Category Archives: Deaf Children

Discovering Deafness through Children’s Literature

books-literature-deaf-children-01Literature is one of the most powerful ways we come to understand society and our place in it. Through books, children learn about relationships, conflicts, empathy, morality, and how to classify their own emotions. Stepping into the lives of fictional characters, kids can experience a wide array of influential events in a very meaningful way— travel, adventure danger, love, loss, death— expanding their perspective, while remaining in a safe environment.

books-literature-deaf-children-02When choosing books for young children, then, it is important to consider the reality that is presented. Does your child’s library reflect the multiculturalism of the world we live in?

Books that feature deaf/ hard of hearing characters or protagonists should be added to every child’s collection! Whether you are the parent of a deaf child or the parent of a hearing child, introducing developing young minds to deafness can help cultivate an appreciation for human diversity.

10 Reasons to Make Sure There Are Deaf Characters In Your Child’s Library:

  1. books-literature-deaf-children-04Help children understand that deafness is a medical condition that has different levels, and that different people who are deaf can navigate the world in a wide variety of ways.
  2. Help children understand Deaf Culture and what it means to have Deaf identity.
  3. Help children understand that Sign Language is a visual language and why it is important.
  4. Familiarize children with the characteristics of people who are deaf/ HoH. For example, they may have hearing aids, cochlear implants, or an “accent.”
  5. Learn how to effectively overcome simple communication barriers in everyday situations.
  6. Learn how to welcome deaf children as friends.
  7. See the value of having diverse friend groups and the benefits of diversity in all situations.
  8. Important for deaf children to see themselves represented.
  9. See deaf/HoH individuals as role models.
  10. View deaf/HoH individuals as interesting and complex people worth getting to know.

RESOURCES

I asked parents on Twitter and Facebook for recommendations for books that feature deaf characters, protagonists, or themes of deafness and/or Deaf Culture. Below you will find a collection of book recommendations and resources. The list incorporates a variety of books for children of all different levels, with both fiction and non-fiction titles.

BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • books-literature-deaf-children-06A Birthday for Ben – by Kate Gaynor
  • A Place for Grace – by Jean Davies Okimoto
  • A Screaming Kind of Day – by Rachna Gilmore
  • Dad And Me in the Morning – by Patricia Lakin
  • Deaf Culture: A to Z – by Walter Paul Kelley
  • Dina The Deaf Dinosaur – by Carole Addabbo
  • Five Flavors of Dumb – by Anthony John
  • Hurt Go Happy: A Novel – by G. Robby
  • Jakes the Name : Sixth Grades the Game – by Deb Piper
  • Mandy – by Barbara D. Booth
  • Movers & Shakers: Deaf People Who Changed the World Storybook – by Cathryn Carroll & Susan M. Mather
  • One TV Blasting and A Pig Outdoors – by Deborah Abbott
  • River of hands : deaf heritage stories – by Symara Nichola Bonner
  • Robin sees a song – by Jim & Cheryl Pahz
  • Shay & Ivy: Beyond the Kingdom – by Sheena McFeely
  • Signs for Me – by Ben Bahan
  • books-literature-deaf-children-05Smart princess and other deaf tales – by Keelin Carey, Kristina Guevremont, and Nicole Marsh
  • Strong Deaf – by Lynn McElfresh
  • The Deaf Musicians – by Pete Seeger, Paul DuBois Jacobs
  • The Grump: The Original Short Story – by Mark Ludy
  • The Heart’s Language – by Lois-Ann Yamanaka
  • Deaf Child Crossing; Nobody’s Perfect; Leading Ladies – all by Marlee Matlin

LINKS TO OTHER RESOURCES AND INFORMATION:

* http://pajka.blogspot.ca/
* https://www.verywell.com/top-childrens-books-on-deafness-1048509
* http://libguides.gallaudet.edu/content.php?pid=57898&sid=423917
* http://www.ala.org/ascla/asclaourassoc/asclasections/lssps/lspdhhf/charauthors
* https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/may/23/what-its-like-to-be-a-deaf-novelist
* http://www.harriscomm.com/books-multimedia/deaf-author.html
* https://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2015/may/19/julia-donaldson-deafness-what-the-jackdaw-saw-gruffalo
* https://del.icio.us/hlpuears/books

Do you have recommendations for children’s books that feature deaf characters, protagonists, or deafness as a theme? Please share your favorites in the comments! 

