We get asked this question a lot! Our decision to find the best way to communicate with our deaf son wasn't an easy one. While most parents were researching strollers and crib mattresses, we were researching different methods of communication and cochlear implants. We wanted the best for our son and our family. Was it Auditory Verbal-Oral Communication, sign Language, SEE or ASL, Cued Speech? Big questions haunted us. Fear of the unknown. Fear that we wouldn't be able to communicate with our son. Fear that we would never hear him say I love you and he would never understand those words from us.
For the first three years of his life, our family embraced the lifestyle of Auditory Verbal Therapy (AVT). It was hard hard work but we loved it! AVT isn't just a communication style it's a life style...every thing is seen as an opportunity to teach the meaning of sound though access from a cochlear implant and/or hearing aid. We took walks almost everyday and we'd always stop and point out the sound of cars and trucks passing by, a siren up the street, and the difference between a dog barking verses a bird chirping. As you can imagine, we wouldn't get very far in distance but our walks created a rich and diverse opportunity to experience the world of sound.
Progress was slow in both receptive and expressive speech. We began to experience more and more frustration with being unable to understand Burke's needs. I felt like I was losing him, like I didn't know who he was. We consulted our team of experts at Seattle Children's Hospital and concluded that because of his diagnosis of CHARGE syndrome, Burke's hearing loss was more complex than originally thought. Burke has Mondini's dysplasia and malformed cochlea with small auditory nerves. Because of this, he doesn't hear as well with his implant and his auditory skills testing and behavior showed that we needed to do more. Burke wasn't understanding his world, we wasn't able to say what he wanted and he wasn't able to do what we asked. We were all frustrated and needed to make a big decision as he was about to turn three and enter preschool.
SEE sign was one of the options that we had researched in the beginning and had previously visited a special school called the Northwest School for Hearing Impaired Children (NWSFHIC) in Shoreline, WA. This school is unique in that they specifically uses SEE sign in a total communication approach classroom setting. The teachers use SEE sign and spoken language concurrently and expect the students to do the same to the best of their abilities. We loved the teachers, administrators and overall feel of support and acceptance. We decided to introduce sign language to Burke in a way that would maintain our family's primary language as English and promote literacy. In the future, we'd like to teach Burke ASL which may give him the opportunity to connect with the deaf community even more. Our goal is to provide him with as many tools as possible...there are many doors in life that will be open to him!
After enrolling Burke into the NWSFHIC in the fall of 2009, he has gained a large expressive and receptive sign vocabulary AND is speaking more and learning to articulate sounds so much better with the use of total communication. He learns signs so quickly that it's hard to keep up with him! He read his first book (Brown Bear by Erik Carle) after three months of learning sign. Now, it's been f I make a mistake and say something different than what I'm signing, he corrects me and laughs...he thinks it's really fun to be smarter than mom!
I hope this blog provides an open and honest discussion about how we use SEE sign in our home in "real life". I want to provide other parents with an avenue to see learning SEE sign in everyday life and share ideas on how to help our children succeed.