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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Cochlear Implants: Evolving Perspectives
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Sierra and Jasmine thought about waiting until their children were older so that they could make their own decision. However, doctors, audiologists, and others stressed the importance of implanting children before they were 18 months old. The mothers were told that their children would require less speech therapy and have an easier time acquiring spoken language if their children were implanted early. Both mothers felt they had to make the decision as quickly as possible. Sierra’s son was 15 months old when she decided to proceed with a cochlear implant and was able to rush the procedure so that her son could be implanted by the time he was 18 months old. Watching a video about the surgery facilitated her decision to speed up the process of getting her son a cochlear implant:
It wasn’t easy watching the video of the surgery. However, along the video, it included text of descriptions about the surgery on the side. I was reading it also. One of the descriptions said, “Best results for CI happens before the child is 18 months old.” I saw that. At that time, my son was 15 to 16 months old. I was surprised. 18 months old! I did not realize that. I thought I could take my time and wait until later. 18 months old! At that moment, it struck me. I began to realize if I want to consider it, I must decide soon. It’s not like I can wait too long, then it’ll be too late. That window of opportunity would be closed shut. I told myself, “Do it!” (Sierra)
Jasmine’s daughter, on the other hand, received her CI when she was around 20 months old.

It was different for Lauren. Her daughter was 3 years old when Lauren first considered a cochlear implant. At that time, the Food and Drug Administration did not recommend an implant for children under the age of 3. Lauren set a surgery date, but as the date approached, she changed her mind because of the lack of support from the Deaf community where she lived. Lauren’s daughter’s teachers were surprised with the family’s decision to get a cochlear implant and did not encourage their decision. She later moved to another part of the country where her daughter received a cochlear implant when she was 7 years old. Lauren expressed regret that her daughter had been implanted late. She felt that her daughter’s spoken language skills would be more similar to her oral deaf peers if she had been implanted at a younger age.

“She Already Has a Strong Language Foundation in ASL”

Throughout the interview, the mothers shared examples about how families, teachers, and friends supported their children’s language development in ASL and English. Their children acquired ASL from birth naturally through daily interactions and did not have access to spoken language until they received their cochlear implants.

I signed to him all the way. I read books to him and talked with him through signing. (Sierra)

ASL is our language and I sign to her through natural ways of exposing her to ASL. I don’t teach her directly but through natural interactions. She also receives exposure to ASL from her teachers of the deaf who come here for home visits. She has been acquiring ASL fine from me and her father and including her teachers and several friends. (Jasmine)

According to their mothers, all of the children’s ASL skills were on age level and communication within the family was very effective.
There is an age range of language development; my son is more on the later side of the range. Some children acquire language earlier. He is in the age range, but at the end of the range. He seems to be very physical. (Sierra)
The mothers believed they had a dominant role in supporting their children in acquiring ASL. The mothers mostly taught their children ASL through natural interactions and play.
Yes, he will play with toy cars and bridges. I’ll tell him that the car is going over the bridge or the car fell off the bridge. A lot of talk about dramatic events like the car falling off the bridge or crashing with another car. It’s his thing. We’ll also play kickball, and I’ll use signs to talk about that. (Sierra)

I don’t really teach her directly on academic topics. It tends to be through natural interactions. The teacher of the deaf will expose new signs and teach these new signs to her. She/he gave me a few suggestions on how to expand my child’s vocabulary by describing things. She/he will share different ideas. I’m not a teacher myself. I’m a parent. I focus on being a parent and I don’t teach her one-to-one directly, but through exposing her to ASL naturally. Sometimes I will use what I learned from the teachers and expose her to new words. (Jasmine)

Now, for example, we have family time at home during the evening. We sit together. Whatever the topic is, we do activities together. During that time, we always must use ASL. During dinnertime when we sit together, we use ASL, because of access, ACCESS, for all. It’s our priority. It’s important. We use ASL. (Lauren)

“The Problem Was, Who Will Teach My Child Spoken Language?”

The mothers expressed that they were unable to provide their children with support for spoken language development themselves. They relied on other sources such as hard of hearing or hearing family members, many speech therapists, hearing teachers, and peers.

We have a system at home. My husband will speak all of the time. I sign to him all of the time. We’ve split our roles, so he will know to respond to his dad by speaking and to me by signing. (Sierra)

I mostly signed with her, but exposing her to speech, there was no one, because I couldn’t do it. But, I taught her ASL and CASE [Conceptually Accurate Signed English]. Her language development was typical for her age level for sign language. (Lauren)

Since both my husband and I use ASL, it’s my daughter’s first language. However, the problem was who will teach her spoken language? What do we do?, we thought. I noticed with my son, he’s hearing, but he was able to acquire spoken language outside of our home by attending regular school; he was able to acquire spoken language there. So, I thought why couldn’t my daughter do the same thing? She could be placed in a spoken language environment, and she would be exposed to the language. At home, my daughter would still sign just like my son. He is hearing. I thought, why not? (Jasmine)

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