Wednesday, February 14, 2007

No ASL Left Behind (NALB)! (Chapter 1)

Sue Livingston wrote a book called Rethinking the Education of Deaf Students raising concerns about the problems and providing strategies to drive deaf students to success in literacy. Since there is a myriad of issues and solutions, I have decided to break up into a series of v/blogs focusing on the analysis of this book and how it applies today.

The first topic will be about having this misconception to think that "coding the English language with signs for individual words and morphemes will enable Deaf Students to learn English." It has been in existence more than 30 years yet not many of them become competent English signers, speakers, readers, and writers. Even Oliver Sacks said that he found it "astonishing that even though Deaf children are exposed to Signed English systems, they evolve ASL-like forms." It is like deaf people are automatically programmed on what makes sense to them once they have the opportunity to be immersed in an ASL environment using a stronger sense of sight.

I think most of us agree that Deaf students understand ASL better than they do Signed English. Livingston conducted an informal study to see which one, ASL or Signed English, will be easier for them to comprehend. It showed that almost consistently that both younger and older deaf children understood ASL but not in Signed English. The meanings that are conveyed into depth using Signed English threw them off. Why, of course, Signed English is not even a natural language nor even a language to begin with.

There is a good example from Utah when Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News mentioned that Julie Eldredge gives this example: the word “outstanding.” In ASL, there’s a simple sign. But in MCE she would have to sign the word for “out” and then the word for “stand” and then “ing.” That not only takes longer, she says, it’s confusing.“But who controls deaf education? Hearing people,” says Fleischer. “They’ll keep what they feel close to. I’m hoping for open dialogue about what’s working. But we’re powerless.”In some school districts in Utah, says Pollock, interpreters for deaf children have been told to use MCE instead of ASL. Pollock is vice president of a new group called the Henry C. White Educational Council, which wants a say in deaf education in the state. He says that deaf students don’t graduate from Utah schools on par with hearing 12th-graders. This is like an epidemic that is widespread across the country. It is alarming to me that today ASL is still shoved away and that MCE is still in practice although it is doomed to failure.

Did you know that back in 1994, NAD pubslihed a position paper on ASL and bilingual education to require that ASL should be the primary language used in schools for deaf students and that instruction in English is emphasized in reading, writing and for those with having the ability to lipread and speak? It is relevant to observe that children (from birth to 2 years old) regardless of residual hearing shall acquire ASL as the first language that becomes readily accessible to them. This is considered a critical period where high level of language learning takes place. Once a strong language foundation is established, those with residual hearing will be able to develop better speech skills. Suppose these infants and toddlers with residual hearing are not exposed to ASL but to oral English environment only, the chances are that they may NOT have picked up listening and being able to produce intelligible speech effectively at that age. Even with cochlear plant and hearing aids because they are not yet effective in untrained ears at that age. In conclusion, they are not getting full access to the language nor having the ability to express in a clear manner. Even there is a popular idea that sign language is recommended for hearing babies allowing them express their meaning in the first two years but why can't it be the same for deaf children? How ironic!

Unfortunately, many ignorant hearing parents did not realize that. They have been misled by physicans who pointed their direction to view their deaf child in a pathological path. Rarley they are introduced to deaf professionals or individuals the first thing when learning their child is deaf. Why not give out a business-sized card that says "Deaf Outreach Consultant" where they can contact directly to have their questions answered immediately. It is like when you go in a doctor's office and found that you needed to see a specialist who is an expert in this particular area, you get a card of the name of the specialist and phone number. Why can't it be like that for parents of deaf children? Obviously, the doctors and audiologists are not working together with deaf professionals and schools for the deaf rather well.

With this instant information handed to parents who discovered their child's deafness, they will be able to:

1. make an appointment to meet deaf professionals

2. get resources on where to learn sign language

3. start making plans on early educational placement

4. Be offered deaf readers engaging in shared reading program coming to their homes periodically to enhance the development of ASL and model it in front of parents.

5. In the future as mentioned as one of the goals discussed in my previous vlog, get a URL address where there is a v/blog center page to address issues raising deaf children with links provided where they can make comments and receive feedback.

So often parents are led to focus on amplification aids or cochlear implants to seek ways to enhance listening and speaking first. It may be natural for them to have the desire for their deaf child to be able to hear and speak. They don't realize that " 'oral' language that is developed before written language is introduced to students who are ready to read and write is to articifically sequence language processes that work best in tandem" stated by Livingston. According to whole language research, people can learn vocabulary, syntax, and stylistic conventions directly through written language (Edelsky, Harste and Hudelson). So this is evident that ASL plays a vital role in language development that is made accessible for toddlers where they are able to learn about the content (i.e. animals) rather than wasting away precious language learning period on the production of speech. Once they acquire this foundation, they are able to transfer their knowledge using ASL parameters in written form by the time they are ready to read and write. For toddlers to work on perfecting their speech on certain words may not be as meaningful to them at that time. Instead of being able to elaborate in discussion about the content, they just get so primed up to produce intelligible words much as possible.

