13 Reasons to Sign to Your Hard of Hearing or Cochlear Implanted Child

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When we implanted our profoundly deaf two-year-old son Micah with cochlear implants, we gave little thought to American Sign Language or Deaf Culture. We were a hearing family, following the council of our audiologists, and under enormous pressure, we made the best decision we could with the information we had at the time. Micah received the $50,000 bilateral implant surgery and the $18,000 implants. He participated in expensive speech, auditory and oral therapies, but despite our time, efforts, and financial investment, he hated hearing. Sound was like an itchy sweater he refused to wear. He fought us tooth and nail, literally biting and kicking until he and I were both in tears. As you can guess, he made few speech gains.

Believing the implants would help him develop language, we had put all of our eggs in one basket, and by age five, Micah had a significant language delay. As you can imagine, his inability to communicate resulted in frustration and major behavior problems. Outings to the grocery store or park ended in violent tantrums, so much so, that I felt like I couldn’t leave the house. At the time, it seemed our family was a sinking ship. I was overwhelmed, disappointed and confused.

I think the turning point for me was after someone suggested I watch a documentary called Through Deaf Eyes. There, I learned for the first time that deafness was more than a physical condition. Deafness is a community. With the magnetic force of a tribe, it is about people and a history steeped in civil rights. But most of all, it is about a unique, visual, three-dimensional language called Sign Language. As I watched the film, I realized being a part of the deaf community was a privilege, and I wanted my son to be proud of this heritage. While he has Puerto Rican, Jewish, and English ethnic ties, he also was bound to the deaf community by language.

In this post-modern age where people feel disenfranchised, disconnected, and alone, I saw the benefit of being born into automatic community, and at that point, I had a choice: embrace his deafness and all of its language and cultural implications, or reject it.

For my family, we chose to learn American Sign Language, and that was the key to transforming our relationship with our son. Cochlear Implant cheerleaders, please don’t misunderstand. Micah wears his implants to this day. While his speech is unintelligible for the most part, there are moments of clarity, and in those moments, my heart does a little leap. We continue to encourage his implants, hoping they will help him with phonics and communication with hearing people; however, American Sign Language was and is our lifeline. Our saving grace.

I have a hard of hearing daughter, and she too has learned American Sign Language. Not only does she communicate in sign with her brother, but she has deaf friends, participates in deaf programs, and has the benefit of navigating easily between two words.

For all these reasons and more, I wanted to share eleven reasons for signing with your hard of hearing and cochlear implanted children.

  1. Cochlear implants do not replace normal hearing. There are no guarantees that your child will attain spoken language acquisition. No matter how much time and effort you invest.
  2. There is a critical window for language development. If a child is not fluent in a language by the age of five, he or she may never attain full fluency in any language. Having a foundational language is crucial to the development of future language. Why wait until it’s too late?
  3. Sign Language comes naturally to deaf children. By signing to your deaf child or exposing them to fluent signers, you are ensuring language acquisition and avoiding language delays. If your goal is speech, that’s fine. Sign will not get in the way.
  4. Introducing two languages does not interfere with the acquisition of either language. Consider children of immigrants: they are often bilingual, juggling between two languages, and according to PhD. Marc Marschark of NTID, all deaf children should be bilingual.
  5. Sign Language enhances the development of spoken language and literacy. 
  6. Knowing sign does not impede a deaf child’s academic success; if anything, it helps them establish a healthy foundation to build upon. According to research from NTID, “Children who sign early on generally outperform those who do not sign during their early school years.”
  7. Hearing children learn a second language, and this is considered a luxury and a sign of intelligence; however, for deaf children, being bilingual is a vital skill necessary for their language and social development.
  8. Knowing American Sign Language is the key to socializing and interacting with the Deaf community. Many hard of hearing and cochlear implanted children desire later in life to be involved with deaf people. And while they are children, having ASL skills gives them access to deaf peers, deaf mentors, and the deaf community.
  9. Cochlear implants sometimes malfunction. No technology is beyond reproach. Sign fluency allows a deaf child to rely on their sign skills when in a jam. As a result, the child doesn’t miss the window for language fluency or access to communication when and if the technology falters.
  10. Signing is more convenient is some settings. When in a quiet setting like a play or a loud setting like a rock concert, sign language comes in handy to communicate in a discreet and clear way.
  11. Signing allows you to communicate from a distance. Under water. Through sound proof glass. One of my favorite experiences was snorkeling and communicating with my family under water– freaking awesome!
  12. Signing with your deaf child strengthens your bond. Many hearing parents fear losing their deaf child to the deaf community; however, clear communication is the key to healthy relationships that can’t be broken.
  13. Beyond the American deaf community, there is a global deaf community. Most of the world does not have access to cochlear implant or hearing aid technology. Knowing sign language, gives your deaf child access to deaf people around the world.

The way I see it, cochlear implants and American Sign Language are both tools for success, and I want my child to have all the tools and choices available to him. I’ve seen children with cochlear implants speak English with the fluency and articulation of the crown prince. Yes, it’s amazing! But that does not negate that these same kids feel drawn to the deaf community and desire to interact with them. It also doesn’t mean that oral kids don’t benefit from the aid of classroom interpreters. This is not a world of either or. We live in the age of and and. Our kids can have it all. Bilingual-Bicultural.


11 thoughts on “13 Reasons to Sign to Your Hard of Hearing or Cochlear Implanted Child

  1. As an SLP who works in a program with a Total Communication philosophy, with kids from 3yrs-8th gr., with kids who range from profoundly Deaf to hard of hearing, with hearing aids, successful CIs, unsuccessful CIs, or no amplification at all…I couldn’t agree with you more! Love this article! Do you mind if I print it and share with parents from time to time?

