Parenting Deaf and Hard of Hearing Kids: Choosing a Language (Part II)
This series is designed to help parents manage specific aspects of bringing up a child with a different learning path. The next few months we’ll be focusing on parents of deaf and hard of hearing kids. This article follows a previous article here. Last time we spoke about deaf kids was here: Diagnosis, Keeping Devices on Kids, Sports and Activities.
Part I focussed on the importance of early language acquisition and briefly reviewed different methods. This article will draw on the experience of three people with different perspectives, to give you more informal insight.
We were very lucky to have input from three experts and parents. Phoebe Tay is a Deaf teacher from Singapore. She speaks of her journey growing up oral in a predominantly hearing society to discovering the Deaf community, where she learned about Deaf culture and Deaf identity. Toshiko Clausen-Yan shares experience as a hearing mother to a multilingual oral son. We also spoke to Joyce Lew, a speech-language therapist and certified auditory-verbal therapist who migrated from teaching using the auditory-oral method to concentrating on auditory-verbal.
A Speech-Language and Auditory-Verbal Therapist on Oral Methods: Joyce Lew’s Experience
Joyce started her career in Singapore at a time when screening tests were rarer, and kids came into her office quite late. “They had already learned how to get by with lip-reading and mostly came from hearing families”, she recalls. Their families didn’t really have the time to learn a whole new language (like signing) to be able to stimulate them soon enough. “Parents were really just desperate to connect with their kids. They wanted activities to do that would teach their kids language, now.”
Joyce initially focussed on auditory-oral methods. “But research [at the time] suggested that if we continued teaching kids language through lip-reading, they would likely plateau in language acquisition because we read and spell based on how words sound.” So she decided to test auditory-verbal methods in her work.
At first, it was difficult for children to accept to learn relying only on their residual hearing. “It felt extremely unnatural at first,” she says “we had to think of all kinds of ideas to bring the focus away from the lips. But within a few months, there were moments of automatic listening and verbal responding while the kids were busy with their heads down in play.”
A few years later, as newborn screening became mainstream and more and more hard of hearing babies arrived with hearing devices, auditory-verbal became a norm. She says “some of the reasons are associated with the relative ease that babies experience in getting used to hearing devices and in learning how to listen without first learning how to lip-read.”
After a decade in her field, Joyce is convinced communication is key to developing language. And that parents tend to communicate more with their child if they are comfortable with the chosen language.
From Oral to Signing and Deaf Culture: Phoebe Tay’s Journey
Phoebe was born deaf and diagnosed around three and half years old. At the time in Singapore, oral methods seemed to be the only option. Moreover, spoken and written English were expected to be understood by everyone. With the use of hearing aids and residual hearing, Phoebe was able to pick up English. She fared well enough in school and her language skills “started to bloom from upper primary onwards.”
Yet communicating wasn’t always easy. “It was okay to communicate in one to one setting”, she says “but classroom and group settings were tough.” Phoebe points out that language development is not just linked to academia, but also to social development. She felt like she couldn’t quite fit into the hearing world. Almost like language was a barrier.
Then she went to Australia, where she learned Australian Sign Language (Auslan). She suddenly discovered a language she could acquire, as well as a whole new culture. “I started to feel more confident, and signing helped me get a better sense of self-esteem.” Realising that she could use both Auslan and English changed her life.
There’s growing evidence that being part of a Deaf community and developing a Deaf identity helps build a child’s resilience. For Phoebe, this effect was palpable even as an adult. “I use aids, but they have their limitations. And they don’t make me a hearing person.” At the end of the day, “some kids will fail at oral methods no matter how hard they try because they simply can’t hear enough”. They still deserve to have a language they can succeed in naturally.
When Cochlear Implants Are Combined with Auditory-Verbal Therapy: A Mother’s Modern Tale
Toshiko’s second son was born profoundly deaf. Her family chose to give him the most mainstream life possible. This was possible according to doctors, who recommended cochlear implants at a very early age: only seven months old! Despite their natural fears regarding invasive surgery and the high cost, they chose this option.
Of course, this meant many years of intense speech therapy. “As soon as he had his cochlear implant, he got the same exposure to language as a hearing child,” she says. Sometimes it can be hard to get children that young to focus on tasks (like speech therapy) and keeping their devices in place, “but you have to keep in mind the long-term goals.” Over time, her son has been able to learn several languages, including English, Mandarin, Japanese and Norwegian in natural settings.
For Toshiko’s son, the implants worked so well he can hear very minute sounds. “The advancement of technology has made this possible and we embrace all advancement that makes life simpler and better,” she says. In fact, he can now pick up calls directly to his implants, which he thinks is pretty neat.
She has a few words of encouragement to parents of children born deaf: surround yourself with people who are supportive and positive. “I did not allow people to cry or feel sad for him in front of him,” she remarks. “Stay positive, and keep your child feeling positive.”
As a brief conclusion
We hope these three testimonials will help you with parenting your child. Remember: each family is different. We hope yours will thrive!
Looking for some of our sources? We used some of these links. Send us more by commenting below!
- A blog post by Phoebe on discovering Deaf culture
- A documentary made by a father trying to understand how to help his deaf son: For a Deaf Son
- An interesting delve into what speech sounds like for some people with a cochlear implant
- Two articles from the Guardian on the challenges of learning to sign: learning difficulties and cost
- Know a deaf child? Want to babysit your deaf niece? Here are a few tips to communicate with her.
- Different approaches to deafness.
- A fun video about interpreting music for deaf and hard of hearing concert goers.
Disclaimer: these blog posts are intended as exploratory articles for parents of recently diagnosed children. They do not constitute medical advice and cannot replace a medical opinion.