Deafness is Not One Size Fits All

nick_news_with_linda_ellerbeeThe pediatrician just informed you that your child is profoundly deaf.

What is deafness like?

How does deafness impact a person’s life? What will you do now? Your answers to these questions will depend on personal experience. If you have connections to Deaf culture, you may feel very differently than someone who has never had interacted with a deaf person. Though we live in the Information Age, mainstream society still understands very little about what it means to be deaf.

This week, Nick News with Linda Ellerbee premiered an episode titled “Now Hear This!” (watch the full episode HERE ) The show does a great job exploring the spectrum of deafness, and demystifying the deaf experience by telling the stories of 5 deaf young people. The children’s’ experiences are vastly diverse, and touch on a number of issues from deaf education methods to family dynamics. The overall message is that, like any of us, deaf children have individual needs. Despite what some may claim, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for being deaf!

Scochlear-implant-graphicome families choose to assimilate their child to a hearing lifestyle by implanting a device called a cochlear implant into the skull, which stimulates the auditory nerve and allow the brain to “hear.” Sammy is a CI recipient from a hearing family who jokingly refers to herself as “part robot.” She was not born deaf, but her hearing deteriorated throughout childhood and, at 12 years old, she made the choice to have CI surgery. According to Sammy, her parents presented the pros and cons, and she strongly feels a CI was the right choice for her. She attends school with all other hearing students and plays on a basketball team, insisting she doesn’t need to know ASL because she can hear. Cici also comes from a hearing family, she lost her hearing as a baby. Her parents elected to send her to a school for deaf children that focuses on teaching English and oral communication, so she never learned any ASL. At 5 years old she received her CI. “It was hard to learn to speak,” she says, but she feels very grateful that she did because it allows her to communicate with her family and non-deaf friends. Cici is a ballet and tap dancer who feels that deafness is a disability that her CI and hearing aid help her overcome.

Restored Hearing - Cochlear ImplantAlthough the first instinct of a hearing parent might be to “fix” their “disabled” child through technology, they should first explore the many perspectives about deafness. Yes, cochlear implants and hearing aids work great for some people, but every person is different and everyone learns differently. In the show, CiCi says she loves her CI, but acknowledges how difficult it was to learn spoken English. Imagine having dyslexia– or any common learning disability– and being forced to learn a challenging foreign language. Though Cochlear Implants or oral English education do work for many, it’s unfair to assume that all deaf children have the same capabilities.

asl-interpreter-services-nycOther families choose American Sign Language for their deaf child. Isabella was born deaf and grew up in an all-ASL family, with two deaf parents and one hearing sister. She discusses education at her Deaf school, playing soccer on a hearing team, and having fierce Deaf pride! Isabella does not view deafness as a disability in any way, and she loves the language of her family. Arbab is a young man from a hearing family, who became deaf as an infant. In Pakistan, he would not have had educational opportunities, so his family immigrated to the US to ensure a better life. Arbab’s family does not use ASL and he does feel isolated from them, but he absolutely loves attending asl-interpreter-services-nyDeaf school where he signs freely with his peers. He uses technology, such as texting or video chat, to contact his friends when he is feeling lonely. Kaylee is the only deaf person in her entire town but, when she was in preschool, school administrators decided to add ASL to the curriculum for her whole class. The hearing kids all learned sign language, and use it throughout the school day to make sure Kaylee feels included. “My hearing friends sign to me, they are very fluent,” she says, “when my hearing friends don’t sign to me, then I feel alone.” She and her hearing friends love ASL and have made it their goal to spread Deaf awareness by volunteering to teach ASL to children.

private-ASL-lessons-nyAs a parent, it is your responsibility to become educated about your child; to engage and develop a relationship with them. Learn about deafness, and Deaf culture. Discover all the options available before making any major life decisions. Deaf children, like hearing children, have limitations, and areas where they excel. Instead of dictating how young deaf people should live their lives, parents can work together with their child to find the most comfortable way of adapting. This solution may not always be what the parent initially expected, and that’s ok! Holding on to strict expectations for any child– deaf or hearing– is unfair. Every person and their circumstances are unique!