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  2. 10 and 11. I don’t know how many times I’ve signed to a hearing person in one of these settings and then remembered they can’t sign. I used to work in a noisy bar and the looks of confusion when I signed back the number of drinks was priceless.

    I’m a mother to a deaf child who at 20 months was implanted. He took to hearing like a duck to water but 10 months before the op he was using Auslan. He slowly stopped using sign as we are all hearing but at age 11 he wanted to sign more. Now at 16 he has his feet firmly planted in both the hearing and deaf worlds.

    For those reading this because they are looking at implanting or have implanted, if ever the specialists tell you not to sign tell them firmly NO. That the first thing your child needs is language and it doesn’t matter which, so unless they can 100% guarantee that your child WILL hear tell them NO and sign. 🙂

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  3. Totally 100% agree! I’m a mom of a child with a severe hearing loss and I am going back to school for audiology. There is no perfect solution and I hope I can be that audiologist who helps parents find what’s right for their child.

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  4. If I had my own childen who are deaf… I will not allow my childen take cochlear implants. I am very strong against oral and listening. Frocing etc that is abusing thier life by try fix their body which is not your to decide for them… I would send my childen to deaf school 100%… to have their freedom choices. Childen will love me for it
    Nothing against you all… that just me…. i perfer to leave childen alone whatever god give to me that is god gift do not play god gifts . And allow them to make their own choices want cochlear implant or not I wont froce them… if you frocing them stuff like that they will leave you you will make them feel worthless. Because they are deaf…to me cochlear implant is way too soon. Just first tech they made still not working for most of them. Better off just wait few more years from now… i bet they will find a way without have to damn drill through your heads. It would really sucks if they got older and end up there better tech but would be too late already drilled that cant be fixed. To me the doctor is using deaf childen to get off rich off deaf people for themselves making million dollar while million deaf people from whole world are very very angry! Goverment and doctor choose to igroning deaf world and keeps going why? Of coruse for money. They dont care if your childen is healed or not. They will lies to get your money out of your pocket and get away. What if your kid hate it! Would wasted all your money you spended over stupid cochlear implants… to learn sign langure is free! To learn how to speak will take years years! To me that is 100% unfair! To learn sign langures they can learn it only at less 2 months than they can able to talk to you very clear the more happy they will be…all we need is for all stupid parents and all hearing people to stop think they cannot do anything just because you think they will have hard life if they dont take cochlear implants would make much easyer life not ture! It not deaf people problems… it is about you… and your people in this world not want to deal or unlike deaf people wont hire just because they are deaf… that is crime, it not us who cause problem it your own people hearing people who having problem with us that why they wants us to be fixed! So they can get their way whatever they wants! To froce childen to take cochlear implants to make world happy? Wrong! Hearing people could be the one make sure those childen is to be happy! Cochlear implants is not a cure! We said that for years and you stupids still not listening to us! We lost our wars against goverment to stop them putting cochlear implant on childen and upset us the most is you all failed us. You all turned us down for goverment and doctors by beliving in their bullshits. Not us you fools! You all should have listening to deaf people because we all knows what being deaf is like we know more about deaf cuture far than goverment or doctors they knows nothing just all about money. That what agbell wants is making money you all support old old history year 1800. Who builted agbell been taught to turn hearing people against us. Goverment is using old history crimes against us . And today is 2017! Sad. Sorry for said all this… I had to said it. You contorl their body is a abusing!

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    1. Thank you James, for taking the time to share your opinion. I appreciate all the perspectives, and I know they are sincerely from a place of wanting the best for all deaf children. I understand your anger on behalf of deaf children and the complicated history involved, and only ask that you remain respectful in your comments. While I differ in my opinion about cochlear implants being abuse, I too feel frustrated about the enormous expense of CI’s, and I agree that they are not the cure they profess to be. I understand hearing parents wanting their children to have all the tools available for language acquisition, and I’ve observed children who have extremely positive results, so I would not discourage a parent from choosing CI’s–I would simply encourage them to also introduce ASL. My main point was simply that ASL should be introduced to deaf children as early as possible in order to give deaf children the best of both worlds, early exposure to language, and access to the deaf community.

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    2. James I’d just like to correct you in one aspect. In Australia, where the CI was invented, children under the age of 25 can be implanted at the cost to the government. You don’t even need health insurance. They also receive batteries and replacement parts like processors and coils at minimal or no cost. (Depending on weather or not you are getting social security benefits for the child)

      We also have the best facilities and programs in the world. While my son was having his regular mapping session there was an augiologist from Florida who was amazed at all the gadgets we have to make these session easier on the patient.

      I know when I first implanted my son and got involved with the deaf community there were a lot of deaf people who had the wrong idea about CI’s. I was criticised initially but after explaining my situation and also educating them on CI’s in their language there was a mutual respect.

      If you get the chance I recommend you watch the documentary Louder than Words. It’s about 2 American families who did and did not choose CI’s.

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      1. Hi Evie,
        Thank you for your comments. I’m amazed by the support of the Australian government to cover the cost of CI’s. What an amazing gift to have that financial burden lifted from the shoulders of parents and deaf young people. In the United States, fighting with insurance companies to cover even part of the cost took me a year, and still they approved to pay only a small portion for one ear. I would be interested to know if Australia uses Oral, Total Communication or Bi-Lingual Bi-Cultural approaches to Deaf education. All the best!

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