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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Bilingual Deaf and Hearing Families: Narrative Interviews

Barbara Bodner-Johnson and
Beth Sonnenstrahl Benedict

  The Stevenson/
Gavins Family:
Tammy Stevenson,
Destinee and
Renata Gavins

The Stevenson/Gavins Family

Obviously the CI has helped her to hear things. And ASL has helped her with her language skills. Early on I realized that ASL would help Destinee learn language skills in English.
Tammy is hearing and is Destinee’s and Renata’s mother. Destinee is deaf and has a cochlear implant; she is almost seven years old. Her little sister, Renata, is hearing and is four years old. Destinee is in first grade at the Clerc Center in Kendall School on the Gallaudet University campus. Tammy is a teacher in Washington, D.C.

Could you discuss your early experiences trying to determine if Destinee was deaf and how you made the decision to learn sign language?

Tammy: When Destinee was born, we found out there was a question about her hearing almost immediately. At first they assumed she was hard of hearing. Then a month later, we went back, and they still said she was hard of hearing in one ear. So we started going back every three months.

When she was nine months old, we went back to check and the doctor looked puzzled, like something was wrong. He said that she was at risk for losing the rest of her hearing. Then we found out that she had lost 95 percent of her hearing.

It’s funny because we asked the doctor early on if we should learn sign language. He said, “No, you don’t have to.” Well, we decided that we did want to learn how to sign. We became involved with the Montgomery County Infant and Toddler Program and they helped us learn sign language. A teacher from the program came to our home; she did both signing and speaking. Destinee didn’t start at Kendall School until she was sixteen months old; she began in the Parent-Infant Program (PIP) there. At that time the PIP was on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the school. Teachers came to my house on Wednesdays. Then there were doctors’ visits and it was hectic in the beginning. I worked night shift s so I could take her to doctor appointments during the day. Trying to learn sign language was frustrating until Destinee started learning sign. Before she learned to sign she would try to communicate—to get her own way, and it was hard for both of us.

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