is what relationships are all about.

    Though the debate goes on in regards to children and cochlear implants, we don’t want to miss the point of what is at the heart. Communicating.

    Each of us has different situations and views on this topic, but we must respect one another’s views despite any disagreement. I think we, as a society are too quick to jump to extreme terms like “child abuse”, etc. in regards to this issue.

    However, with programs like Signing Time more and more day care centers and schools are teaching Sign Language to children at an early age, as well as so many parents using sign with their infants. I see children coming into our preschool now already signing. We want to communicate with our children by any means we can. Even with implants, Sign Language is needed because there are times when the implant is turned off. Or there may be technical failure.

    Here is an interesting book with more on the topic of cochlear implants and children

  5. My 26 yr old Deaf daughter is named Rachel, too! Great name! Our Rachel was born profoundly Deaf. CIs were in their infancy at that time. We tried hearing aids for about 2 yrs but her acquisition of English was just not happening. About her 5th birthday we placed her in the Indiana School for the Deaf – a premiere bilingual/bicultural state school. There she was taught ASL as her primary language and English as a second language. She thrived educationally. She devours books. She acquired very good spoken English skills. Plus, and this is a HUGE plus, she is a full member of a silent world – a Deaf culture – which she cherishes. Where she always belongs. Where she is always at home. I believe the stand you have put forth is exactly correct. CI is a tool, not a society or a culture. It makes a deaf person a HOH person. A CI does not separate one from the Deaf culture, unless the child is denied access to the one language that was specifically designed for him/her – ASL. Sign language will open doors her CI never will.

    Signed, Marshall Lawrence, Executive Producer
    Dr. Wonder’s Workshop
    Children’s ASL TV series

  6. Rachel,

    Do you know what type of hearing loss Rachel has? My son has been diagnosed with X-linked deafness and we’ve been told that a CI won’t necessarily help him because of the type of loss. I’d love to find someone to who’s child has had the CI with this type of loss if you know of anyone that would be willing to talk.

    • Leah has a bilateral sensorineural hearing loss. They used to believe that CIs wouldn’t help children with auditory neuropathy, but that view has changed in the past 9 years as well. Keep searching. Contact the CI companies directly and check in with ENTs to see if they know of anyone who has successfully been implanted who is dealing with the same thing as your child

  7. Rachel,
    I just wanted to thank you for this blog. My daughter isn’t deaf, but she has a rare (Rare as in, we can’t find any other child with her similar diagnoses) with chromosome disorder and cleft lip and palate, ect,ect… As soon as one of her Dr’s told me she would never talk or understand language (and a bunch of other horrible things that I stopped listening too!)
    I started sign language with her. My family and my husband’s family fought me tooth and nail saying it would delay her even more. She made her first sign at 7 months-now she is 3 1/2 and the whole family signs with her. She even teaches her sister, cousins and class mates!
    But what I’m writing to tell you is thank you for #3 in this post. I’d never had anyone other than my husband express the opinion that ‘speech’ is a skill. Her speech therapist and all the professionals are stressing because she’s only saying ‘Mama’ and ‘Ice’ -for ice cream. To be honest I felt like a bad Mama because I just wasn’t that concerned that she wasn’t saying more verbally. She’s telling me stories about her day, expressing needs and wants, and emotions and love and all the things a 3 year old needs to express and with a better vocab than her peers-it’s just not in plain verbal english! What was there for me to be worried about? But after reading your blog I feel like I just had someone back me up a little! Thank you so much for writing that and posting it somewhere where I would stumble across it! Obviously we will never brush off her being verbal. But I have someone besides me and my husband who says speech doesn’t = language comprehension! Thank you for that little boost! And thank you for all the work you do, it’s been truly a wonderful experience teaching our children with the assistance of the Signing Time program and watching them teach others!
    Thank you so much!
    -Marie Mama to Miss Morgan-Marie,Jessica and Charlie-250 signs and counting!

    • You are so welcome! I have joked that “Speech Is A Skill” will be on my headstone someday. I think it is very important for parents to understand it and even more important to address the unsubstantiated “fear of signing” – Signing does detract from any process you choose. In my opinion, all children should sign, even the hearing ones.

