I wanted to read to her and it broke my heart. I love books and I couldn’t read to my kid when I brought her home. I figured out where to buy these little baby board books that have the sign and the English and the photographs. All of that is challenging because most parents can just go to bookstore and buy their kid books. You have to think all the time about what you’re doing. The hardest thing is communicating with her. We’re trying to learn. We’ve had people come in to teach us, but it doesn’t come easy.
Learning Sign Language
We had a state commissioned signing specialist who provided a ton of information for us. We miss her a lot because she left. They helped us a lot. With them we found out that we could have sign language programs and lessons for different levels. At first, we didn’t want the sign language because we thought that if he was going to speak, why would he need sign language. But we decided to take it and trust me, it was so so helpful. We had a family come into our home to teach us to sign and to sign with our son…The teachers and families all really wanted to communicate with him. It was so nice and helpful for all of them to come to our house and we still sign with him when he doesn’t want his processors on because kids just get so tired with the processors.
We also had another person coming from his signing school through early intervention who came once a week. It was so helpful. I remember he would come up to us and ask “how do you sign this?” or “how do you sign this?” or “what’s this in sign language?” and we knew that we were stuck because he was learning so fast but we didn’t have the answers. So we found a program on the ipod and we started to look up words in a dictionary and any time we had a question we went to the internet to look up a word in sign language and it was so helpful.
One of the struggles for me has been that my wife is hearing impaired and my son is hearing impaired so it was a big challenge for me because, when he was first born I realized, “Oh I better take a sign class!” and I learned the basic signs because I felt like no matter what I did, I needed to try to communicate with him any way I could. That way I could help him with whatever he needed…And today he understands sign receptively better than he expresses it so if he has an issue and doesn’t understand us we’ll try to sign it and then he’ll understand it. We actually tried that at school because he was having some difficulties with math. So we said, “Why don’t you try to sign with him?” And he did ok with it… We learned that although sometimes it’s hard you have to just be consistent because in the long run it will work out.
The Leaps She Has Made!
She is learning that she is able to communicate her needs and she’s doing it. She’s excited about it. She’s imitating and she’s asking in books. She’s pointing at pictures and looking up at me expecting a response. She knows that every picture has a gesture associated with it. She didn’t know that four months ago. The leaps she has made!
Before he got the cochlear implant we used sign language. Once he got the cochlear implant we focused a lot more on spoken English, however, we continued the sign language. We also took him to some programs that did a combination of sign language and spoken English. The focus was more on spoken English. We still sign with him now when he has it off at bedtime or in the bath. He occasionally signs back but usually he talks back.
Trilingual at 3.5 Years Old
We had a lot of help. We had the early intervention and he started going to a specialty program. We did start learning a little sign so when he was a baby. We started signing with him and I think that helped a lot. It was his first language and now he’s speaking three languages: Spanish, English, and Sign Language. He goes to school where he signs and speaks English and at home we only speak Spanish with him. We wanted him to learn all three languages and we are so proud of him…He’s a very happy boy.
He’s really, really smart and developing well. I think the school is helping him a lot, too. He knows the letters and he comes home with different songs in English. The other day we went to school because they wanted us to see the speech therapy and we were so impressed because at that point we didn’t know that he spoke English. When I got in the room he was speaking English to his teacher. We were so impressed. I just started to cry. He knows that at home we speak Spanish so we had never heard him speak English. We are so so proud…Sometimes he doesn’t want his processors on. The other day it was so funny because I was telling him something he didn’t want to hear so he took his processors off but I could still sign to him. It’s so funny that he’s starting to do that now and he’s so young.
As a hearing parent, I had to learn how to share books with her in the language she was using, which was ASL. So I’ve gone to a Shared Reading Program which teaches hearing parents how to read to their deaf children. They give you books on tape, and I watch the tapes to practice. I read her other books. I have enough basic sign vocabulary that we can do a lot of labeling. We can do some verbs. If it’s a whole page of text, I’m in trouble.
Early on we signed with him exclusively for the first year before we had him implanted because he was not able to perceive sound. Subsequent to that he could perceive sound and because he lived in a hearing household meant that he was going to be exposed to sound all the time. We continued his “deaf education”, his sign language based education, as well. He was on parallel tracks both in an oral program and a signing program until he was three years old.
We Get Our Point Across
We sign at home. But when I say sign, it’s an insult to American Sign Language (laughter). There’s ASL, there’s pidgin, there’s English, and then there’s our family’s version of sign (laughter). But we get our point across, that’s all that matters.
Strictly ASL. He does take that communication course at his school though. It is communication like, with the language therapist gives you the word or phrase and teaches you sound, at least to….he had his hearing aids on at that time. He doesn’t use his voice for much, he doesn’t, but he takes the class. He’s been taking it for ten years.