Monday, June 9, 2008

Sign Language vs AVT - One Cochlear Implantee's Perspective

As some already know, I am a Cochlear Implant user. I have been implanted for 16 years, and have recently just being reimplanted and am learning to hear with it all over again.

My last post about running got some fairly negative comments. I'm not sure whether this is because of the fall out over Rachel's blog on Deafread, or whether it's simply sour grapes because I can use an ipod and hear music again. I rejected the comments as I felt they didn't acheive anything at all, except to make the person who wrote them look small and silly, so you will not see them on the blog.

However I suspect that because I supported Rachel's blog in a previous post because of the way she was kicked off deafread, that this has angered a few people.

I stand by my previous post. Rachel was kicked off unfairly - remember she was not kicked off because of her 'views', but because of her allegedly profiting from Cochlear simply because she is a volunteer. Volunteers don't profit - that's the bottom line.

However, just because I support Rachel because of the way she was kicked off, doesn't mean I share her views on everything she writes. We are two different people, with two very different life experiences, although I admire her confidence and self esteem, something I didn't have at that age, due to my profound deafness.

I spent most of my life deaf. I was mainstreamed, and never met another deaf person until I was in my 20's. I lipread everything all the time. I struggled. In my 20s I joined a hearing impaired club. I learnt to sign starting with Signed English or Total Communication, and then going over to New Zealand Sign Language. You will notice my title for this blog is Sign Language vs AVT, rather than ASL. Simply because I do not sign in ASL and ASL is not a universal language.

When I was 31, I lost all of my hearing, and I was implanted. This was at the time when Cochlear Implants were hated by the Deaf Community outright. Did I lose my friends? No - my Deaf and deaf friends remain close. Did I change when I could hear again? Well - probably I gained more confidence and that made me do better in my working life, but my belief system and sense of justice remains the same, just as my reactions to things around me remain the same.

Do I need sign? No - to be honest, I can't read signs back, and never have been able to as I rely on lipreading, however, I sign for those that need sign, and while I may not be fluent, I am understood well.

Do I think children with implants should only be taught via the AVT therapy and no sign whatsover? Absolutely not.

Every individual on this planet has a preferred way of learning. For some it may be reading and understanding, and others may prefer watching how it's done. I myself prefer to work it out myself by doing, making mistakes along the way and learning from them. Learning languages is no different. But I believe if you give a child communication tools early enough, then they'll communicate much earlier, and therefore acquire language quicker. This was brought home to me 7 years ago when my best friend, who is Deaf, a full NZSL signer, has a cochlear implant and loves it, had her first baby. Jimmi-Zac is hearing. His ears are perfect. (lucky sod). But right from when he was first born, my friend signed and spoke to him. At 9 months old, when most babies when they're hungry just cry for food, he would sign drink or food or the sign for hunger, no crying. Whilst he was far too young to form the actual words, he could easily communicate to mum what he needed. He was an extremely happy child because of it. Today at 7 years old, he's bilingual - signing and oral, and bright and intelligent. He is well above his age in oral communication and use of words.

So - for me communcation and language are the most important things, and if this means children with cochlear implants are taught sign to help them, with AVT as well, then thats the way it should be. Just not one method over the other, but in combination.

I know I'll be teaching my grandchildren to sign as soon as they are born :)



Shel said...

Good blog, Robyn.

Just because a child has perfect ears doesn't mean he's a "lucky sod". He has to deal with the cupboards banging in the kitchen early in the morning when his mom wants a cup for her coffee, or tea or whatever.

Kidding aside, I agree that Deaf children should not be deprived of sign language (ASL, BSL, LSQ, or whatever sign language is used in whatever country), regardless of whether the parents choose the AVT method or not.

Your best friend's CODA child clearly taught you a valuable lesson. I have 5 KODAs and I didn't have to deal too much with temper tantrums when they were quite young. The only times temper tantrums flared were when they did not get their way. :-0

I would like to amend your next to last sentence: Sign language is NOT a method. It's a language. What you really mean is two languages/two modality (signing and speaking.

The bilingual approach is the way to go. Your stance on this is refreshing from someone with your background. ;-)


Anonymous said...

Shel - You are quite right. Sign is a language, but in this last sentence I was talking about the 'method used' to get language into a child. AVT or Sign 'Language'. I already know and understand it's a language in it's own right.

Oh yeah - my daughter used to complain all the time that I made too much noise in the kitchen. I guess I did but I never heard it :)

My best friend's child certainly did open my eyes at the possibilities of sign language. It's one i wish all people could see.


Kim said...

I absolutely feel the same way.

Li-Li's Mom said...

Robyn, I agree with you entirely! I love teaching my profoundly deaf daughter ASL (and learning with her -- a sad experience, though, when a 2 YO corrects my signing). And I love teaching her to speak and hear, now that she has her CI. She's such a sponge right now: we're so lucky to have access to 'immersion' in both languages (ASL school for the deaf + spoken English at home)!

But no wonder you are getting nasty comments: I too am angry at you for your running post! You inspired me to go for a run yesterday ... and I'm paying for it this morning! The agony ...

Karen Mayes said...

Yup, my life is very similar to your life... grew up oral, mainstreamed, learning sign language in 20's, etc.

What is funny... my parents who travelled in France, Germany, and Switzerland told me that the majority of people living in those countries had a knowledge of English as 2nd language (being required to take English at schools) and English appears to be the popular language in the 1st world countries. Shel, Robyn is correct... ASL, as a language, is used as a method to teach deaf children whose first language is ASL, to learn English. My son whose native language is English is not proficient in ASL... just knows ASL as 2nd language and because of it, he is mainstreamed in the hearing school. He will go to the deaf school part time, only for gym, Deaf Studies, and vocational studies... but the rest of the day, at the local middle school for core academic subjects. Deaf Bi Bi philosophy does not really address the needs of deaf children whose native language is English (as well as being proficient in English.)

What is important is the ability to COMMUNICATE in ANY way... languages, tactiles, art, etc.

Anonymous said...

Li-Li's Mum - you have cracked me up with your comment about the running, because I too can hardly move today. It's my hips, my upper legs, my lower legs. It hurts to move.

I'll make sure I put warnings on future running blogs..

Warning - do not be inspired to run - it results in sore painful muscles!!!

Perhaps I should put a disclaimer on it as well..

'I will not be held responsible for any actions taken by people who are inspired by my blogs!!'



Valerie said...

Good Blog Robyn,

I agree with you. It is powerful post. Everyone is different. It is our differences that make us unique. Like you I can't sign worth a flip. I lipread. I have been doing it for 39 years. I will keep learning to sign just to learn. Need to learn some words so I can tell people off!

Anonymous said...

I'm very sorry your last post got such nasty comments. That's unfair. It could be because of the fallout. I suspect that Rachel's blog is so stridently partisan and condescending that it angered many when it first appeared on DeafRead. Then things cooled, but they didn't go away. This latest episode just brought all the feelings to the forefront, and now some people probably see it as open season on people with implants. That's not right. I'm not defending what's going on. Harsh and hurtful things have been said on both sides. I'm sorry you had to get some of the attendant flack. :( I'm glad you haven't left DeafRead and I appreciate your openness and support of all natural signed languages. *smile*
Thanks, Robyn.
moi of

Anonymous said...

Supporters of CI claim to include All deaf people but how do we know they are being completely honest.

Can you explain to me what is the CI community?

Why you talk about adding national sign language- CI community?

Deaf means people of color include CI, hearing aids, oral and ASL.

PS. I grew up bilingual- Spanish and national sign language in. In fact, I am Hispanic


Abbie said...

I second everything that you say!