      • Hi luv:) In 1986 I completed my thesis for M.A. in Deaf Education at Temple U in Philadelphia. Sadly the program closed after only two years.. Be that as it may, I wanted to share the title of my thesis: “Language and Deafness: A Literature Review.” Being a Hearing parent of two Deaf kids (:) who had already done everything wrong, (fact) in terms of language acquisition and cognitive development, the journey through research and writing nearly killed me…as my kids were already 15 and 17. At any rate, all of this to let you know the term I used, and still do, in place of your use of “skill”. I explain it this way: There is “language” and there is “communication” and neither is synonymous or requires speaking! Speech is merely one “mode” of communicating, while signing is another (mode). Of course they are different modes but equally effective for rich communication. That is they we refer to ‘spoken languages’ vs ‘sign, or signed(?) languages’ . Anyway, the name of my own blog is similar to yours; I call it “From Where I Sit” 🙂 I’ve not yet launched it as I need HELP with the technology to make it happen::)) Any suggestions welcome. Lots ‘o luv! I may see you in NO in few weeks! xo

  8. Wow! I find it very interesting that I stumbled on this stite. Really it’s fate. My son is deaf and nearly 10. He has decided on his own to be verbal…….never stops talking little guy. I was and still am a supporter for all avenues to communicate with my kids. With your fun songs we started our signing journey. A few months ago the residual hearing my guy had is almost gone. Since we covered ourselves and were open about all ways to communicate we are finally looking at the “c” word. I’m starting to get over the shock. Looks like you have appeared again when I needed you…and you don’t even know who we are. Great to see how yoour family is doing. ps Throughout this journey I went back to school to work with our beautiful “special” kiddos. Blessings

    • Amy, there are still days that I can’t believe that Leah has a CI. I was SO against it. I don’t think it is the right choice for every deaf child or for every family. It’s not a quick fix. It’s still a very emotional issue for me and I feel very protective of Leah. I don’t think our way is “the right way” for everyone, but it worked out great for our family. Best of luck to you!

  9. Rachel,

    Thank you for sharing “Baby Signing Time,” and “Signing Time,” with the world. Our 18 month old son, Ethan, was born with a peroxisomal biogenesis disorder-zellweger spectrum. PBDs are rare, terminal, metabolic disorders that impact every major system.

    Ethan is considered deafblind, and has had hearing aids since he was 4 months old. Hearing loss with PBD is progressive, and children typically loose all hearing by the time they are 3 years old. At that time the majority of children will be implanted. If/when we get to that point, we know that we will choose that for Ethan. For us, being able to give the gift of sound to our son who also has vision issues as well as physical and cognitive delays seems the only resonable choice.

    With that being said, we began signing with Ethan, from the moment that we found out about his diagnosis, and we will continue to sign with him in order to give him the most possible options for communitcation. We are also beginning the precursers for PECs as well. For us communication, not speech is what we pray for with our son.

    Ethan is 18 months old and is able to sign, “eat” and “more.” While we would love it if he had more signs, we are thrilled that he has at least these two so far and we continue to model signs for him on a daily basis.

    I pray for a day that Ethan may be able to sign, “mom” and “dad.”

  10. Rachel- This was such a great post; I’m glad someone has taken the time to push past the panic incited by medical professionals and look at the logic of the situation. The idea that “language does not delay language” is so important and yet so often overlooked. I too am currently working on a blog that provides clear information from all perspectives on issues of d/Deafness, Deaf ed. etc. ( but it’s great to see a parent taking control of her child’s success and spreading the word.

  11. I just received my CI in January of this year. I’ve previously worn hearing aids since I was 3. I just decided it was time to see if the CI would help me as I’m now getting older (44 years old!) and I noticed my comprehension of speech was decreasing. I found myself leaning toward using sign language more & more. The first month of the CI being turned on, they told me to not wear my hearing aid in my other ear – that this would allow my brain to get used to hearing with the CI. I can understand why they told you to not sign after the CI is activated. But that is just cruel if that has been what your daughter has always known and then expect her to be able to understand speech that quickly with the CI. I’m glad it’s working for your daughter. I LOVE LOVE LOVE my CI!!!

