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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 demonstrated a desire to maintain a balanced bilingual approach in ASL and English to support their childrenís development in both languages. However, Lauren and Jasmine commented on the limited resources that were available. They believed that the programs available focused only on ASL or spoken language. Sierra, on the other hand, was able to find a relatively new program that practices a bimodal and bilingual approach. The mothers described an ideal setting for their childrenís education:
With that, I prefer deaf schools. I expect in the classrooms, spoken language will be used. At a deaf school, in the first-grade class, spoken language is being used all day. Except during art, PE, and in the cafeteria, sign language is used. Children have both; they develop spoken language in classes and ASL skills in social settings. They miss nothing. To me, thatís an ideal environment. Itís nice. They have both and theyíll be comfortable there with their identity, culture, community, and everything else in one place. Thatís an ideal place. In a mainstream setting, can they have that? While playing sports, itíll be a challenge to listen to what is being said on the field. My son is still deaf. (Sierra)

My perfect idea is for deaf schools to have an oral-only program and a sign-only program and students can attend both programs alternatively. Thatís beautiful and perfect. I would place my daughter there and she can have more options with an understanding that the schools have hearing kids, too. (Lauren)

The most important thing is following where my daughter feels comfortable. We could place her at the deaf school and I hope by then the spoken language program will be expanded. Also, if she has good peers and has good models to be around. (Jasmine)

Overall, the mothers recognized that each individual is different, and there is no single right way to best support children with cochlear implants. Each child has unique needs and different experiences that may affect their language development. The mothers felt that there were more opportunities for the children to grow when they had two languages to rely on. They could use their knowledge of ASL if spoken language alone was insufficient. They would have options.

ďI Always See Myself as a ĎColossusíĒ

The last section of the interview focused on the mothersí hopes for the Deaf community and the hearing community related to children having cochlear implants. The mothers expressed hope that a relationship between Deaf and hearing communities would be better formed.

There is still some resistance within the Deaf community in terms of supporting children with cochlear implants and their families. The mothers shared their experiences about how they have dealt with myths and misunderstandings that some Deaf people have about cochlear implants. Sierra shared a negative experience with the Deaf community. An acquaintance approached her in a tactful way asking why she wanted to ďkillĒ and ďdestroyĒ the Deaf community. Sierra responded,

I want to talk about it. I want to analyze it. We canít stop CIs from happening. People think we can stop it completely. It is not possible. It wonít happen. Letís put it aside. We should shift our focus more to how we keep ASL alive. I think the key is to make everyone understand that the child with a CI is still deaf. These children still will miss out in a spoken language environment. ASL still provides full access to a language. If technology gets better and better in the future, I . . . I canít stop whatís happening. We canít dwell on that, we have to focus on the now. What can we do about it? Later on, weíll adjust to meet the challenges. Weíll make the changes. I think it is important that we continue this dialogue. (Sierra)
The mothers strongly believed that the hearing community needed to understand that the child with a CI is still deaf. Deaf children still need ASL in their lives. The mothers expressed a desire for the hearing community to become more supportive about maintaining bilingualism in ASL and English. They believed that this is a way for both communities to be connected.
In the hearing communities, many people perceive that children donít need sign language. I still think children should be encouraged to use sign language because the CI equipment may break down among other things. More deaf children are having two CIs now. Most hearing parents argue that if one breaks down, the child still can use the second one and learning sign isnít necessary. But still. . . . Thatís their perspective. In the hearing community, they are supportive toward CIs. I understand that because English is their native language. The families donít want their children to be left out or isolated. Many deaf children who use ASL with hearing families are often left out. So, itís hard for them. (Jasmine)

I hope to see a strong bridge formed between both communities and see more deaf people being supportive of both rather than being against each other. Thatís not a good idea. I always see myself as a ďcolossus,Ē a giant standing between both communities. Iím trying to get both communities to work together by sharing ideas. I want to see more colossuses in the Deaf community for the sake of preserving the Deaf community. People need to change and be more open and accepting. At the same time, we need to show why ASL is very important for literacy. And also have more deaf people become accepting of CIs, by saying, ďSure. Itís a great tool. It gives us more opportunities. Go for it.Ē (Lauren)


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