Whenever someone learns about Em being Deaf, the first question they always ask usually is “do you sign?” Or when they learn that we have given her access to ASL they’ll ask “why, won’t that hinder her speech?” Choosing to give a Deaf or Hard of Hearing child access to both languages is a very divided topic. Some people say they must grow up oral, with no access to ASL. Others take the approach we have, and give their child access to both ASL and spoken language. The next one I love “can she lipread?”, which is another post for another day.
Depending on what pages and friends you follow on Social Media, you may have seen a trending campaign #whyisign. It was created by Deaf individuals to bring awareness of the importance signing has within the Deaf community, and to help break the stigma that comes with signing with a Deaf child. Being a strong advocate for equal access to spoken language and ASL for DHH children, I joined in this campaign. I will share my link below.
But first, I wanted to share my response to the questions above. Do we sign? ABSOLUTELY! Has it hindered her speech? NO!
Em has had a difficult journey regarding access to hearing technology. We purchased her first pair of hearing aids in July 2014, when she was 18 months old. If you have a DHH child, you will understand that they are not cheap, and in Sask there is absolutely no subsidy from the government to purchase them. We had just bought our house, renoed it, and started the preschool business. So needless to say our funds to purchase these hearing aids were slim to none. We ended up using borrowed money to pay for them.
We saw her audiologist religiously, as we tried to figure out the correct programming for the hearing aids. For whatever reason, her results in the booth showed no reflection of what we saw at home. So her speech did not progress as expected despite weekly speech appointments. Thankfully, she was still able to fully communicate with us in ASL, which saved a lot of heartache for her and us. She progressed fairly typical for her age, and surpassed in academics. By the time she turned 3, Em knew her ABC’s and could identify 80% of the alphabet in print, count 1-20 and identify the numbers in print, and she could write her name along with other members of our family. She was telling us stories, ideas, and dreams entirely in ASL at 3 years old. Her progress was amazing!
Finally in December 2015, we had an accurate booth result, which reflected what we were seeing at home. Turns out, that first pair of hearing aids we purchased 18 months later, were not providing the needed amplification for the level of loss that she had. So, we needed another pair, at double the price tag. This time around, we thankfully found the Elks of Canada, who generously purchased the hearing aids for Em. We have since partnered with them to raise money for their children’s charity, as a way to say thank you for their generosity.
Now at 5, her speech has come significantly, and her ASL skills continue to grow as well. Every word she speaks, she learned in ASL while we waited to get her hearing aids programmed properly. So did ASL hinder her speech? Not in the slightest, if anything it enhanced her speech as she had a first language to build speech skills on later. There are times now when we will ask her something in spoken English, and she doesn’t quite understand, so we switch to ASL, and she’ll respond. Sometimes we’ll have conversations within the two languages, we’ll be signing to her, and she’ll be speaking back. The transition she has between the two languages is amazing, and helps her understand her world to the fullest.
So do we sign? Yes! Do we regret our decision to equal access? No!