  12. I am a Deaf and visually impaired individual. I wore hearing aids since the age of 4. Prior to that, no language or communication whatosoever as my hearing loss was not discovered during the first 4 years of my life. I lost my hearing in one ear so I stopped wearing a hearing aid in that ear but continued wearing a hearing aid on the other ear. I now have a CI on that side that lost hearing. I was mainstreamed in a hard of hearing class and sign language was not permitted. I learned sign language at age 11-12 but really picked it up during my teen years. I eventually went to the state residential school for the deaf as mainstream really failed at the high school level. I was a high achiever in school and the school district failed in their responsibility in providing appropriate education in both sign language and other means of communication.

    I am now a vocational rehabilitation counselor working with d/Deaf and hard of hearing individuals. I use all modes of communication. I believe in the concept of having all the tools of communication be utilized for d/Deaf children. The same goes for the non-verbal hearing children.

    I want you to know that there is an organization called Alexander Graham Bell (AGB)Association. Historically, this organization has encouraged hearing/speech only for d/Deaf children. Alexander Graham Bell himself said that a d/Deaf person would never meet another d/Deaf person. How wrong he was! The AGB organization to this day still refuses to allow sign language as part of the full communication approach for d/Deaf children. With the advent of CIs, AGB is trying to assert the oral only approach for all d/Deaf children. This organization influences politicians in this area. If your state, school district, or other program is considering the idea of banning sign language (any), tell them no. Sign language is just another means of communication in addition to hearing and speech. Speech, is not language, as this blog has reiterated a number of times.

    Kudos to all the parents who do not listen to the so-called “experts” such as the ENT and sometimes educators! Stay strong and always try and do right by your child(ren). Communication is something that can never be taken for granted regardless of the means – English, ASL, other languages.

    One last thing, if the audiologist tells a new CI user upon first programming to stop using their hearing aid on the other ear, ignore them. The same goes for sign language. I never stopped wearing my hearing aid even when I was first mapped. The hearing aid is my balance to hearing everything. The only time I do not use the hearing aid is during the actual mapping. I have excellent speech skills for someone with delayed speech due to a very late discovery of my hearing loss. This is due to nearly 10 years of speech therapy during my school years at school. I had no private speech therapy at home or anywhere else. I am profoundly deaf in both ears. I am an ASL user and very happy with the use of both English and ASL. I consider myself Deaf or Deaf-Blind and proud of it. My advice to parents of d/Deaf children to get their hands on all the information they can get and choose the best communication tool and use it every day!

    To return to the topic of this blog, ASL, English, SEE, any signed language or spoken language is something to be used by everyone -not just d/Deaf people. The old wives’ tale of sign language should be thrown out with the bath water. I read a book some years ago, “Forbidden Signs: American Culture and the Campaign against Sign Language.” I never critcized a book so much until I read this one! I have nothing but contempt for this man, Charles Darwin, for saying that sign language was not a language and that sign language would turn individuals into monkeys. Charles Darwin is mentioned in this book. I highly recommend it for parents and anyone who is interested in learning about this campaign. Thankfully, it is not as strong now. Keep up the fight in having full communication access. Kudos to those who are willing to maintain the belief that inclusion includes sign language.

  13. I am so thankful for you! I am so grateful that you used your talents and your life situation to impact this world. Thank you!!

    I have three children. My son is 5 and my daughters are 2 and 6 months. I used baby sign language with my first two. I didn’t know about you and your products. I just used a book called Signing Smart with Babies and Toddlers. It was amazing how fast they learned and how much we used the signs to communicate. When my baby was born 6 months ago, we found out that she has bilateral profound hearing loss. She’s deaf. According to all of her tests, she doesn’t hear a thing. We just found out she has Waardenburg Syndrome Type I.

    When I found out she was deaf, I cried for about five minutes. My tears were mainly out of concern for her because I thought of all of the times I had tried to use my voice to soothe – like in the car. Once I got over that, I embraced it. She was perfectly made in God’s image and He knit her together and allowed her to be deaf. I consider it an honor and privilege to parent her.

    Because we are a hearing family, we have chosen to implant her. We know how critical those first three years are, so we want her to have the opportunity to hear. At first, this seemed like an easy decision, but the longer we’ve been on this journey, the more I ask myself, “Is this right? Should we take away her deafness?”

