Barb's Blog

Just Desserts

When we found out our daughter was deaf, my husband and I started learning sign language almost immediately.  We were welcomed warmly and supported by members of the deaf community, who exhibited copious amounts of patience as we stumbled through our beginner signs.  I have always advocated for parents learning as much information as they could about sign language - as we had the opportunity to do - so they could make informed decisions about using sign language with their child.

Sometimes when I talk with professionals about parents’ choice to use sign language they say that parents aren’t interested in learning it.  They don’t ask to learn it.  They don’t want to learn it.  They just don’t want to do it.    

A long, long time ago I worked as a waitress.  The restaurant I worked in had fantastic desserts.  There were two ways of selling the desserts.  The first was to ask the party “Would you care for some dessert?”  The second was to bring out the dessert tray and describe each sweet.  “Tonight we have freshly-made Belgian waffles with a scoop of French vanilla ice cream topped with sliced strawberries.  We have a chocolate torte dripped with caramel sauce in a cookie crust.  We have an amaretto cheesecake covered with pieces of almond.  We have a carrot cake with bits of carrots and raisins and cream cheese frosting.”

Using the first approach, 99 percent of the customers declined dessert.  Using the second approach, 99 percent of the customers practically scarfed the treat right off the tray.  Amazing what a little factual information can do.  I never tried to convince anyone of how good anything tasted.  I never tried to talk people into ordering anything.  Oh, sure, sometimes people had questions.  Is it dark chocolate or milk chocolate?  Can I get that with rum raisin instead of French vanilla?  I answered their questions as best I could, but I never did any wheedling.  All they had to do was see the goodies and learn a little about what it was in them, and their taste buds did the rest.

Imagine if professionals presented sign language as dessert.  Instead of “Would you care for some sign language?” professionals could say, “Today we have sign language, which your child can access from birth.  Research says it goes well with spoken language.  It can be used with hearing aids and cochlear implants.  We also have a deaf community that goes with it.  Evidence shows that support from the deaf community leads to better outcomes for deaf children and families.”  

How can restaurant patrons make a choice about chocolate torte if they don’t even know it is on the menu?  How can parents make a choice about sign language when they don’t even know the life experiences and data that support it?

So, let’s think about the choice to use sign language the same way we do dessert.  Let people see what the thing looks like.  Describe it.  Answer their questions about it.  Help them to understand it.  Don’t push it on them, but give them full, correct information, then let them choose.  For that matter, let them take a few bites and bring the rest home.  Chances are we’ll get many more takers.    

And just between you and me, the Belgian waffles were the best. 

Copyright 2010.  Do not reproduce without permission.


“Research says it goes well with spoken language.”  

Marschark, M., Schick, B. & Spencer, P.  (2006).  Understanding Sign Language Development of Deaf Children. In Schick, B., Marschark, M. & Spencer P. (Eds.), Advances in the Sign Language Development of Deaf Children.  New York:  Oxford University Press.  (The authors write “ . . . children’s use of sign did not interfere with their spoken language development.  Rather, spoken language skill increased as the children learned more sign . . .”)    

Yoshinaga-Itano, C.  (2006).  Early Identification, Communication Modality, and the Development of Speech and Spoken Language Skills:  Patterns and Considerations.  In Spencer, P. & Marschark M. (Eds.), Advances in the Spoken Language Development of Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Children.  New York:  Oxford University Press.  (Yoshinaga-Itano writes “ . . . expressive language development, . . . whether assessed through spoken language or sign language, predicted a significant amount of variance in speech production . . .  Children with the best expressive language development were those with the best vocal development.”   

“Research shows that support from the deaf community leads to better outcomes for deaf children and families.”  

Hintermair, M. (2000). Hearing impairment, social networks, and coping: The need for families with hearing-impaired children to relate to other parents and to hearing-impaired adults.  American Annals of the Deaf, 145, 41–51.  (Hintermair writes “Parents who have many contacts with hearing-impaired adults . . . show significant effects on three stress scales . . . [M]eeting with hearing-impaired adults reduces isolation .  . and increases interactional responsiveness . . . Parents who are signing with their child and who are also maintaining frequent contact with hearing-impaired adults show significant reduced isolation . . . and high significant acceptance of their child . . .) 

Watkins, S., Pittman, P., & Walden, B.  (1998).  The deaf mentor experimental project for young children who are deaf and their families.  American Annals of the Deaf, 143, 29-34.  (The authors write “The children who received deaf mentor services were compared to matched children who did not receive these services but who received parent adviser services. Children receiving this early bilingual-bicultural programming made greater language gains during treatment time, had considerably larger vocabularies, and scored higher on measures of communication, language, and English syntax than the matched children.”) 

Wrestling with Deafness

I was perusing the local newspaper the other day when I came across an article about a deaf wrestler.  Since my son is a deaf wrestler (Hey, why didn’t they write about him?  He’s so cute!), I thought I might cut out the article and show it to him.  Then I read the article.  I found out this guy looks the same as everybody else (i.e., he doesn’t look deaf), the coach treats him the same as everybody else (i.e., he doesn’t treat him like he’s deaf), and that on the mat, he focuses on the guy he’s wrestling (i.e., he wrestles just like a hearing guy).  

If you are reading this (and I think you are) and you are a hearing person, I must tell you what I have learned:  deaf people are the same as you and I!

Intrigued, I did some research to find out if all deaf wrestlers are like hearing people.  I read about another guy who wanted to wrestle because he thought it was “cool.”  He worked really hard and did well.  His team mates and coaches helped a lot.  Said one teacher:  "I must give the coaches so much credit for giving this kid a chance at normalcy."

Normalcy?  Have you ever seen wrestling?  One kid pushes the other one down, then the other one puts the first one in a head lock, then the other one puts the other one in a shoulder lock, then the other other one does something where he looks like he’s suffocating the first one, then they both roll over and someone is flailing around gasping for breath like an out of water fish, the other one is flat on his back looking like he is having a stroke, and the end of everything you notice there are eyeball imprints in the mat.  

This is normal?

I have a better idea:  how about if we redefine normal?  Maybe the majority – hearing people – shouldn’t be so quick to assume that they (we) have the corner on what is regular or ordinary.  Maybe we should pay more attention to what is regular in the lives of people who are different from ourselves.  Maybe we should put a few deaf people in charge of helping to define who we are as a society.  As long as we are amazed that deaf kids can wrestle, or do well in school, or do any of the wonderful things that deaf and hearing kids can do, we unintentionally set them apart.

I am not suggesting that we ignore differences between deaf and hearing people.  Of course we must respect the visual orientation of deaf individuals as well as bilingualism and biculturalism.  But being deaf does not keep you from participating in life.  Let’s get past viewing the participation of deaf kids in high school sports and other activities as a novelty. 

I never showed the article to my son.  He doesn’t think it’s a big deal to be a deaf wrestler.  Anyway, he’s getting interested in other things.  Rugby season is just around the corner. 

Copyright 2010.  Do not reproduce without permission. 

© Barbara Raimondo 2015