Cochlear Implants and ASL

Two days until my little girl goes in for surgery to get a cochlear implant in her left ear. She is six years old and was born with moderate to severe sensorineural hearing loss in both ears. The day she was born, and the nurse told me she did not pass the newborn hearing test I was not bothered at all. I was so happy after years of infertility and miscarriages to have a healthy baby girl, and boy, I had twins, in my arms. I had no experience with the Deaf community, I knew nothing about sign language, but I said to the nurse “we’ll learn sign language”

My daughter started wearing her first set of hearing aids at six months old. She was enrolled in the infant/toddler early start program. The program was a total communication, all forms of communication were used, but signing exact English was the dominant form of sign language. There were SEE sign classes for the parents once a week and I became fluent in SEE sign. I used this along with the hearing aids and all the other communication tools I was taught through Early Start and doing my own research, eventually taking SEE classes from the SEE center online.

My daughters hearing levels continued to drop between age three and now. She had several ear infections, the last infection she had in her left ear, left her with a profound loss in that ear. The hearing aid was useless. During that time, she had a few infections in her right ear and when she has no hearing aid on that ear my daughter is completely deaf. The first time I experienced this was almost two years ago, the summer before Kindergarten. I tried using SEE sign only. I found it exceedingly difficult, also my daughters twin brother and her father had never learned SEE sign. This was the time I started doing more research about deaf education and ASL. My daughter and I first visited the California School for the Deaf in Fremont. It’s a long drive and tons of traffic so it is not an option for my daughter to attend. But we went to visit during family days and ASL workshops. I was blown away. The first workshop I attended was ASL Rhythm and Rhyme by Leala Holcomb. That was when I fell in love with ASL and so did my daughter.

I signed my family up for an ASL class that fall in San Francisco at ABC languages.  We did that for fifteen Sunday mornings. My husband and son do not use ASL with my daughter though, only a tiny bit. I then signed up and took a class at Berkeley Community College, ASL1 and now I am repeating ASL 1 through Gallaudet online.

I always told my daughter that it was her decision to get a CI. I would never force that on her. She’s been struggling so much to hear with her right aid and recently had another infection in her right ear and was very upset about not being able to hear her music. This was when she decided she wanted to get Cochlear implants.

Ironically, I feel now is the time to get my family and my daughter fluent in ASL. People think a CI is a magic fix, that once someone gets a CI they can magically hear again. This is not the case and there are no guarantees. It will also be a long recovery and lots of rehabilitation.

I recently read an article in a Gallaudet publication about multilingualism. It had a sample schedule for a student that was broken down into ASL learning time, English learning time, listening time, etc. Again, I was enlightened. All these years it has been a struggle with the school system and mainstream education. It  felt like we must choose listening and spoken language or ASL. But what my daughter wants, and NEEDS is both.  But mainstream education does not have training or programs to accommodate my deaf daughter, yet. Of course, I second guess myself, is my daughter being forced into fitting in a hearing world? Is she doing all this, getting CI’s to make learning in a public mainstream classroom possible? Should she spend two hours on a bus everyday going to the deaf school? Only time will give us these answers.

One thing I think is true is our family should have been given ASL instruction from birth. Our family should have been connected to the deaf community when my daughter was born. I think if we would have been given this training my daughter would not have been the one struggling to hear what everyone is saying and needing to ask “what” all the time. We should have learned ASL, the whole family, not just me and my daughter. We should have had large periods of time at home where everyone only used ASL so Fiona would have been included in the whole conversation, it would have forced the family to stop and think about communication with my daughter.

It is not too late to do this, I know that. And at school the teacher and interpreter are working together to add more ASL into the classroom, teaching the class ASL signs. I’m still studying ASL and will never stop. My husband tries but needs more teaching, I just hope he doesn’t think when my daughter gets her CI he won’t need ASL. I hope the teachers at her school and her friends will understand just because she has a CI communication will still take all the tools, ASL, facial expressions, a quiet environment, no background noise, etc. And most of all, I hope my daughter is not disappointed about the results of the CI. I hope we are not cutting her open and putting in a microchip and magnet for unsatisfactory results.

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Thoughts on Motherhood Through the Eyes of an Artist