    She’s been in hearing aids since she was 6 weeks old. They aren’t working, of course. We are on target to get her CI’s in May or June. I have been signing with her as much as I know how. Through the Steal Network, I found your Potty Time DVD for my 2 year old. It’s AMAZING!!! We LOVE it so much! About two weeks after purchasing that DVD (and watch) I bought the Baby Signing DVD collection. I just got those yesterday. I want my entire family to know all of the signs and to sign as much as possible. I think we need to sign to each other…not just to Elizabeth, our baby. I think Lizzie will pick up on that incidental language. I would love for all of us to learn ASL because I WILL continuing signing once she is implanted.

    The hardest thing for me has been knowing how to communicate effectively with my newborn. Do you have any recommendations? How much should I be signing with her? How do deaf families sign to their deaf babies? I could just cry because I want her to understand language and I feel I’m not equipped right now because I’m not fluent in ASL. I feel like I don’t know what to do right now to really help her. I’ve done everything I can to get her implanted early, but I’m talking about really stimulating her mind. I play with her and treat her just like my other two because I have never believed that anything is wrong with her. She just can’t hear. But even when I’m playing with her, I wonder if I’m getting through. I’ve tried finding toys that light up or at least make a vibration when they make a sound because it seems so many toys are geared toward stimulating our sense of hearing.

    I would appreciate any advice you have to offer. I know you are super busy though.

    And I wanted to say that I read some of your fitness posts and they really inspired me. I am 34 and feeling totally out of shape. I’m carrying around about 5-10 unnecessary pounds, but my muscles need strengthening…including my heart muscle! It’s so hard finding the time but I MUST do it. Thanks! Thanks so much for blessing us with your talents and your life situation.

    • I remember feeling like I was standing in the way of Leah’s language development, because I didn’t know ASL:) Sign with your deaf baby, sign everything you can. When you don’t know a sign, look it up and just keep adding them in. Start from day 1, I know it feels silly, but trust me, those little ones are paying attention, even when you think they aren’t.
      Look to see if there is a Signing Time Academy Instructor near you, they can help you with their classes and additional resources.
      It sounds like you are doing great and considering all of the options. Some days are tougher than others, hang in there:)

    • I just happened to come across your comment. Did you know that Nyle DiMarco also has Waardenberg syndrome. That’s a Deaf gain for him because the syndrome gave him those blue eyes 🙂

  14. I just finished listening to your interview on Keith Wann’s web radio show. It was moving and now reading this blog with the many stories. I’m moved, touched and inspired.

    My grandson was born profoundly deaf with Noonan Syndrome and fortunately for our family we knew within a few days. Mikie has spent every year of his twelve having surgeries until this past year. Noonan Syndrome mostly affects the spine and heart with a bunch of other less life threatening issues. Only 1% are also deaf. Like a few others have written we (Mikie, his mom & I & siblings) are even more delayed with fluent ASL due to the hospitalizations and challenges. Yet, we knew it was The Way for us to communicate. Mikie refused to wear his hearing aids and threw them out the window on the way home from the doctor’s office!

    The public schools were not equipped for someone entering kindergarten who didn’t know his alphabet and numbers. The teacher was more concerned about FCAT and stated that she couldn’t possibly teach him and perhaps he would better fit in a class for the mentally challenged. Her supervisor understood his medical history was the only reason for this delay and stated she would have him in her class. Fortunately, I found Blossom Montessori School for the Deaf and the Deaf Literacy Center only 25 miles away. We feel like family. We are very excited that Mikie is well enough to attend Florida School for the Deaf and Blind summer camp this year, too.

    From the start like any new grandma I ran out to stores looking for a toy or something that would represent his ‘language to be’. I was shocked that there weren’t sign language toys, stuffed animals, something. So, I have been working on designing my own line of ASL toys. It’s quite the challenge and it is my passion. My tag line is “Sign Language and Toys Go Hand In Hand”. I believe that My Signing Toys are a perfect complement to video and flash cards. Yes, this is a shameless plug.

    Thank you all at Two Hands for leading the way and continuing to be the kind of parents that you are for your children and ours.

