Honoring Leah Coleman

Today, a family who has a deaf child contacted me through Facebook to ask my opinion on cochlear implants and American Sign Language. This is a weekly, if not daily, occurrence and I LOVE it when parents reach out to me.

I first refer them to my blog post “Cochlear Implants: My Two Cents

and THEN, I point them to this video, where I share how SO  MUCH can change because of “One Deaf Child.” But, before you click… I invite you to read on.

TODAY, December 8, 2015 is Leah Jane Coleman’s 19th Birthday.

Leah lives in Rochester, NY where she is attending her first year of college. She received two scholarships and was awarded her high school’s Sterling Scholar Award in Theater.

Yes, I am proud to be her mother, but not just for the reasons you might assume. While you’ve likely watched Leah grow up in your very own living room, and she’s very likely shared American Sign Language with you and yours… my proudest moment happened as she and I drove to her college campus for the very first time.

We arrived in Rochester after a red-eye flight from Salt Lake City, Utah where we had just wrapped the filming Signing Time Sentences hours earlier.

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We are tired. We rent a car and start toward a day of sorting out dorms, roommates, classes and the like.

We turn right and for the first time we face campus, (ahem) now “home.” Leah looking at the red, brick buildings ahead of us says,

“Mom. You know how some people believe in fate?   …I make my own fate.”

I love you Leah Coleman. I cannot wait to see what you choose to do with this incredible, beautiful, brilliant life that you live. You SHINE.

You have already made a profound difference in the lives of countless families. You’ve helped countless “Alex’s” communicate with their “Leah’s.” You’ve helped eliminate so much fear that the “Rachel’s” and “Aaron’s” have had as they enter this new world of deafness.

  • Make A Difference (You can check that one off your list…)

or you can keep doing that. It’s entirely up to you.

You make your own fate.

Love, Mom aka The Signing Time Lady

LOVE

 

Potty Training with Rachel and Signing Time!

Signing Time launched a decade ago and within months we started getting requests to make a potty training DVD. The requests for potty training help have never slowed down. I admit, I resisted it. I kept telling my sister Emilie, “That is not MY job!” and “There are a few signs I won’t be teaching… ever!” Heh heh. Well, the good news is when I resist something it usually only takes about 10 years to break through to my good senses. (That’s for you Rebecca)

On Thursday we launched Potty Time! and we did a good deed by purchasing that domain name because I won’t even say what used to be on it… (not kid friendly, enough said) so if you use WOT or something similar to keep your internet use safe, you might find that our site has a poor reputation there, your positive rating will help. You know me, just cleaning up the internet as I go!

So, yes, we now offer potty training powered by Signing Time! and it’s TOTALLY appropriate, and doesn’t confine potty training to just what happens in the bathroom. I teach your children that their bodies are amazing and that it’s important to listen to their bodies. I mean, when your body tells you that you are hungry you go get something to eat. So, when your body tells you that you need to use the potty, it’s pretty simple you stop what you are doing and go use the potty.

Pick up Potty Time at www.pottytime.com there is an introductory sale that ends tonight, SUNDAY November 6, 2011. So don’t wait!

The signs you will learn are: Grow – Love – I Love You (ILY) – Help – Amazing – Body – Eat – Drink – Sleep – Wake Up – Diaper – Potty – Wipe/Clean – Flush – Wash Hands – All Done/Finished – Water – Soap – Stop – Go – Underwear – Accident – Try – Careful – Celebrate (*there is a special feature for parents where we cover Poop and Pee and I know some of you will buy it just to see me teach that! Though the “PSA” about not using too much toilet paper is pretty classic, just because I know how many takes were needed to say it without getting the giggles.)

Don’t miss the Potty Time app for Android devices. You’ll get a kick out of it, I promise. You have no clue how many of my girl friends have already messaged me to let me know that I keep calling them to congratulate them on their toileting success. (iPod app is coming soon)

We had a lot of fun making Potty Time and I have to say that I get frustrated sometimes because I work really hard on these shows and for some reason, all you see in the end product is the very “zipped up”, Signing Time Rachel in her television box. When the editing process was over I again sat there scratching my head wondering why I did all of that crazy stuff when we were filming… the crazy, fun stuff that no one would ever see. So, I pulled rank;) and said, “I want a special feature!!” It also helps that I am married to one of the editors. Here are the outtakes and some of my “finest” moments~

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.

Being Thankful… for Leah

Being Thankful for Leah

Thanksgiving is over…
and Leah’s birthday is today. She’s 12! (I KNOW, just go back and watch My First Signs and she will continue to live on as a 4 year-old and we can all just pretend that 12 isn’t happening!!)

The night before Thanksgiving, I was thinking about the things I am thankful for and then I thought that I could probably surprise myself by actually diving into my journals and reading how it really was. I have 10 journals, so I opened one up to see what year and what thoughts it held… The first one I opened was from 6 years ago. The entry written about the Christmas after we shot Signing Time 2 and 3.

