Sunday, December 29, 2013

Deaf/Deaflblind Communication: Whatever Works!

"If you think about it, the cool thing about two people knowing sign language, regardless of hearing, or tactile signs regardless of sight/hearing, the communication access is 100%."
Dad and Orion touch fingers at home. (12/11/2013)

I know there are many different opinions out there on the topic of communication regarding Deaf and/or Deafblind children.  This is my perspective on communication as a Deaf person who started out learning Sign Exact English and spoken English (with hearing parents who could sign) later learning ASL in middle school, continuing developing my ASL skills through college, being the mother of native ASL signers and wife of a Deaf ASL user.  

I occasionally visit a website called intervener.org because I am fully in support of using interveners for Deafblind children in schools (and beyond).  This year is Orion's first school year with an intervener. Some time ago, I came across a topic on their forum (anyone can set up topics) titled, "Signing vs Speaking".  The person who created this topic was looking for advice on how to respond to caregivers when they're concerned that tactile sign language will impede their family member, or learner, learning how to speak. Good question! 

The short answer for any individual learning a 2nd language: there may be a slight lag in learning either language but never mind that since that individual will be bilingual and bimodal (bimodal if either language is signed). There is research on this topic that I don't have in my hands to share but will when I'm able to do so.  Secondly, speaking is a skill and not by itself a sign of intelligence.  

Now if you talk about this for a pre-lingually* Deafblind individual's communication skills, that's a different game because it is an "information-gathering disability". This is where we go out on a tangent or put an asterisk next to it because groundwork needs to be laid first, ideas (information) precedes the words (communication).

Signing versus speaking is not a new topic to me as a Deaf individual.  I recall when I was around 13 years old (I'm not going to tell you how long ago that was), I realized it was feasible for people to learn sign language since their arms weren't broken, compared to Deaf people trying so hard to speech-read to understand what a hearing person is saying, with or without listening devices.  If you met me recently or have known me all my life and don't know sign language, I love you anyway. I hope you know that. 

I've experienced typing what grows into a blog post from a mere intended few sentences in comment boxes on forums, blogs or Facebook while Twitter was smart to spare themselves from long-winded kids like me.  Below is what I shared on the forum.
"I'm a Deaf mother of 3 children- Deaf, hearing and Deafblind.  On topics that cover communication, I've taken workshops given by Linda Mamer from BC, Canada (communication choices, senses used for communication, tools, iPads, etc); Kat Stremel Thomas (about communication with DB kids who have CI's).  I have woven together things I learned regarding communication I learned from these two presenters, the Internet (nationaldb.org) and my own life experiences. 
The title for this topic caught my eye: "Signing vs Speaking"… how about getting rid of the "versus".  There's no versus. People and parents have felt pressured for a long time to "choose one".  Why do we have to choose one when we can use many available modes of communication?   
There's a whole array of different communication choices (Total Communication), use whatever is available. If you don't know sign language, now is the time to add that to your available abilities.  Start with the most common words you find you need to use. Use whatever is best and most accessible to the child.  What a child uses for expression may be different from what he needs for receptive communication. 
Our communication options need to remain as diverse as Deafblind individuals.  I visualize looking on the top of the heads of individuals standing on a square X-Y chart ranging from usable vision and hearing in one corner and in the kitty corner are totally deaf-blind  people (like my son).  We should be able to dance all over this chart communication-wise.
Simultaneous communication, a.k.a. "sim-com" is signing and speaking at the same time. This is not Total Communication itself but is one of the options along with other communication modes under Total Communication. Be mindful of overloading the child's senses (processing for listening and seeing/feeling at the same time).  One could label the signs by speaking it (or the other way around).  If a child does not want to listen (like my son who has bilateral CIs who doesn't want to wear his processors but we are working on it), you can fall on the safety net of tactile sign language, touch cues, tactile symbols. 
For Deaf/Deafblind people communicating with hearing people, hearing aids help, CIs help.  If a person can lip-read, too, that helps piece together the puzzle depending on how usable their vision is. Pen and paper, Pro-Tacticle, Haptics, spelling in hand, gestures, iPhone/iPad, etc. Those are "tools" you would find on a Deaf/Deafblind person's communication tool belt.  
If you think about it, the cool thing about two people knowing sign language, regardless of hearing, or tactile signs regardless of sight/hearing, the communication access is 100%.   
That doesn't happen in society overall but at Deaf/Deafblind gatherings.  A pipe dream regarding the society part, unfortunately. However, we can do something about it from where each one of us are and start making a difference today."

End of forum post.  

Like my mom says: "Whatever works." 

Whatever works for the child!

Additional Musings

Hearing aids were not available when Helen Keller (1880-1968) was growing up.  Her communication mode was tactile fingerspelling. Yes, she was one of a kind and I think she would've shone even if she weren't deafblind.  Yes, she was born hearing, sighted and able-bodied, lost her hearing around 1 1/2 years old, beyond exposure to spoken language and experiencing the world around her with fully-functional senses.  We can see she was successful communicating through her use of tactile signs and always having Anne Sullivan around (can we say intervener?!).  

If you're new to this topic on my blog and/or itching to leave a comment here (I welcome you to do so),  I encourage you to also read, My Attempt At Cramming Importance of What's "Between the Ears" into a Nutshellhttp://hexwit.blogspot.com/2010/11/my-attempt-at-cramming-importance-of.html

*Prelingually Deafblind (4th paragraph): Deafblind at birth or before language learning begins.

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