  15. Too bad your prejudices effectively deprived your daughter of SEVEN YEARS during which she could have enjoyed the sound of music, nature, and the human voice. The neural pathways designed to “learn” and distinguish sounds are optimally developed in the earliest years of a child’s life. You did, after all, make a crucial decision for your child; one that placed her on a significantly delayed timeline in the development of her skills in discriminating sounds, as well as her understanding, interpretation, and vocalization of oral speech. I am NOT condemning you: as parents, we all do our best with the perceptions, biases and information we possess at any given time. My request is this: please consider urging other parents to seriously weigh the benefits of early cochlear surgery. Thank you, and congratulation on your child’s progress.

    • Thanks for your comments. I do have to say, it wasn’t my prejudices that “deprived” Leah of hearing, she was simply born deaf and that just happens:) That would be like saying we deprive Lucy of walking, since she was born with spina bifida and cerebral palsy and there is not yet a reliable or appropriate medical discovery that can help her walk.

      Honestly, if I had it to do over again, I would make the same choice- the cochlear implant of 1996 was quite different from the cochlear implant of 2004. On the other hand, American Sign Language has held the test of time. That being said, I urge families to sign, and I encourage them to take a look a the technological tools available to them… and my recommendation comes in that order.

      As with most things in life, there is no blanket answer and in medicine it’s important to treat the individual not the label.

      We do the best we can, we live, we learn… and hopefully we are a little kinder, a little less judgmental, and a little more willing to take a critical look at ourselves, rather than pointing out what we think is another person’s mistake. That’s where real breakthroughs happen, in discovering our own blind-spots in life and that’s exactly what I was sharing here on my post.

    • @i. lucia….I’m sorry that you were deprived of learning American Sign Language (ASL) since I consider this one of the most beautiful language. Hearing people who have learned ASL have the best of both worlds and the beauty of expressing oneself, without sound. Yes, there is beauty in not hearing. Do tell us, when you don’t know it; how do you know if you’re missing it.
      I hope you’re able to open your eyes…it works both ways.

  16. Can your daughter hear spoken language without lipreading like a hearing person can? Your attitude is the right one, just like my mother’s and she was Hearing. With a positive and realistic mentality, all the parents of deaf/hard of hearing children would not be overly anxious/worried and be gripped with a crippling sadness.

  17. Rachel, you are a wonderful role model and inspiration for other parents who need to see and understand why ASL is and should be integral for a newborn or late deafened child. I just don’t understand why some doctors and audiologist just don’t get it…are they stupid or what?? This is why you (and your lucky daughter) succeeded! Keep on talking and telling about it. You ought to publish your writing in magazine(s) so majority of the population will have access to your story.
    I am deaf (hard of hearing by definition of audiologist and do not have CI..since I do well with hearing aid).

  18. Hello, Rachel –

    We’ve never met, but my husband Niel knows you and Leah from years back.

    I have always loved your parental philosophy. My mother was a speech language pathologist before I was born, and when I became deaf as an infant, she eventually realized by the time I was two that I needed ASL. Afterwards with a real language, my speech immediately improved, as did my English.

    My two hearing sons are huge fans of your DVDs, too. This enthusiasm has also spilled over to their hearing classmates, and the other parents, who eventually bought some of your DVDs after enjoying the ones I loaned them!

    I appreciate your two-cents on cochlear implants. I am collecting research documents and perspectives on the benefits of a co-existence between cochlear implants and ASL. I also manage the school newsletter at California School for the Deaf, Riverside. I would be very honored and thrilled if I may kindly get your permission to reprint your blog article? Your message needs to get out there in all possible places.

    • Please tell him “Hi!” How great to still have that connection! I’m glad your family loves what we do, that means so much to me. Yes, Neil worked with Leah before we had come up with Signing Time and we were working so hard on language and literacy skills. Yes, you can absolutely reprint this blog. Thank you Erika~

  19. Hello,

    We’ve spoken to each other a few times via your website and email. Love this piece. I just began writing on my blog (since June) and am looking for specific blogs to post on the side. My goal here is to share as much as resources as well share my personal stories from the heart. Some are funny, some are sad, and some will only turn off people. So, I’d love to add your blog if that’s alright?

  20. Pingback: if it makes me a radical… I’m ok with that « Adventures of a Deaf Adult

  21. Many parents with developmentally delayed children who are not speaking are encouraged not to sign as well – it is maddening. Luckily our son (DD and non-verbal until 5.5 years) was referrred to a school for the deaf. There they gave him every possible form of language available – spoken, ASL and pictures. He flourished!
    Keep the faith!

