Critical things that hearing professionals won't tell you

Are you a hearing parent of a deaf child? Most likely a doctor is one of the first "professionals" to consult. Next thing you may be referred to a specialist ranging from an audiologist to another medical professional.

What they will most likely recommend is a cochlear implant and speech therapy. It sounds like a reasonable solution. But, but, but. You have no idea.

What they won't likely tell you are some critical things you must know. And, the deaf child must have the rights to a fair, fully-informed decision that a parent makes at the child's earliest time of life.

After reading this, do your own further research. Further resources are provided at the end of this post.

Brain is indifferent to speech and signlan

But, it's sensitive to language acquisition.

Neuroscience studies (Petitto) show that ASL speaking activates the same linguistic regions of the left brain as English speaking! What does it mean? The brain is amodal -- that is, the brain sees no difference between lips and hands. It only sees language.

Linguistic studies also show similar language milestones, phonological acquisition, and language development in signing and speaking children from birth. Both groups make same kinds of errors. For example, pronoun reversal errors at around 18 months in ASL and English respectively.

Signed languages have all linguistic features in linguistics as found in spoken languages -- phonology (the irony of this "phono" affix which reflects phonocentrism), morphology, syntax, and so on.

These three things -- linguistic regions of the brain, same language developmental milestones, and the existence of signlan linguistics -- are an overwhelming evidence that speech is not central to language. Signed and spoken languages are perfectly normal and equal.

I love repeatedly quoting Dr Petitto's statement: "The human brain does not discriminate between the hands and the tongue. People discriminate, but not our biological human brain." -- Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto (Gallaudet Today, Spring 2012, p. 17)

Fear of sign language's interference with speech?

Fear not. A study show no evidence of sign language's interference with speech development. Remember speech is not a language. English is. Sign language is not a language but a modality. ASL is a language.

One shouldn't be concerned about the sign language's interference with speech development, even it's untrue. But, one should be concerned about speech's interference with language development, in that unfortunate case, it's is true. See many hapless children with literacy and language delays.

Deaf children read and write English as another language as fluently as hearing children, given that they acquire a language (ASL) from manual babbling to first word and two-word utterances to full-fledged language.

A language is supposed to support a second language. And two language enhance each other. Bilingualism is a beautiful, hot thing.

Sign language comes first for a deaf child

In the professional hearing and medical fields, sign language is often treated as a substitute of speech, a support to speech, a secondary method, and such. It's a dangerous mindset. Be mindful of this.

Deaf baby must access to language first with its normal eyesight and acquire a language (Ameslan/ASL) first before she can acquire a second language (English, especially written).

Why training a deaf child's speech (modality) to accomplish producing a perfect word at age three and missing the first crucial two years window of language acquisition?

My hearing child has been acquiring ASL as her first language since birth and then acquiring spoken English as a second language at age 2 (a common age for a second language acquisition). In ASL, she met all normal language developmental milestones as hearing children in spoken language. She is all good to go onward and (as of this writing) may become native in both ASL and English by the time she goes to a grade one school.

After all, the majority of hearing people start learning a signed language at age 20 and onward, sometimes in teenage years. Concerned? They already have the first language (English) before learning ASL. It's more important that deaf children acquire the first language (ASL) before acquiring English in another modality (e.g. written and sometimes spoken).

Language first. Speech can wait.

Research statistics

Here is a few quotes from the book "Journey into the Deaf World" discussing results:

"There is not a single published case, after a decade of experimentation with the multichannel implant and more than a thousand implanted children, of a child acquiring oral language with an implant." (Lane, pp 395)

"...those children who could recognize at least some words has lost their hearing on the average when they were five years four months old, whereas those who could not recognize words words at all using the device had lost their hearing on the average at age one year six months."

Born deaf will be always deaf to some degree.

"...the vast majority of implant candidates, eighty-six percent of whom are born Deaf, but also a small minority, seven percent of implant candidates, who lost hearing during the first three years of life and may have acquired a little or a lot of English beforehand."

auditory vs signing programs in deaf education chart

What the chart above shows is that the majority of deaf babies and toddlers enter auditory-vocal therapy. Over many years, many parents feel at loss and send their children to schools that use American Sign Language. But, some of these children may experience language delay. They may struggle with a second language (e.g. English) because of the lack of language acquisition of the first language (ASL).

Embracing reality and intelligent diversity

Research and read, get yourself educated, talk with non-phonocentric professionals for their invaluable perspectives, meet deaf children and Deaf bilingual adults from all walks of life (from mechanics to PhDs).

Inspect and challenge ideology, phonocentrism, ignorance, and audism. Remember that hearing loss is nothing more than a change of language and modality. It doesn't lose intelligence, language, communication, nor literacy. It doesn't lose anything.

Just the society needs to lose its compulsive-obsessive phonocentrism.

Reading suggestions

Harlane Lane, et al. "Bilingual and Bicultural Education for Deaf Children." A Journey into the Deaf-World. California: DawnSignPress. 1996.

Harlane Lane, et al. "The Hearing Agenda II: Eradicating the Deaf-World." A Journey into the Deaf-World. California: DawnSignPress. 1996. Pp 379-407.

Snoddon, Kristin. "American Sign Language and Early Literacy: Research as Praxis."

This documentation project follows a baby's language acquisition, literacy development, and phonological acquisition in sign language, specifically ASL, week by week from gazing at birth to manual babbling, to first words just before the first birthday in a natural native-ASL environment and visual culture.

The second-year and third-year documentation continues to follow the same child's language and phonological acquisition and literacy development in ASL on a weekly basis from the one-word stage to two-word and multiple utterances.

The documentary continues to follow the same child's ASL language and literacy development on a regular basis from age three to four. It surveys ASL phonological acquisition and more complex utterances.

These posts on ASL-English bilingualism, language acquisition, and bilingual education may be of an interest for parents who raise a bilingual-bimodal child in ASL (or another signed language) and English (or another written and/or spoken language of its respective) as well as informative and educational for ASL specialists, educators, and professionals.