Believe me, I had have seen this happening in my eyes raising my two young deaf children and seeing other deaf children whose speech development was placed as a priority are impeded in learning the content. Dialogue is not natural when using spoken English and opportunities to have unstructured discussions about topics are lost. They spent their invaluable time on correcting their speech rather than inquiring the subject. I recalled how much I loathed going to speech training in my early years knowing that it is all about mechanical not logical. However, I was fortunate enough to have access to ASL from my deaf family where I was able to take the opportunity to engage in dialogue about any subject that led me to develop my global knowledge and understanding. Yet I struggled to speak all my life as I grew up in the mainstream as a solitaire until I finally received an official bilingual approach when I transferred to a deaf high school , my speech improved significantly. The better understanding I have on both languages, the more confident I am able to produce speech. That is why I believe in "ASL now, speech later" approach. The most important result was that my comprehension level had greatly increased in reading and writing when I had teachers using bi-bi approach. Please don't leave ASL behind. (I realized that I did not include all what was written in my vlog since it would take up more time so please pardon me)


Carl Schroeder said...

Very good! It's very important that we as Deaf people take up educational leadership in promoting ASL as the language of not only instruction, but also information, knowledge and communication. I love the title NALB, but I must agree that NCLB has left Deaf children far behind. Thank you for Chapter 1, and I am ready for Chapter 2.

drmzz said...

There have to be interventions to doctors' offices. Maybe they will request articles from science to determine ASL does benefits the child. Maybe they are so blinded in their pathological perspectives, they will have none of that. Question is, who will intervene?

Mark Hill said...

I agreed, no question how important to have a good resource of information and a strong early intervenient program. The problem is that many parents want their deaf children treated as "hearies" The parents should realize that the deaf children will always be deaf adults You know, like saying "let you be you......."

Barb DiGi said...

Carl: Thanks for the anticipation. You are the man! ASL allows access to "KIC" leading to successful instruction.

Mike: Yes in some areas, not all.. however from where I live, I have received an early intervention coordinator who provided me a variety of program choices. As I inquired whether there were any deaf professionals who could meet to discuss about ASL and Deaf culture, unsurprisingly, there were none. Naturally, parents tend to be more attentive to cochlear implant and other hearing devices because they want them to hear as much as they can. But the question is whether or not the two-sided information has been presented and an opportunity to meet a deaf role model.


It is the mentality on parents wanting the best for their children to hear. I respect that for their decision however just don't exclude ASL and Deaf culture. Just don't perceive ASL as a threat but a blessing. It is alarming to me about the breaking news in Ontario, Canada about banning ASL. Check it out if haven't done so..

Best regards,


Anonymous said...

Thanks Barb for sharing your vlog about NO ASL LEFT BEHIND in NALB, First Chapter!

True that most parents go see the doctor in first place after found out that their child Deaf.

I hope that the Deaf Blogsphere will have some kind of special kind of advise for "Parents" in case if they are researching on the internet about "Deaf" or "What do to with Deaf" or something like that..

I feel that it will be good for to set up a special kinds of education for Parents to go through the "MUST READ" for more information to give them???

What do you think?


Anonymous said...

Barb --

I know many hearing parents who have their deaf child/children were having some diffucult decisions to make with many options such as oral, cochlear implants, boarding schools, etc. Not only for ASL, there are many options for what is the best for the deaf children.

Therefore, generally, deaf children will always be the deaf adults.

Life is full of surprise!

White Ghost

Anonymous said...

I am a parent of a 17 year old Deaf son who chose Bi-Bi and learned ASL when he was a baby. Doctors were clueless so I sought the advise of Deaf adults and professionals through his Deaf school. Fortunately, they were trying to implement the approach at the time and I totally agreed. Now since most parents implant (for me, it's his decision) the school switched back to TC, mostly oral, limiting sign to keep students and get State funds. Makes me sad. My son is an AP student in his mainstreamed classes in High School and heading to RIT. He is still working on his speech bc HE'S ready for it! He has perfect English grammar. We work hard (socialization is still difficult), but the payback is huge. I know he'll be successful. He changed my life for the good bc I do something I never knew - interpret. Parents need to understand and accept that their babies will always be Deaf!