  22. I recently met a mom of a deaf one year old who is getting a ci. I assumed she was also teaching sign language and I was really surprised that her child’s Dr told her not to. They also said it woukd take a year for the child to learn spoken language once activated, like a hearing babystarting at birth. This means her baby will be without a language until 2. A mom who posted earlier seemed to be okay with this too, preferring to not communicate by sign in addition to getting a CI. whats wrong with seeing the sign for mama at 9 months and then later hearing it at 2 if you choose a ci. Why choose to let your child be deprived of language just so their first words will be spoken? My child is not deaf but was speech delayed due to autism and I found signs and pictures to really help our communication. I believe signing along with therapy fostered his eventual mastery of speech. If the neural network of communication/language isn’t forged as a toddler, won’t that hinder a person? I regret not teaching signs to my neurotypical second child. I think knowing ASL would help his frustration and allow him to communicate better. We do a lot of pointing and guessing:)

  23. Thank you, thank you Rachel, not only for your wonderful videos, but also for giving me something I can repost to all the people who think that the CI is a magical cure. My daughter Tasha has wispy nerves – her CI doesn`t work. She is 6, has had three years of ASL preschool and one year of ASL kindergarten. She signs beautifully, lipreads, and has taught herself to speak – no speech therapy. People who reject ASL… for ANY reason… are just plain wrong.

  24. Hello Rahcel, I am an audiologist and would just like to express my happiness at your success with your daughter’s cochlear implant. I commend you for following your instinct with regards to communication mode however, I would just like to comment on your advice stating you wanted to wait for your child to decide herself to get an implant. Although I understand your viewpoint, it has been scientifically proven that the auditory connections in your brain are the most plastic (susceptible to change) until the age of approximately 3 years old, without early access to sound, your brain will stop using its hearing centres for sound and start using them for something else, like vision. The reason why your daughter has been successful with her implant is because her hearing aids provided her with (although very crude) access to sound, without this exposure her brain would not have been able to make the connections necessary for sound to reach the brain with her implant. So I urge parents to speak to professionals before deciding to wait- waiting might mean compromising your child’s ability to hear at a later stage. Also please encourage your children to wear their hearing aids, even though they might not enable them to hear or understand speech very well, they are providing auditory stimulation to the brain which is vital for cochlear implant success.

  25. I LOVE this post. I think it is obviously wonderful view and beautifully put for signing for those who are deaf and also accepting CI. I am a mother to a child with autism and a teacher to children with autism as well. I try to get the point of communication is so much more than the skill of verbal speech. I would love to plagerize your letter and give it to parents. Though I don’t use sign with my son or students (because of fine motor and imitation issues) I do use picture exchange and it is life changing for all of them.

  26. Rachel, this is such an encouraging post! I, myself, have been fortunate to know a twin set of boys, Adam & Stephen, in college both of which who have become dear friends. Adam was born legally deaf and extremely under developed. Hiding underneath his brother with a perfect matching heartbeat, his parents didn’t know of Adam’s existence till the delivery! Meeting Adam in college I was informed that though deaf, was wanting to be a Music Education Major, just like his brother however the idea of implants terrified him. Just this past month, on his 22nd birthday he underwent the surgery to get the Cochlear Implants. How wonderful it was to see him celebrate this new world of possibilities through this implant after such a long time of ASL and hearing aids, limiting his ability to pursue his musical passion as a young adult! I was also very thankful for ASL as well as all the information out there from articles and blogs, like your own, who helped me as a friend be there to help communicate and be there for such a great friend. An article that he sent out for us friends to learn a little about the procedure:

    I am happy to report that Adam has been very happy with his new implants as we are all excited for the future still to come.


