Monday, July 18, 2011

Speech-Language Pathologist Speaks Out...

(Voice translate into texts)

Hello everyone. Until now, I have worked as a speech-language pathologist. In the last two or three years I have had the amazing experience of learning American Sign Language, of getting involved in the Deaf community and just seeing all of the amazing things that the community has to offer, that the language itself has to offer. Today, I want to talk to you about Audism. And Audism, for those of you that don't know, is discrimination of Deaf and Hard-of-hearing people based on the fact that they can't hear. And I would like to talk to you in my opinion...give you my opinion what area I feel Audism impacts the most. And I feel it impacts children the most. From the very beginning, I know that information given to parents, hearing parents who have Deaf children, is limited when it comes to American Sign Language, when it comes to the Deaf community, Deaf culture. I understand that many times it's mentioned, or maybe it is emphasized in certain hospitals in certain states. But I know that a wide array, many many places don't offer that information and if they do, it's just a smidgeon of information. And this really baffles me because I know from being a speech-language pathologist, the importance of language development, the importance of having a really strong language foundation. So I don't feel that the information should just be mentioned, or touched upon. I feel that information about American Sign Language, Deaf culture, the Deaf community-the parents should really be inundated with this information. Basically, all options, all information, all perspectives should be really be being offered to hearing parents who have Deaf children from the very beginning. This foundation of American Sign Language is SO important from the time that the child is a baby. And I'm not talking about, you know, "baby signs". I've used signs with hearing parents of hearing babies, so we teach a few signs here and there to the parents and the children. But with Deaf children, many times it's not even emphasized. So why aren't we emphasizing using signs and when I say signs I don't mean just "signs", I'm talking about American Sign Language, the language itself. Really that should be what is used. American Sign Language as most of you know, is a true real language just like any other language. It has all of the aspects of any other language: morphology, semantics, syntax, pragmatics, all of those things and all of those things that are involved in American Sign Language need to be exposed to the Deaf child from the time the child is a baby. So those deep structures, those deep grammatical structures of the language. And I understand that means the parents have to learn the language. And I know first-hand that it is a hard language to learn. But it can be done. It is just an amazing language to be exposing the children to. So my opinion, is that I feel there should be more focus, there should be more emphasis on American Sign Language and the Deaf community and the Deaf culture and having Deaf people be involved when a baby is born who is Deaf. It is so crucial and so important. And I know from the medical perspective, again, with me being a speech-language pathologist, I know that the medical perspective is different and so all of these other things, like ASL, like I said, Deaf culture, Deaf community, they are kind of just touched upon. And so perhaps the information is more skewed in the medical direction-aural rehabilitation you know cochlear implants, whatever. But really we have to give parents and the children, especially the children, that is what's most important. Give them what they deserve which is the whole picture-every perspective, every piece of information, every option-give them the whole pictures. Because as medical professionals, that is our duty. To inform to the best of our ability for any parent who has a Deaf child, it is our responsibility to inform them of all options.

