“All the teachers signed” Fiona said on our way home from Fremont School for the Deaf. She said it spontaneously after we had been driving for at least a half hour. She had a smile on her face when I looked at her in my rear-view mirror. Then she talked about how they use a different kind of sign language at that school. We went to a family day and ASL workshop, as well as a tour of the school. The workshop I did was on ASL Rhythm and Rhyme. https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=asl+rythm+and+ryhme+nursery+&view=detail&mid=C657977A7815EDD01C78C657977A7815EDD01C78&FORM=VIRE
I was blown away by what I learned in the workshop. I realized how much of a missed opportunity it was when Fiona was a baby, I could have been doing this with her. I could have learned a few ASL nursery rhymes. I should have learned some ASL, but I knew nothing about ASL or even how to access the information. Especially with newborn twins, I was in over my head.
The program in Marin County uses a sign system called Signing Exact English or SEE sign. I’ve written a lot about this, my appreciation for SEE sign. I’ve studied SEE for five years, diligently! Fiona has benefited from SEE sign in ways it is impossible to quantify. This is what I have used to communicate at home, in loud places, when the hearing aids simply don’t cut it because no matter how many times, I say a word Fiona still doesn’t understand it. I don’t regret anything to do with SEE sign. But lately, I have become frustrated trying to communicate with Fiona using SEE. It’s so cumbersome. I feel like I lose her after a few sentences.
Fiona and I both left Fremont knowing we had to learn ASL. I caught her last night practicing her signs. I’ve been practicing a few ASL Rhythm and Rhymes I learned at the workshop and Fiona loves it. I feel sad that six months went by when Fiona was a baby, where Fiona didn’t have hearing aids and I didn’t know sign language. It makes me think there should be an added component of the Early Intervention program where a hearing parent with a deaf baby is connected with a deaf adult who can teach basic ASL and mentor the parent.
I also think there should be ASL in my daughter’s public education plan. I don’t know how that would look like?
I am working on the playdate/teen mentor program in Marin for DHH kids, but our program is totally oral at this point. Fiona loves her hearing aids and many of the parents I know are totally fine with oral only. But they may change their mind if they visit Fremont! Or if they heard from deaf adults who were raised by hearing parents. Many of the children I know here also have cochlear implants. They are treated by their parents as if they can hear perfectly fine. Maybe they can? I don’t know. This is another situation where only a deaf adult who has cochlear implants could respond.
I can only talk about what I’ve learned from Fiona and from researching. But mostly what I see with Fiona, when she understands and doesn’t. I think Fiona wants the whole picture, sign and her hearing aids and listening and spoken language.
At the Fremont school Fiona seemed totally at home. She played with the other kids in a way I’ve only seen her with her closest deaf friends in Marin. She was relaxed as we toured the school and seemed really impressed with the whole situation. The classes were quiet and visually stimulating. I think Fiona would miss spoken language if it wasn’t used at all though, because she loves that too. But she does get that at home and with me. I’m not sure exactly how that works in Fremont. But at the same time the ASL program is so rich in linguistics maybe it’s just another side of the same coin and Fiona would be fulfilled during school hours by that? The socializing part at Fremont school was the best part. It was so easy for Fiona to socialize because it was so quiet, and all the kids communicated using eye contact and all the other tools Fiona needs when communicating. The social part is the complete opposite of how kids are at her brother’s preschool, a hearing school. There they don’t know anything about communicating with a deaf kid, they turn their face away and talk to her. Fiona has to constantly strain to understand what’s being said. It’s always loud there. I started sending her two days a week to prepare her for mainstreaming.
I’ve been so worried about mainstreaming, there’s 22-25 kids in her upcoming Kinder class. What will that be like? People think with hearing aids and the FM everything will be fine. But is that a positive situation for my daughter?
After visiting Fremont School for the Deaf I have more questions than answers. I also have validation that my instincts have been correct all along.
I am committed to my community, my home where we live. I feel like Fiona should be able to have what she needs here. I am trying to build that for her by forming the DHH group and branching out to find deaf friends who we don’t know yet. We are definitely going to learn ASL and learn about deaf culture. I don’t know why that’s not part of the curriculum in the Early Start program? I know it’s been a challenge to even keep SEE sign in the program, everything is very listening and spoken language driven. Which I’m not opposed, I just don’t think it’s the whole picture. And as I’ve said there’s a gap in language acquisition that only sign language can fill, for Fiona and me, and I’m sure many more parents and children?
I’ve heard from many educators, experts and parents that our deaf kids will have to survive in a hearing world, where no one signs, that they have to be able to survive it this world. But these past few days since my visit to the Fremont school I have heard from so many deaf people who say they missed so much when expected to do this. That they felt isolated. Is this the goal from society? From our whole public education system, just get deaf kids to fit in, just say they get enough from the hearing aids, Ci’s, and FM, and socially they need to fend for themselves, find one good friend at school and find a quiet place on the playground to hang out with?
I love my LSL itinerant teacher; she is amazing and has taught me so much. She works so hard and loves our DHH community. Fiona has learned so much from her. I am completely on board with what the itinerant teacher is doing and will do in Kindergarten.
My feeling is that the whole system is not appropriate for a child like Fiona. She deserves more, a more appropriate environment where she can relax and learn like any other kid. Not where 50% of the time she can only access 50% of what her friends are saying to her. I’ve written about this till the cows come home, but even when it’s just me Jack, Fiona’s twin, and Fiona, Fiona constantly turns to me and says “what did he say”. Even if we are all right next to each other and it’s quiet.
I really don’t know the answers, but my gut says we need a program like the school in Fremont, here, for North Bay kids? It could be a combination program like Penny Cook, on a campus with mainstream and Deaf kids. But we would have all the tools and education on site. With ASL and deaf culture taught. It’s a tall order but I think it’s needed.