“Now Hear This!” explores a spectrum of deafness, language use, and the various strategies deaf people use to communicate. We get a glimpse of how deaf people fit into different families, and how much parental choices can impact the course of a child’s life. Most importantly, the program presents 5 well-adjusted young people doing the best they can to learn new things, make new friends, and be understood “in a hearing world that doesn’t listen.”

Building Communication With A Deaf Child

sign-language-lessons-deaf-children-nyc-1Picture this: you are a little kid growing up, constantly discovering incredible new things about the world. Now imagine being surrounded every day by people who do not talk to you, tell you stories, or answer your millions of questions. These people are your own parents and siblings. You all live in the same home, yet they hardly communicate with you. They are not able to teach you, guide you, or to provide comforting words when you need them. In fact, they mostly avoid you. This is the experience of many deaf children.

sign-language-lessons-deaf-children-nyc-2For a hearing parent, learning that your baby is deaf might be a bit of a shock. Confusion is a common response, given our society’s unfortunate lack of understanding about deaf culture. Excited new parents are delivered the news by medical professionals in a sobering way. Hearing a doctor imply that your child is disabled is almost guaranteed to stir up some panic!

sign-language-lessons-deaf-children-nyc-3Communication With A Deaf Child

So, instead of accepting the perfect gift they have been given and embracing the opportunity to explore deaf communication, hearing parents might immediately label their beautiful deaf newborn as defective. They might hunt for a way to “fix” their baby, or try teaching their child to communicate using sound like “normal” people. Or maybe they simply abandon hope that they’ll ever be able to relate to their deaf child at all. This truly breaks my heart.

sign-language-lessons-deaf-children-nyc-4 Let me tell you a personal anecdote. Last year, I hired interpreters for a large family gathering because my mother and siblings are all deaf, while my mother’s family is hearing. Being a CODA, I have served as the “interpreter” for many many family events. Finally, I decided to enlist the help of some professionals so I could just relax and enjoy the party.

sign-language-lessons-deaf-children-nyc-5Throughout the evening, it was moving to witness the interactions between my deaf family and my hearing family using the interpreters. Never before had they been able to experience each other in such a way! With two neutral, professional interpreters relaying even the littlest bits of small talk, we were all able to participate in conversations equally. I saw my hearing aunts really getting to know my deaf nieces for the first time. Almost every member of my family raved about how amazing it was to have interpreters. Every family member, except one.

Growing up the only deaf person in your household can be extremely isolating. If your family chooses not to learn sign language, it is hard to express yourself comfortably. For my mother, the opportunity to communicate with her parents and siblings just felt like it came too late. After a lifetime of feeling excluded from your own family, believing they never really got to know you, how do you make up for lost time? What is there to talk about?

When my mother was growing up, there weren’t many resources for raising deaf children and interpreting was only a developing field. Of course she appreciated the fact that I hired interpreters for our family event but… after decades of not communicating, forming a connection is not so simple. All children want to feel like they belong in their own family and a lifetime of feeling marginalized can’t just be erased. Certainly not in one evening.

sign-language-lessons-deaf-children-nyc-6Deafness doesn’t have to be isolating. Since I was raised in a deaf family, I can tell you: deafness is nothing to be afraid of! The ability to hear sound is not what makes a person whole. It is not what gives a person their personality. The ability to hear sound is not what determines a person’s intelligence, and it doesn’t have to limit one’s life. Perhaps not enough hearing people take note of the deaf community members living happy lives around them. There are plenty of successful business owners, artists, and athletes who use sign language to communicate.

There are few things more bonding than learning a language together. Discovering sign language with your deaf infant promises both of you a richer life and a closer relationship. By accepting your child’s abilities and taking the time to access their world from a young age, you also give them access to yours. You will be able to share stories and jokes, and get to know each other. It is more intuitive for deaf babies to learn a physical language, than one which relies on sound. When deaf individuals are not struggling to live a hearing lifestyle in their own home, they can focus on growing in other areas.

Sign language is the most natural form of communication for deaf people around the globe. Research has shown that in any society where there is a concentration of deafness, signed languages have developed. Humans have a strong desire to express ourselves– relationships form and strengthen through communication. For deaf children, having parents and siblings to use sign language with can truly mean the world. Because, when you are a kid, your family IS your whole world.


