I was going to write about how yesterday’s Early Intervention meeting went, but that can wait for another day or two.
A commenter named Suzanna left a thoughtful message on my last big update and as I was thinking about I was going to respond to it, it seemed that the content of that response might be worth its own post because it’s a big piece of our early strategy and goals for Alex, so here goes.
Our overriding objective for Alex is to give him every opportunity in life possible. To us, that includes doing everything we can to help Alex overcome his disability. Yes, we look at his deafness as a disability. We live in a hearing world and there are obvious detriments to living in that world without the ability to hear. We worry about him not being able to hear danger closing in. We worry about him not being able to communicate with hearing people as easily as possible. We worry about him being at a statistical disadvantage when looking for employment (even though 20 years from now this might not be an issue). We want him to be able to appreciate music. To us, each of those things represents opportunities that, at the very least, become more difficult as a person who can’t hear. That isn’t to say that the deaf community should be pitied or that they need to be fixed. But at the end of the day, if modern technology / therapy gives us the ability to grant Alex any opportunity to hear, we’re going to take it for him, not because we want him to be “normal” and without regard to contributing to perceived ethnocide (yes, it gets that intense). With his level of hearing loss, this basically means very powerful hearing aids that would have limited functionality, cochlear implants, or auditory brainstem implants. I’ve written this before, but if I’m fixating on technology and implants, it’s because those basically represent what Shannon and I think are the best gateway to opening those opportunities up for Alex.
We’ve spent hours upon hours researching from many different angles. Our research has shown us how successful kids can be with these implants, the relatively low dangers associated with what’s an outpatient and NON-BRAIN surgical procedures, and we know what the many challenges and limitations are going to be. Most importantly, a very well-known aspect of developing a brain geared toward using hearing is that that hearing must be present and exercised within the first three years of a child’s life – the earlier, the better. Knowing that, we are absolutely of the “TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE!” mentality.
So – this post is about ASL, but I wanted to give that above background to explain why we’re not going on about ASL quite as much. Primarily, it’s because ASL isn’t much of a variable for us. We plan on using it with Alex and learning ourselves. To what extent is dependent on Alex’s needs and his therapy. Our objective for Alex at this point is to have him use speech primarily IF it’s possible (i.e., he takes to the implants well and therapy results are obvious). There are various schools of thought regarding the usage of ASL if attempting to teach speech as the primary mechanism of communication. One side believes that it hinders speech, the other doesn’t. I haven’t found anything decisive, but I do know this – in the sunniest of scenarios, if Alex gets his implants and does well with them, they still won’t be on all the time, and it’s unacceptable to us that he’ll simply be out of luck during those points. If nothing else, we (and the family) are going to make sure we know some of the basic signs. I’d like us all to know as much as possible without hindering Alex’s speech / hearing development, however.
So if I don’t talk about ASL that much, it’s for a few reasons.
- Barring Alex’s eligibility for cochlear implants, it’s simply not our first choice for Alex’s primary means of communication.
- We’re planning on learning ASL regardless, though only to the extent that it doesn’t interfere with his speech development. We’re still learning about how that works, but unbiased literature on this is relatively sparse
- I’m a technogeek and am still amazed at what these implants are accomplishing in the real world, and my true belief is that if Alex does well with the implants NOW, when it’s key, then his disability will present less and less barriers to opportunities as the technology improves. He only needs to get his foot into the door now and enjoy the advances (obviously assuming he wants to!).
- If it becomes evident that Alex isn’t doing as well with the implants or can’t get them in the first place, we will immediately switch to ASL. It is absolutely NOT off the table or something we’re trying to avoid.
- The chance that Alex won’t be able to take advantage of ASL is far lower than the chance that he won’t be able to go the oral route, so that’s more of a concern that’s on our minds.
A little story: one of the first things Shannon and I did when we learned of Alex’s hearing loss was to discuss how important it was to us that the family be able to communicate with one another and to jump on that early, so we added a few signs to our repertoire (Taylor learned some signs at daycare, so we already knew a few). They included “dad,” “mom,” “sister,” “brother,” “please,” “more,” “food,” and “enough.” Though we’ve admittedly slipped on this in the past few weeks, we have been showing those signs to Alex where appropriate and working on them with Taylor (“Can you say ‘please’ with your hands, Taylor?”).
Honestly, as I write this, I’m excited to learn ASL. I love learning new stuff, and deafness will always be a part of my son’s life, even if the medical suddenly developed a shot to give him his biological hearing back next week. Though I don’t want him to be limited to only ASL when the vast majority of us don’t use it and don’t value it enough to get in the way of getting him his best chance of access to speech, I still want him to have that link, and I want us to have it, too.