Category Archives: Deafness in the family

5 Great Reasons to Establish a Bilingual Household

reasons-bilingual-household-deaf-hoh-01Did you know: statistics show that in the United States, 9 out of every 10 kids who are deaf are born to hearing parents. Many of these parents have very little prior knowledge about deafness, and probably even less exposure to sign language and Deaf Culture.

These parents might fear that they won’t be able to communicate with their child, or that their child will be limited without the ability to hear. Like all parents, the hearing parents of deaf children want to do the right thing and give their kid the best opportunities available… But what does this really mean?

Raising deaf children with access to sign language has been shown to yield benefits in many areas of life, even for children working to acquire spoken language skills or those who have Cochlear Implants. Although it may require more effort from everyone in the family, creating a bilingual household where spoken and signed language coexist presents an ideal solution for overcoming communication barriers.

1. Helps Development of Personality

reasons-bilingual-household-deaf-hoh-develop-personalityFrom the time we are infants, we use language to create our narrative of the world and to establish our place within it. Studies have shown that not only do deaf/ HoH babies benefit from early exposure to signed language— signing allows ALL babies to express their needs and desires long before they are able to verbalize them, since humans develop tactile and motor skills at a much earlier age.

While children develop their sense of self, it is important that they are able to label both internal and external stimuli. Visual language allows children who are deaf to identify thoughts and feelings using their natural senses, which can be less frustrating for these children during their early developmental years.

According to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, article 30 section 4, people who are deaf are entitled, as a basic human right, to have access to their linguistic identity. Research has shown that even children who are learning oral communication methods benefit from family support for ASL, since it encourages a strong sense of identity and can aid in effective personal expression.

2. Build Stronger Family Relationships

reasons-bilingual-household-deaf-hoh-02When parents and siblings also know ASL, a child who is deaf has the added benefit of being able to communicate comfortably with the people around them. Learning a new language might seem intimidating at first, but luckily ASL is one of the most fun and interesting languages to acquire because it is so expressive.

Spending time together learning sign language as a family can be a positively enriching bonding activity for adults and children, both deaf and hearing alike. For relatives of a child who is deaf, learning ASL can help build a bridge of communication and trust. Knowing sign language enables siblings a variety of options for communication, thereby deepening these important relationships.

Research has shown that knowing multiple languages increases overall brain activity (it can even help delay the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia). Language helps open up new perspectives and expands ones’ point of view. When hearing parents take the opportunity to foster a bilingual family, every member benefits!

3. Educational Benefits

reasons-bilingual-household-deaf-hoh-educational-benefitsResearchers from the 1960s through to the 1990s (most notably Mark T. Greenberg and Carol A. Kusché ) observed and documented that deaf children from deaf parents academically outperformed their deaf peers with hearing parents. Benefitting from early exposure to a language which they could feel comfortable using, the deaf children from deaf households demonstrated higher levels of literacy and reading comprehension.

According to NAD, “recent evidence from multiple studies shows that profoundly deaf children possess high levels of language organization if they had early exposure to a visual language… Specifically, they found two factors correlated with reading achievement: ASL fluency and exposure to print… While spoken language phonological coding may not predict reading ability very well in deaf children, signed language phonological coding is a stronger factor in development of reading ability. These findings suggest that an emphasis on visual language development activities as a path to successful reading acquisition may serve as a better model of literacy development for deaf children.”

4. Social Benefits

When a child is able to develop their social skills from an early age without restriction, they can experiment with the boundaries of nuanced human interactions. Deaf children who use ASL with their families are less likely to report feeling isolated, and are therefore more likely to be outgoing in other social situations. This snowball effect of self-confidence can lead to later success in personal and professional networking.

5. Forming a Cultural Identity

reasons-bilingual-household-deaf-hoh-04Aside from boosting personal awareness and self esteem, having the ability to connect with the larger Deaf community gives children who are deaf the option to communicate with other people who share the common experience of deafness. Offering deaf/HoH children the advantage of bilingualism provides them with the ability to access deaf society if they so choose.