  27. Rachel first I will start by saying you’ve helped our home so much with your videos. Secondly I found out at birth my daughter Emma now 4 was profoundly deaf! I contemplated and contemplated I wanted ASL believing and still believing god chose her to be this way for a reason. I was pressured by her father and family to get the CI. As you’ve stated they don’t work for everyone. After almost 3 years with the CI nothing at all. She didn’t progress she had terrible headaches and cried frequently, enough was enough! I took it off of her she progresses so well with ASL and adores your movies. She was born with Congenital Cytomegalovirus(Ccmv) causing deafness,seizures,microcephaly, enlarged liver and spleen,SPD , a swallowing delay, she is on the autistic spectrum along with quit a few other problems. Now it is crucial we get a sedated MRI to see what damage her brain had received due to the beating of the head that she does along with her more frequent seizures and I have to make the decision to take it out or leave it in. As her mother now away from all the negativity and influences believe it’s in her best interest to get it removed to access the more important things to her. I wish I never would have gotten it to start with:-/ thank you again for the amazing videos. My daughter 5 step daughter 5 son 16 months all learned quickly and efficiently to sign to Emma me and my husband got together when Emma was 2 his family immediately bought your movies to watch and learn to communicate with Emma. You’ve been a tremendous help to use on our journey.

  28. Hi Rachel,

    My name is Rajeev, and I recently started a user-generated website for reviews of music for cochlear implant users. We are trying to get a number of reviews prior to launching our site and I am writing to ask if you can write a review on your favorite song or any other musical work.

    The review could be fairly short ~3 sentences.

    I came across your great blog! We could definitely provide a link to your blog, as well.

    Here is a link to our preliminary website:

    Thank you!

  29. Well put Rachel! My youngest son Liam is profoundly deaf and bilaterally implanted. He is 3 1/2 and we started signing with him when he was about 8 months old. And although he does have CI’s ASL is our primary means of communication. Thankfully our 1st audiologist and his ENT were all for us using ASL and to continue to use ASL after implantation. We did see a speech therapist for about 6 months that was oral only and while we didn’t stop signing we didn’t add a whole lot to what we knew already. And let me tell you that we the biggest mom fail ever and one of my biggest regrets in life. I’m so thankful I decided to switch therapists when we did. He gets oral only speech in school and the private therapist we see takes a TC approach. Liam will always be deaf and there is no amount of technology that will change that. But we are trying to give him all the tools available to him. And of course I love it when he says words (he says a few but not consistently), but it is just as awesome when he learns a new sign. Because in the end we have a language, we can communicate, and that is all the matters.

  30. Hi Rachel,

    My name is Jaden and I’m deaf. I had profound hearing loss and my parents decided to get me a cochlear implant when I was three years old since hearing aids weren’t working. I’m very thankful to have a cochlear implant, I did sign but I don’t remember anymore since I was very young. My parents moved to St. Louis where I could attend The Moog Center for the Deaf. There they taught me how to talk and use words in actual sentences also they taught me school subjects so I would be prepared to go to an actual public school. Here I am at 18 years old, in a public high school with lots of friends talking and its honestly the best feeling ever being able to hear and to communicate with others. So you should think about your daughter. I’m sure she’s very happy that she can hear, I still think you shouldn’t sign because not signing can strengthen your daughter’s hearing and speech. I’m telling you from my perspective, getting a cochlear implant has changed my life. Yes, I would be sometimes embarrassed if people didn’t like me especially guys…but they don’t seem to care and they just like me for who I am. I just wanted to share my story to you and your daughter. I really think she can talk without signing and talk like everyone else!

  31. Dear Rachel,
    In my recent article in the journal Cognition, my co-author and include a quote from your story, citing its publication in the endeavor: A publication for families and professionals committed to children who are deaf and hard of hearing, Fall 2012. The part we quote is “She has learned English as a second language through reading and writing.” The point of our article is that learning a language via the written modality is very hard. Learners need a strong first language to do so, and a natural sign language from birth provides the best means of ensuring that the deaf child’s natural ability to acquire language has been activated. Our article is available here:

    Thank you for your writing and your work.

  32. Pingback: Will Signing Delay Speech? (our story) | Lone Star Signers | Lone Star Signers

  33. Thank you Rachel for your insight!! I’m glad to have read it. We just found out at 16 months that my daughter is possible deaf (undetermined range yet). This exact discussion is a VERY big argument in our family right now. I read this and I breathe a slight sigh of relief! I follow your sign books, and my daughters (older two fully hearing) follow along your videos with me! They have been a great help just teaching my daughters all signs before language was developed to break the frustration barrier as babies. You are amazing ty for a good post!

