Thursday, October 05, 2006

Sign Language

Shortly after we learned that Aiden was deaf, we met with a Home Visiting Teacher from Sir James Whitney School for the Deaf in Belleville. She explained to us that we had several different options to choose from regarding how we were going to communicate with Aiden. In short, we could choose (these are pretty loose descriptions, by the way...):

1. AV (audio-verbal) therapy only. In this case, we would try to use very few gestures with Aiden, and try not to give him visual cues when speaking to him. Some AV teachers even cover their mouths when they speak, so a child will not learn to lip read. We would work our very best to try and get Aiden to communicate with us by listening and speaking only.
2. ASL (American Sign Language) only. In this case, we would not try to teach Aiden to hear or speak, but we would concentrate on teaching him to communicate with Sign Language.
3. Total Communication. We would try and teach Aiden to communicate using a variety of different methods. We would teach him Sign Language, teach him to listen and speak, teach him to lip read, and give him plenty of visual cues along the way to aid his comprehension of what we were saying to him.

We choose the Total Communication approach, and were set up with an AV Therapist and an ASL consultant on alternating weeks.

Now, at that time, there were no ASL consultants available in Belleville, so we proceeded with AV Therapy alone, waiting for an ASL consultant to be assigned to us. During this time, we met and talked to lots of hearing parents of deaf children. Some of them were really glad that they had learned Sign Language (in varying degrees), and some of them were glad that they had not.

One family told us a story that made some sense to us. Her entire family and extended family are hearing. Her child was born deaf. And, learning Sign Launguage takes time, as it IS like learning a whole new language (obviously!). Her reaction way, is her WHOLE family really going to learn ASL in order to communicate with her child? She suspected not, and went the way of AV Therapy alone (with a Cochlear Implant).

And, once we started to be seen by the staff at CHEO in the Cochlear Implant program, they cautioned us that ASL would not really be needed after Aiden was Implanted - as he would then be a 'hearing' child. They also cautioned us that, ASL takes time to learn, and perhaps that time might be better spent on Aiden's AV Therapy.

So, even when an ASL consultant became available, we didn't pursue it. Then, Aiden started having trouble with fluid in his ears, and his Cochlear Implant surgery was postponed, and postponed and postponed. We started to realize - this child is going to be 2 years old, and we have no "real" way of communicating with him! So, we got busy trying to learn some ASL on our own, and contacted Sir James Whitney again about hiring an ASL consultant.

And, 3 lessons in, we are SO glad that we did!! We really, really like our ASL consultant. Plus, Aiden seems to have a real connection with her. Especially in our first lesson, he really seemed to get that she was trying to communicate with him in a way that he could understand. And, the lessons are helping us out a lot with our Signing as well. We are quickly learning that the Sign Language that you can learn from a book is quite different than Sign Language actually in use. Our consultant is very animated, and we never realized what a big part of Sign Language facial expressions are.

Plus, I don't know why this never occured to me before but, I think that it is really great that Aiden has meet someone else who is deaf. As he has be born into a hearing family, I think that a connection with someone else who is deaf will be important for him.

So, slowly but surely we are picked up some Sign Language. It is hard to get in the habit of showing Aiden signs for things, but we keep at it. I think teaching a child ASL would be a lot faster if the parents used it as a first language, and it was second nature to them. We really have to think about saying things AND signing them -and we don't always remember to do that.

I think that, even after Aiden's Implant, we will continue to keep up with some Sign Language. Aiden is still a deaf child. And, when the implant is off (ie: when he's swimming, bathing or in the night) it will be nice to still be able to communicate with him.


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