The other area that I want to talk about where I really feel Audism impacts is education. Education is so important for the Deaf child and many parents struggle to figure out how am I going to educate my child, what school am I going to send them to and parents deserve to know that Deaf schools are the most amazing, rich, wonderful learning environments for Deaf children. I have had the experience of going into the Deaf schools seeing (for myself)...these children are so alive, they're happy, they are using their language all the time-not only with their friends, but with their teachers. And most importantly, they are learning concepts through their first language, their first natural language, which is American Sign Language. So they're learning school concepts..academic concepts and most importantly, they're learning world knowledge. It is so important for children to develop world knowledge. And the only way to to do that, the only way children can do that, is through their first language, through language, American Sign Language. I want to talk about the concept of Least Restrictive Environment, which we all know came about with IDEA and I want to talk about the least restrictive environment for Deaf children. Society believes that that environment is the mainstream public school system. But let's put all of our notions of Least Restrictive Environment aside for a minute and let's look at two scenarios: So you have one scenario where the Deaf child is communicating freely, all the time, using American Sign Language, talking to his peers, his teachers, learning, just immersed in the language and in the culture. Then we have another scenario, where in many cases, and I am not saying in all cases-I understand that some mainstream schools do have strong Deaf programs with a lot of Deaf children, but let's talk about in general. In many mainstream environments, the Deaf child is alone, the only person that uses his or her language is the interpreter. They feel isolated, they really don't feel included in extracurricular activities, in sports, you know it's hard for the child to get involved because the child feels isolated. And I'm talking about you know, when it's one or two Deaf children in a school and they don't have any other support system of people all around them using their language. And most importantly, they don't have the benefit of learning through their language. The interpreter, yes, is know, is signing for them but a lot of times the interpreter is required by the IEP to use SEE, Signing Exact English, or Manually Coded English and those systems, they're not even real languages. Those systems are broken. And what's happening is these children are falling behind because of those systems. But let me get back to those two scenarios. So which scenario do YOU think is the least restrictive for the Deaf child? The one where the child is isolated, only able to directly communicate with the interpreter, feels left out from peers, feels left out from extracurricular activities, or the Deaf schools and Day schools, like the charter schools, the day programs where the children are immersed and using their language all the time, with their teachers, with their peers and involved fully in learning through their language. To me, my common sense says the LEAST restrictive environment is the Deaf schools-the residential schools, the day schools. To the Deaf child, that environment is the least restrictive. So all along, all of these years, we've been saying that the mainstream public school is the least restrictive environment when in fact it's the MOST restrictive. And so, I guess, being a speech-language pathologist and also having this opportunity to be involved in the Deaf community and learning the language and really just knowing all different perspectives, and knowing kind of the sides of everything, I am appalled. And I know that not just one person can change what's happening, but this is food for thought about the education of Deaf children. You know, if any of you out there are thinking about it, this is just to spark some thought about it and maybe in the future we can try to change this. because there are so many Deaf adults that I've met that were educated in the mainstream public school system and eventually when they got out, when they got into the real world and they were really immersed in American Sign Language and in the Deaf culture and were able to be around other Deaf people and Deaf peers, it was such a huge change for them. They describe it as coming from the dark into the light. And so why can't we start early? Why can't we provide that for children starting when they go to school? And starting before that? Early intervention, teaching them, having their parents learn American Sign Language and really immerse their kids in this language, and in the culture and in the community. Why can't we start early? So it's really important that we look at all perspectives. That's really my point: that Audism, even if- I know it's hard for medical professionals to accept: Are we being Audist? Are we displaying Audism? In a way we are because we are limited the child's choices, the parents' choices. And especially the parents who have a Deaf child and they don't know where to turn, they don't know where to get information. The parents deserve all the information that they can get, all the perspectives. and all of the wonderful stories that the Deaf community has to offer and the rich language that American Sign Language is...these Deaf children deserve that. And so, I also want to just bring up the point of acceptance. Children want to feel acceptance. And I understand that in some cases cochlear implants work. In some cases they don't. But regardless of what is working and what is not working, they want to feel accepted for who they are. They need that acceptance to build a strong identity and that comes back to once they go to school, being in Deaf schools and residential schools. They develop that identity there, with peers and with adults who are Deaf and who are using their language. Do you think they develop that identity in the mainstream setting? With an interpreter? No, they don't get to develop that identity and experience the social, emotional, and psychological growth that they really need. So feeling that acceptance from parents, from teachers, from speech-language pathologists, from audiologists. And I know that from me working as a speech-language pathologist, I know that accepting that child and working with them in that light really improves their sense of self-worth and their identity. I want to go back for a minute to the topic of education. I did some research on Bilingual Education, which is the best and most preferred method for Deaf children. In fact, it is such an effective method for Deaf children that in Sweden and Denmark it is a law that all Deaf children are educated through the bilingual approach. So, where is the bilingual approach offered in the United States? It is only offered in residential schools for the Deaf and day schools, day programs, there are charter schools across the country that offer that. I understand that some residential schools might have a bad reputation for academic achievement But what's happening is that these kids are first placed in the mainstream environment with an interpreter whose required to use one of the false sign systems, like SEE, MCE, PSE, Contact Variety whatever you want to call it, and where is the language foundation? Remember if there's no language foundation, then the children are going to suffer, they're going to get behind, and they're going to get delayed with their academic success. So what do the mainstream schools do? When the children are failing and they're not meeting their goals, they throw them into the residential schools. And the residential schools are spending all of this time trying to bring them up to the right level and trying to make up for lost time. And this is the problem: if the child was educated to begin with in a residential school or a day school in a strong Deaf bilingual program-that's the point, bilingual education program. If they were educated from the start with that, then they would be so successful and they ARE successful. We see it all the time. Deaf children who have Deaf parents who were exposed to full complete American Sign Language, with all of its properties that I mentioned before, the deep properties of a language. Children who were exposed to that or even children of hearing parents who decided to go that route. So they were exposed to that as babies and as toddlers and then they were put into a bilingual educational program, whether it was a day school or a residential school, these children EXCEL. And the perform at the same level, equal level, as hearing peers. Now, I have heard some sad stories. Recently one of my good friends observed some Deaf students in a high school...and it's not that I've just heard stories, I've seen them. But this one particularly really just made me so sad and it made me really just feel like something has to be done. She went into this high school and these Deaf children were counting coins...Deaf adolescent, teenagers...were counting coins and reading at a 2nd grade level. What is the problem? The problem is a lack of language foundation. A lack of world knowledge. How are they understanding the world around them without American Sign Language? Another story that I heard was about a group of about 17 of 18 high school students. It was about 17 Deaf high school students. And out of all of those Deaf students, ONE when she graduated went to college. And the difference between her and the other students was that they were using American Sign Language in the home on a regular basis. The one difference. So you know I understand the different perspectives, you know there are so many different things to look at, you know the "complexity" of the issue. The point is education. Educating the parents, educating each other. Finding out more information. The point is always that we are held back by ignorance...we are held back by fear. And those are two things that are so easy to conquer. Through learning more and through education. And so it's only fair like I said before to these hearing parents and the child-it's only fair to present all perspectives and all options. So that is my challenge today. We've got to wipe out Audism and its impact on the children. Because we all know that children are our future. The decisions we make today will affect seven generations ahead of us. So that is our challenge. It's my challenge, it's your challenge, it's everyone's challenge. To really think about this. Think about it and try to be open-minded and that we will all work together. Because most important is these Deaf children and them growing up with American Sign Language and having access to Bilingual Education. Thank you.