  34. wow…i dont care if its glassess,.braces whatever,.it seems if it would improve your childs ability to cope with and understand the world around them,.thered be no hesitation..

  35. Thank you for this post, My family and I have watched and learned from your videos for years. My 8 year old son came up to me a year ago asking for a CI, I was heartbroken as well, it took us over a year of trial therapy, different Doctors, and so on before we finally found someone to do it. It has been a long journey but in 2 and half weeks Aiden will finally get his CI, after so many specialists told him no, it would never work for him, he was too old, I was ready to give up, not him, he wanted this, so Mama fought every battle and it paid off!!! I think we found a CI team sent from Heaven. They told us to continue to sign, talk, cue, whatever we needed to do for communication, because that was the main thing, COMMUNICATION, not speech. Your post made me feel much better about myself and the decisions I’ve made about Aiden, he was my baby born deaf and I had no need to change him, he was perfect and could do anything any other child could do, then he got older and wanted something different, here we go on another adventure!!

  36. I am an audiologist and I have to agree with the continued use of sign language after a CI. If your parents were bilingual, and one parent only spoke Spanish once a year, you would favor English. But given both, one at a time I’m some sort of system, you would be fluently bilingual. Sign and English can be used together more easily than any two spoken languages. They even compliment each other sometimes like a subtitle for a difficult passage on television. It also connects the signing Deaf person with their culture, with their people when the batteries go dead. Good luck to all of you parents!!

  37. I wish I would have read this article sooner,
    When my son was diagnosed as profoundly deaf at the age of 9 months all I wanted was to do what was best for him. The doctors and birth to three program insisted that getting him implanted as soon as possible was the best option for him. No one told us that we should start signing with our son as soon as possible. The doctors and cochlear implant companies honestly do make the CI sound like a miracle device. After getting one ear implanted we started to realize that CI is no miracle. Our child hated his implant. He would dismantle and hide every piece separately as soon he could get out of eyesight. He would cry every time it was put on in the morning. He’s thrown parts of it down sink drains and toilets, in the garbage, we have had to purchase several new batteries and cables. While waiting for parts to arrive he would not be wearing his implant and life would be easier. After 10 months of fighting with our child with no signs of improvement or him learning any speech (mostly because parts of his CI were lost more often than not) my wife and I gave up on the. I was one of those parents who thought the CI was a quick fix. I had read about the low risks of medical problems after the procedure but nothing about children who simply refused to use their CI. I honestly feel like I have failed my child. He is almost 3 now and we are just now learning ASL. The topic of learning to sign had come up when our child was first diagnosed as profoundly deaf but the doctors and and birth to three social workers made it sound like there was no need. As a family we are extremely far behind with what we should have done almost 2 years ago. My eyes have been opened now and I hope that other parents will not make the same mistakes I made. The cochlear implant will sit packed away in a closet until he is ready for it. And we will continue to expand our ASL vocabulary and do the best we can with our child. If I could go back 2 years I would have never implanted my child. Not to mention the medical bills I’m left with after insurance covered their portion I’m so far in debt that Im considering bankruptcy. Hopefully other parents will read this and it will help them make the right choices.

  38. Your best option is to find every resource possible to learn asl. Our family was assigned a deaf mentor with weekly meetings and a video course. This is important because some signs vary by region. If your state has a school for the deaf contact them as soon as possible to help you find all of the resources available. There is also play groups for deaf children, this will expose you to people who are more fluent in asl and help you pick things up quicker.

  39. I’m so jealous of the path you took for and with your Deaf child (AND that you use the upper-case, BIG “D” to indicate R E S P E C T for her Deaf culture:) I suffer from regret and a kind of shame for the ignorance I allowed to prevent me from seeing what my 2 Deaf kids/familied so desperately needed for communication; it took me nearly ten life-mind wasting years before I ‘got it’. Both went to MSSD and went on to get M.A. degrees etc etc etc. And that is all great, but when the UNinformed world tells me how “wonderful they turned out”…it makes me cringe, because I KNOW they can never truly know their full potential because of the language deprivation inflicted on them for ALL of the early language acquisition years from birth to…6,7,8…. Just sayin’ 🙂 Thanks much for your ‘share’.

  40. Pingback: Time to Sign: Signing Time! (Giveaway) - With a Little Moxie

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