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December 29, 2002 – Salt Lake City, UT

Christmas was hard. We had nothing and could give little, even to our own kids. Aaron and I didn’t give each other gifts. Two days before Christmas my dad gave us $200. The next day my sister Julie gave us $200. We were then able to get Leah a bike and a Gameboy. She also got all of her Signing Time wardrobe clothes and the “Leah Doll” – it was pretty humbling.
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After I read that I called Aaron in. I read it to him and we both sat there stunned. We had to think, really hard to even remember that Christmas. The following morning, Thanksgiving Day, I pulled my dad and my sister Julie aside and thanked them for giving us Christmas 6 years ago. Neither one of them vividly remembered helping us out. Just as I didn’t vividly remember the Christmas we really needed help. If it hadn’t been in my journal, would their generosity and our need have been entirely forgotten?

Then I couldn’t stop. Each night I have poured over my journals. It’s been painful. It’s been funny. It’s been an interesting journey, to say the least. My journals are stuffed with concert tickets, notes, postcards, scribbles from Leah, photos, and songs I have written.

I dug deeper in time, reading the details of Leah’s birth and then found this:

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December 10, 1996 – Salt Lake City, UT

… Aaron said, “It’s a GIRL!!!”
I started crying, “My baby, my baby girl!”
Aaron kissed me and said, “It’s Leah.”
Leah Jane Coleman. Leah who was called Anna before her birth. Leah who’d kick my ribs, (and sometimes my heart, it seemed) Leah who pushed against my guitar during all of those shows. Leah who gave me the feeling while singing “In Silence.”

Little Leah Jane whose daddy would run his fingers over my belly and say “Here’s your spider, here comes your spider!” Leah whose heels and knees I could slide around, whose little leg would press out hard as I massaged it. Leah with hiccups- Leah at 1:00AM and 10:30AM playtime.

Leah, who I threw up every day for. Leah who I prayed about and worried about. Leah, who made me what I’ve wanted to be most for years – a mom. My little girl’s mommy.

Leah with me while I hiked in Boulder, Utah. Leah in Bryce Canyon. Leah hiking the Zion’s Narrows. She’s my little girl. My sweet little girl now and for always. I love my daughter more than she may ever know.

It’s 3:20AM and I’m crying my eyes out. You’re here asleep next to me and your dad’s on the other side of you and that’s where we will always be, right beside you.

I love you so much. I love you more than you may ever know, maybe when you have a girl of your own. Goodnight my sweet girl, pleasant dreams. I’m so glad you are here with us. I love you, I love you – I LOVE YOU!”

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I went forward in my journal, looking a year after Leah’s birth to find little bits and pieces. Confused entries about Leah’s hearing. Just a line here and there. Things like:

“We don’t know if she can hear us.”
“She has fluid in her ears, but her pediatrician thinks it’s more than that…”
“We can’t get in for the ABR test for 6 more weeks!”
“Still no answer on Janey’s ears.”

No answers in my journal for months and then I found this:

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March 31, 1998 Tuesday
Salt Lake City, UT

I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so alone in my whole life. I feel like there is no one I can talk to because no one would understand why I’m crying. Actually I think they would misunderstand. I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me or for Janey. I don’t want to call our families and tell them what “PK” the audiologist told us today. Half of my tears are simply tears of relief. The wondering and questions are done. A tearful release of 2 1/2 months- fears, hopes, anticipation and prayers.

I know it’s not helpful but I can only blame myself, and it’s eating me up inside. I think that in his heart Aaron blames me too. In only these past few months people have asked if Jane’s hearing loss is because of my band. And playing and practicing while I was pregnant. People ask. Or they say “boy that must be devastating with you being a musician and music meaning so much.” Do they really think I give a S#*! about my music in comparison to my DAUGHTER?

I’d never sing or play another note if it mattered. Music is nothing to me. Leah Jane is my world. She is wonderful. She is beautiful. I feel like the biggest obstacle in her way is me. I don’t know sign language. I came so close to learning it, so many times. But I didn’t. I feel bewildered. But I feel thankful that we caught it as early as we did….

….We may never know what caused it, or if she as born with it. “Deaf” is such an uncomfortable word for me to use. In a way I am glad that I didn’t know when she was born. Maybe I would’ve treated her differently. Maybe I’d be totally over protective. Everyone would’ve treated her a little different. But now I have had 16 months of Janey. And treating her like a regular kid (except that she is more awesome than most kids)…

…I know of 3 people who are deaf. I’ve had conversations with only one of them ever. I hardly know what the term means. I remember the deaf kids in Jr. High and High school. I sure could not tell you any of their names. They all stayed together with their interpreter and I never gave them a second thought.

Severe – Moderate – Mild mean so little all your life. But today, I was told my daughter has a severe hearing loss. And I still barely grasp the concept. But the word SEVERE is clanging around in my brain. SEVERE? What does that mean? And what does deaf mean? Is there a scale to measure it on? If hearing aids help you are you still deaf?