I have 10 years experience working with toddlers and I am professionally certified in all levels of ASL, including baby signs. I am thrilled to offer ASL baby sign language lessons for parents! Babies, whether deaf or hearing, are able to express themselves as early as 6 months using signs. Being able to communicate from a young age boosts confidence and builds self-esteem in children. Sign language also aids in cognitive development and have been shown to improve a child’s ability to acquire other languages.

Sign Language lessons make the perfect gift for new mothers or mothers-to-be! In celebration of Mother’s Day, I am running a special on one-to-one ASL training: 2 one-hour lessons for $99. My private lessons provide not only sign language training, but insight into cultural norms and deaf history, as well. Lessons are customized to fit your skill level and learning style, and can be scheduled at your own convenience! We can meet in person, in the NYC area, or remotely via video chat. 

 I AM RUNNING A TWITTER CONTEST THIS WEEK! ONE LUCKY PERSON WINS A FREE ASL LESSON. Keep it for yourself or give it as a gift! CLICK HERE  FOR MORE DETAILS. The winners will be announced on Friday May 9. ENTER TO WIN!

#DidYouKnow: Deafness Around the World

asl-nyc-deaf-faq-1On my Twitter feed, I often share #DidYouKnow facts. As a CODA, and proud advocate, I really enjoy educating curious hearing people about what it means to be deaf in America. For International Week of the Deaf, I thought it would be fun to learn, and share with you all, some things you may not have known about deafness around the world.

Did You Know?

1) The World Federation of the Deaf has 133 national association members, and represents more than 70 million deaf people worldwide.

2) There are more than 200 sign languages in use across the globe

3) French Sign Language (LFS) was the first signed language to gain recognition as an official language, in 1830.

4) LFS created the foundation for Dutch Sign Language, German Sign Language, Flemish Sign Language, Belgian-French Sign Language, Irish Sign Language, American Sign Language, Quebec Sign Language, and Russian Sign Language.

5) An International Sign Language was developed by the World Federation of the Deaf in 1951. International Sign is limited in vocabulary and considered informal, used primarily at events such as UN Assemblies, and the Deaflympics.

asl-nyc-deaf-faq-26) India is believed to be the country with the largest number of Deaf individuals and sign language users. Nearly one in five deaf people in the world live in India.

7) The two oldest schools for the deaf were established in Italy ~ the first in Rome in 1784, the second in Napoli in 1786.

8) Nicaraguan Sign Language was spontaneously developed by deaf Nicaraguan school children during the 1970s and 80s. Prior to this, there was no deaf community in the country.

9) Ecuadorian Sign Language is a heavy mix of ASL and Spanish Sign Language

asl-nyc-deaf-faq-china-310) In China, the first higher education institution for deaf students offers only four majors: painting, calligraphy, graphic design, and animation.

11) Deaf adults in China are not permitted to drive.

12) Northern Ireland uses a variation of British Sign Language, while Ireland uses Irish Sign Language.

asl-nyc-deaf-faq-japan-313) According to Japanese legend, dragons are deaf because their ears fell into the ocean, where they became seahorses. The seahorse is the chosen logo of the Japanese Federation of the Deaf.

14) Dominican Sign Language did not exist until the mid-twentieth century, and is approximately 90% adapted from ASL

15) Deaf Iranians are encouraged to pursue the oral method of communication, and deafness is viewed as a disability. Persian Sign Language is not recognized as it’s own language– it is considered “inferior” because it does not follow Persian grammar.

16) Worldwide, it’s estimated that one in every thousand babies is born with some form of hearing loss.

17) In Greece, the Deaf population suffers a disproportionate rate of unemployment. As the economy struggles, social service programs the deaf/HoH rely on have been cut, leaving citizens without accessible resources.

asl-nyc-deaf-faq-africa-318) South Africa’s popular Deaf television network, Deaf TV, has been airing news, soap operas, and other original programming in South African Sign Language since 1996.

19) Deaf Australians refer to Australian Sign Language as Auslan. Auslan is not a written language, so Deaf signers generally struggle to read and write in English.

