I Believe In offering Sign Language for Deaf Children in Public Education

A Letter in Preparation of my Daughters IEP and Transition to Kindergarten

January, 14th, 2019

 

My daughter Fiona, who is almost five years old will be entering Kindergarten this fall. Fiona was born with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss. Without wearing hearing aids Fiona cannot understand words people say- she can hear sounds, but they are muffled and unclear. If I stand very close, look at her directly, and simplify what I am saying she can pick up the gist, but words may be switched, like off vs. on, open vs. shut. Words like oil and soil or the word fan for example are not possible to communicate to Fiona when she’s not wearing her hearing aids. When Fiona does have her hearing aids on, we still face the same challenges. ONLY when it’s just Fiona and I, we are in a quiet room with no background noise and I have her full attention she will understand most of the words I say correctly. There are always a few she does not get. Fiona DOES not hear clearly lyrics in songs. For example, many of the lyrics of songs we have sung for years like “Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer” or “Santa Claus in Coming to Town” still elude Fiona. I have tried to teach her, but she has memorized many of the words incorrectly.

Yesterday we were at the San Francisco Zoo. Fiona has been only wearing one hearing aid for a couple months due to an ear infection then the mold not fitting correctly. We were sitting down at the playground and Fiona said her hearing aid wasn’t working. I checked it and there was something wrong, it wasn’t the battery. There was moisture in the tube. Fiona was very upset. In an instant all the hearing she did have from the single hearing aid was gone. She couldn’t understand what anyone was saying. I don’t know how she felt, I can imagine it was scary, frustrating, lonely.

Since Fiona was born, I have had support from the Early Intervention Program. I was contacted the first week I was home from the hospital. I was presented with options of communication- Total Communication (using every tool available, sign language, hearing aids, learning all the ways that a person can best hear when they are deaf or hard of hearing, getting eye contact, minimizing background noise, ect.) or Auditory only. (Using an FM system, learning how to speak and listen with oral only)

I chose Total Communication. I did not have any experience in Sign Language or know anything about Deaf Culture. I just felt sign language would be important since my daughter was deaf.

I began learning SEE Sign- Signing Exact English. The first two years I studied with Linda Cimoli at The Early Intervention Program at Magnolia Park. I remember when I first started I thought there was no way I could learn. I had twins! I usually had two babies in my arms. I always had bottles and dirty laundry in my hands. But I studied my sign language, I committed myself to learning no matter how long it took. I felt like it was that important. I read as many books as I could that were recommended by Ms. Cimoli, who is a teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing. I learned as much as I could and followed the advice from the experts in the field of deaf education in infancy and toddlerhood.

Fiona has always been a smart, observant, quick learner. I could see differences in Jack, Fiona’s twin brother, and Fiona through the years in what they picked up in different situations. I remember one time when Jack and Fiona were still under three years old and we were having our garage door fixed. It’s on a pully system and had to be greased. I remember how Jack completely understood what was going on, but Fiona didn’t at all. She missed a whole conversation between me and the garage door repairman that Jack picked up on. I started to watch for these moments more closely. I noticed it happening on a regular basis. It even happened during evening Storytime, when the room was quiet, and it was just the three of us. I started to slow down everything I did and said. Not in the sense that I would slow down my speech, but in the way that I moved, or I told the story. Instead of hurrying I would take my time. Give space for Fiona to absorb more of what was being said. This way she could get more of a story being told or of a conversation we were having.

When Fiona’s only good hearing aid stopped working this past weekend at the Zoo I panicked for a minute. I don’t have a second set of hearing aids. But I had something to fall back on, my sign language. When Fiona entered the pre-school class with Shannon Hicks, I noticed the need for me to be more fluent in sign language. The more language Jack and Fiona were learning, the more they were talking, the more Fiona was missing. I had to carry on taking sign language classes and signed up for a SEE Sign webinar taught by Esther Zawolkow, one of the inventors of the SEE Sign Language. Ms. Zawolkow has years of experience, her parents were deaf and she has worked with deaf children for a very long time. I studied with Ms. Zawolkow for over two years and am continuing my studies with The See Center. I was so thankful that I have done this, because at the ZOO it saved me. I used sign with Fiona, although she has yet to use sign herself, but she understands signs. Ms. Hicks has used Total Communication in her classroom. I use sign at home to back up what I say or when Fiona’s hearing aids are off, when she’s taking a bath, at the pool, or in loud environments. I used sign at the Zoo, and we had a great day.

I don’t know what I would do at this point without sign language to communicate with Fiona. I have been told many things, I should use the FM system at home, The FM system is all Fiona needs in the classroom, an  interpreter in the classroom will make Fiona feel different and kids want to feel the same, that it’s too confusing for kids to use an interpreter and FM system in the classroom.

Fiona does not want me to use the FM system at home. I have to respect that. It’s probably exhausting needing to work so hard to understand what everyone is saying all day long.

Fiona and Jack will be moving on to the next stage in their life, their public education. I know Jack will be fine no matter what the classroom situation is. He’s smart, energetic, social, and tough! Fiona will be fine too, but things will be much harder for her.

After careful thought and consideration, I think Fiona would do best with the FM system AND interpreter. Fiona needs to learn sign language and it SHOULD be part of her education.

I am open to sharing the interpreter with another deaf student, I think there is one student Fiona’s age who is going to Coleman who is deaf. I am also O.K. with starting with an interpreter and touching base bi-yearly to see how things are going, if it’s something that’s helping Fiona.

My other requests are that Fiona and Jack are in separate classrooms, otherwise I’m concerned Fiona will live in Jacks shadow and copy him.

I also think Fiona should be in the smallest, quietest class possible.

 

Thank You for your considerations and understanding.

Jennifer Hynes (mother of Jack and Fiona Hynes.)

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