She can sign a few words now. MOMMY, SLEEP, EAT, SHOES, THANK YOU, BIRD. When I teach a sign she always “rolls it and rolls it and sticks it with a B”

She has the most beautiful lips and puckers for kisses. She also puckers when I tell her “NO” because it looks like kisses. How can I keep a straight face when she does that?
When she gets frustrated she hits her head with her hands, or on the floor.

When she’s nursing, she looks up at me then squeezes both eyes shut tight and then pops them open. She nurses, and the corners of her mouth turn up in a smile. Maybe she’s never heard me say the WORDS I love you. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter at all. She probably knows it more than most kids who hear it every day.
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A few weeks ago Leah and I were talking. She asked me how I felt when I found out she was deaf. I told her, “I was distraught. I cried. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. I was scared.”

Leah smiled at me and said, “That’s so funny mom. You thought it was terrible and now you know it’s not.”

She’s right.

Signing Time is No Longer on Public TV

Ok,

so…

Here it is…

As of October 1, 2008 Signing Time is no longer on public television anywhere in the country.

I think that statement just needed to hang out there in the world for a minute.

So did that one.

We have been flooded with phone calls and emails from you, our Signing Time Families. The stations have called us too, because many of them do not want to lose our show, they know the difference it is making for their viewers and it is a pretty darn popular show.

So, the question you all have is, “Why?”
If the fans love it and the stations love it, why would we pull it? I don’t know how to answer that without total honesty, a little squirming and dispelling some myths.

But, I believe that the truth will set you free, so here is the truth, squirming and all.

Children’s Television 101:
1. We do not get paid to be on television.

2. We are not paid to make the shows. We pay to produce these shows.

3. To maintain a fresh and successful program we need to produce new shows on a regular basis. Ideally a new season each year. That’s approximately a 1.5 million dollar commitment annually.

4. When I say “we” I mean my sister, Emilie and I.

5. We had hoped to find a corporate sponsor or foundation who understands what we are doing and believes in our mission and would partner with us. To date we have not found that partner. (Yes we have gone after grants as well)

6. A children’s show on public TV cannot advertise a product nor can we direct viewers to an internet site where our products can be purchased. As parents, that is one of the things we love about public television.

Many viewers have no idea that there are DVDs, Music CDs, flash cards, t-shirts and books available to purchase. We could not direct them to www.signingtime.com (where we sell our products) we could only send them to www.signingtimekids.com (where we do not sell our products)

7. We do sell enough Signing Time products to maintain our staff of 8 people, fulfill orders, keep the lights on, etc. We do not sell enough product to fund 13 new episodes annually.

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Here’s the bottom line, for the past three years, Emilie and I gave Signing Time to viewers for free on public television. We made that choice because we felt that doing so would have an incredible impact on families across the country. We hoped it would get into homes and in front of children who needed it. We believe in communication for ALL children of ALL abilities. That is what we care about. We also believed that through this national exposure we would find a sponsor.

The truth is that there is no way for two sisters to continue pulling this off without a partnership… or by robbing a bank and sorry guys and girls I am not going to rob a bank. At this point it would be financially irresponsible for us to commit to another year and even worse to consider bank robbing, I mean how would you explain THAT to your kids?

I still believe a like-minded organization or corporation will partner with us in our efforts and that Signing Time will be back on TV. I know the difference we are making in the world and how important that difference is. You know it too or you wouldn’t be reading this.

Now what?
1. Well if you saw Signing Time on public TV, you can sit down and write a note to your station and thank them for airing us. Share with them the difference that it made in your life. See, unlike the shows in the PBS Kids Block that MUST air in a specific order at a certain time, your station was not forced to air Signing Time, it was a choice they made, to share us with you. Over 70% of the public television stations chose to air us! Not too shabby for a couple of sisters in Utah.

2. Make a request to your local libraries, early intervention programs, lending libraries, schools and other organizations to add the Signing Time Library to their offerings.

3. Purchase Signing Time products and tell others who miss seeing us on TV that EVERYTHING (Music CDs, flash cards, t-shirts, board books, of course EVERY single DVD) is available on www.signingtime.com

4. Keep telling your friends, family members and complete strangers the benefits of signing with children and how Signing Time has helped this parenting revolution.

5. As far as a sponsor, think about the people you know and the people they know. The right fit is out there. It is just a matter of finding them and them finding us. You may be the one who makes that connection. We need strong leads, not just a bunch of great ideas. If you feel that you or someone you personally know can make a difference, please have them get in touch with us.

I know there is strength in numbers. Let’s all put our thinking caps on! I can’t wait to announce that Signing Time is back and better than ever!

Thank YOU!
Honestly, the partnership we have had is a partnership with you, our Signing Time customers. Each time you purchase our products, you are letting us know that you appreciate what we are doing and that you want more.

From my family to yours, thank you for your incredible, continuing partnership!

~Rachel, Aaron, Leah and Lucy Coleman