20) Deaf identity is strongly tied to the use of sign language, and attempts to limit it’s use are viewed as cultural oppression.

Raising A Deaf Child

Baby Sign Language NYC

After months of worrying about nursery colors and baby names, the big day has finally arrived! Your healthy bundle of joy is born with 10 fingers and 10 toes; crying and cooing in your arms. The baby is beautiful, your family is complete, everything feels perfect! Fast forward a few months down the road when, during a routine checkup, your pediatrician informs you that your infant can not hear. Suddenly, you’ve become the parent of a deaf child. What now?

Baby Sign Language

Discovering that a child is deaf can stir up a wide range of emotions in new parents. Most commonly, they feel shock, sorrow, and helplessness. Unfortunately, because many doctors deliver this news as a medical “diagnosis,” parents automatically believe that their child is ill. Or, worse, disabled! It causes a chain reaction of guilt, sadness, and fear. How will you raise your deaf child? You wonder if he or she will be able to have a good life. You wonder if you can “fix” them.

This topic is close to my heart because my grandparentsdeaf-children-asl learned that my mother was deaf when she was less than a year old. At that time, they didn’t know any deaf people, and had no idea what it would mean to raise a deaf child in a hearing world. My grandparents worried that their daughter would not be able to have a happy childhood, or a normal adolescence. Would she have friends? Would she be able to drive a car? Would she be able to laugh and have fun? There are so many misconceptions. Of course, as time went on, they discovered that deaf kids definitely can do all these things, and excel at them!

Selecting a method of communication for your child majorly influences where he or she will fit into society, and is critical to psychological development. There are several communication options to consider, depending on the child’s degree of hearing loss. Some parents choose to teach their deaf child to speak English using hearing aids and intensive speech training. In this approach, the child does not identify as deaf, and does not learn deaf communication.

ASL Cochlear Implant

Another option is the controversial, and increasingly popular cochlear implant– a fairly invasive surgical procedure where an electronic device is implanted into the baby’s head to simulate the sound-processing of a functioning ear. Modern science has come a long way with these prosthetics and, although the child will never experience hearing the same way as a non-deaf person would, they can technically hear. With many years of language therapy, cochlear implant patients can be nearly indistinguishable from their hearing peers. But communicating in the hearing world will never be simple for them, because science simply has not been able to replicate the subtle and specific nuances of our natural senses. These children are prone to rely on lip-reading and facial cues, and many require a number of educational resources to keep up with their peers in school. Parents are likely to consider this surgical procedure to “remedy” their child’s deafness because they want to make sure their child speaks and understands the same language they do. This is understandable, but is it what is really best for your deaf child?

As any deaf person will proudly tell you, deafness is an identity, not an impairment. They do not consider deafness a problem that needs to be “fixed.” Deaf culture is active, full of positive role models; and ASL is a rich, constantly evolving language. Another option for teaching your deaf child to communicate is to enroll him or her into a residential school. Deaf residential schools are staffed by deaf teachers fluent in ASL, who work with deaf toddlers all the way through high school to educate them in a way that is focused on their individual learning styles. Allowing your child to be deaf, to learn sign language, and to integrate with other deaf people is a great way to promote an atmosphere of equality, independence, and nurturing. The drawback of residential schools, of course, is that deaf children are separated from their parents. Fortunately, many have reported that the atmosphere of deaf culture fosters great mentor relationships at these institutions.

Being that I come from three generations of deafness, there is a high possibility that I may have deaf or HoH children, and I have to be prepared to teach my children both ASL and American English. If you wish to speak the same language as your deaf child, why not learn the language that was created just for them? Total communication strategy focuses on integrating both ASL and speech therapy, to provide opportunity, without altering the child’s identity. Embracing deaf culture as a family seems to me like a great compromise for helping your kids adjust to the world using all the tools available! Spoken communication is important in our audio world, but it is also extremely important for deaf children to be able to sign with their peers so they can communicate freely, and feel connected. If they decide not to speak out loud or sign later in life, that would be their choice. My guess would be they will cherish both hearing and deaf culture, and embrace both for the rest of their lives. Bilingualism is such a fantastic way to see the world through different eyes, and provides a real advantage to your deaf child! Now that I have provided you with the current options the choice is ultimately left in your hands. What will you decide to do?