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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Cochlear Implants: Evolving Perspectives
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The mothers noticed dramatic changes with their children’s spoken language after their children received their cochlear implants. They strongly believed that their children were able to acquire spoken language quickly because they already had a first language as a foundation for learning a second language. Jasmine’s daughter began recognizing her own name and sounds about 2 to 3 months after the surgery. She was able to respond to sounds from another room.
About 1 year after my daughter received her CI, she began picking up spoken language rapidly. They (teachers) said my daughter made the 2-year progress of acquiring spoken language in 1 year. Because of ASL. (Jasmine)

After she got her CI, there was a BIG difference! I encouraged her to develop speech skills. With her hearing aids, she developed a little bit and then it plateaued; (looks disappointed) she was at the same level as me when I grew up. I was aware of that. I went ahead with a CI and her language developed rapidly, and now it’s still developing more and more and more. I was surprised, Wow! That was the reason why I wished it happened earlier. (Lauren)

So, sometimes signs will be used to reinforce his spoken language; that’s nice. The teachers do that, too. They support his language development by making connections to spoken words through sign. He was able to pick up spoken language quickly, then separating both languages and focusing only on spoken language. It’s harder for him to acquire spoken language without support from ASL. Oh, most definitely! If it wasn’t for signing, he would be very delayed big time. That’s for sure. (Sierra)

Through sign, he has full access to a language. He has a language. Plus, it provides him with a strong language foundation. He is able to develop spoken language on top of that foundation. He is “riding” on it. (Sierra)

“He Code-switches Between Both Languages All the Time.

All three children began acquiring spoken language soon after they received cochlear implants. The mothers commented that when their children had access to both languages, they began to code-switch between both languages. They sometimes mixed languages. The language used depended on with whom they were interacting, e.g., a deaf person, a hard of hearing person, or a hearing person.

When my son is with me, he’ll talk less. He will sign more and be more visual focused. With my husband, he’ll talk more. He code-switches between both languages all the time. . . . Really, more like every 5 seconds. (Sierra)

Sometimes he will mix both languages. With me, he’ll use his voice to speak, “open,” “more,” and other words. When he signs, “cow,” he will say, “Moo, moo.” (Sierra)

On weekends, she signs all day, really. She’ll speak with her brother a little bit. When she is with other KODAs [Hearing Kids of Deaf Adults], she will speak with them. With my husband and me, she will sign with us. (Jasmine)

She is purely bilingual. Yes, in the mornings, if it’s today, for example, she signs with me all of the time, all the time. When her sister and her brother speak with each other, she will listen to them, and then turn to them to speak to them. When she is done speaking to them, she’ll turn back to me and sign to me, and turn back to talk with her siblings. Her sister and brother will sign and talk to her because sometimes she does not understand them, unless they are talking face-to-face, in a context they are familiar with, and about other specific things. They must be in a “perfect” environment too, you know? Or, it will be distorted (shakes head), they mostly speak to each other and will sign a little bit. They’ll fill in signs in between their conversations. With me, she signs more in ASL. With them, she uses Signed English and speaking (nods). (Lauren)

The mothers reported that their children’s rate of development with spoken language varied. Jasmine felt her daughter had made great progress, but she had not yet caught up with her peers. Based on a spoken language evaluation, Jasmine’s daughter was a couple of months delayed for her age, but Jasmine believed her daughter would eventually catch up. Sierra’s son had just received his cochlear implant about 6 months prior to the interview, and Sierra thought he was making good progress. Lauren was concerned about gaps in her daughter’s spoken language that she attributed to late implantation.
When reading a book, if one person reads aloud, the book has to be at second grade level with some context exposure and without showing the lip movement. The lips are covered. As the person reads aloud, she can listen and understand in a quiet environment at the second grade level. Not third grade or fourth grade. She is in the fourth grade level in school. She is unable to follow fourth grade level texts. She misses a lot, so there is a gap. (Lauren)
Lauren reported that her daughter was able to speak almost fluently. In school, she speaks most of the time and also has interpreters as a backup. She orders meals at restaurants by herself and does not depend on interpreters or writing on paper to communicate. Lauren is content with her daughter’s development and considers her hard of hearing.
My daughter participates in extracurricular activities and church activities totally on her own. If she wasn’t implanted and hadn’t had the ASL foundation preimplantation and intensive AVT [auditoryverbal therapy] after implantation (5 days a week!), she wouldn’t be this independent. Tell me, how many deaf ASL nonspeaking children would be comfortable totally alone (without an interpreter) during achievement night (a weekly church thing for young women age 10–12 focusing on teamwork and leadership), dance sessions, primary classes in church every Sunday? The CI gives her SO MUCH access in the hearing world! She is still deaf, Deaf, and labels herself HOH [Hard of Hearing], and she does have so many opportunities now than if she was never implanted and gotten intensive habilitation. I have no regrets whatsoever; except that I wish I hadn’t listened to the Deaf community when my girl was 3 years old. (Lauren via e-mail)

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