According to research by Tingting Gao, “a common language fosters understanding and respect among deaf people and the existence of this culture provides a strong identity that deaf people can adopt in the face of a communication barrier between themselves and the rest of society.” Often, deaf people who grow up learning oral communication discover ASL at some point in their life. Many of these individuals report this discovery as an important experience!

“By learning Sign Language and interacting with the Deaf community, a deaf person can reverse all of his previous misconceptions regarding deaf people’s subaltern state relative to hearing people,” continues Gao. “More importantly, it chases away whatever doubts or uncertainties the deaf individual has had about himself, including the view that deafness is abnormal.”

Resources

There are many excellent ways to begin learning ASL! Please check out THIS BLOG for some great free and low cost options to get you started.

Other resources include

The ASL App
Signing Savvy

But, off course, the most effective way to learn ASL is to really immerse yourself. By working with a Deaf individual or a native ASL user, you can delve into the rich tapestry of Deaf Culture, gaining a deeper understanding of what it means to be deaf in America.

LCIS is pleased to offer personal ASL training for individuals or groups. Learn sign language on your own time, at your own pace, from the comfort of your own home or a public location in NYC. Learn to sign while exploring Deaf culture and current issues in the community. Get an in depth perspective on deafness and deaf communication from our qualified instructors.

Bridging the Communication Gap in Your Own Family

deaf-hoh-communication-family-holidays-01This holiday season, try to imagine what it would be like if no one sitting around the dinner table took any interest in getting to know you. What if no one in your family asked about your life, or seemed to care how you were doing? Picture how the holidays would be different if you were excluded from the stories, the jokes, and the games that your family shares.

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The feeling of isolation at family events is sadly common for deaf people. Deaf individuals who come from hearing families often grow accustomed to spending holidays quietly in the background. They get used to watching captioned TV, texting with friends, or simply daydreaming in a corner during holiday gatherings. If hearing family members choose not to learn sign language, deaf children grow up without ever really getting to know their own relatives or learning their family history. When there is no communication, it is difficult to form relationships. After years go by, it becomes harder and harder to bridge the gap.

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As a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults), I spent many family events doing the best I could to provide my Deaf mother and siblings with access to conversations. CODAs often fall into the role of interpreter for deaf family members, and we usually don’t mind doing it. But one person can not realistically provide full access to communication when there are multiple deaf and hearing parties. Additionally, a person who is involved in the social dynamics of the family can not facilitate communication in an impartial way. For example a CODA might alter one family member’s actual message to avoid hurting another relative’s feelings.

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For my deaf family members, holiday events were always pretty boring. Any conversations they did have with hearing family members were limited and generally basic. So last year, for my mother’s birthday, I hired an team of ASL interpreters to provide services for her surprise party. My hearing family absolutely loved getting to know our deaf family in a whole new way. My deaf siblings and nieces were thrilled to have real conversations with all these people they had only known on a superficial level; the ability to communicate allowed their relationships to grow and strengthen.

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But for my mother, a whole lifetime of feeling excluded could not be erased in one day. While she appreciated the way the interpreters connected the family, it was hard to make up for all the family gatherings spent as an outsider. At the end of the party, everyone kept asking “why haven’t we hired interpreters before?” It hadn’t occurred to them what a big difference the ability to truly communicate would make.

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As a hearing person, maybe you’ve never considered what it is like to be deaf in a hearing world. You might take it for granted that you can walk around a party and casually chat with people, whether they are friends or total strangers. You can easily discuss current events, gossip, or TV shows. The ability to communicate aurally/ verbally is a cultural privilege shared by many. It can be easy for people to forget how much of our social bonding relies on communication.

deaf-hoh-communication-family-holidays-07When you provide professional interpreters, you actively welcome your deaf relatives into a hearing space.You invite them into your family– all the laughs and debates and reminiscing that bond us with our kin. Providing communication access for deaf relatives sends a clear message that their participation is valued. It was such a joy to watch my deaf siblings and little nieces get to know my hearing aunts, breaking through generations of communication barriers, making real connections. It’s hard to believe they all went so long without sharing these moments!

At your next family gathering– whether it’s a holiday dinner or a wedding– consider providing a professional sign language interpreter so that your deaf and hearing family members can get the most out of the time they spend together.

LCIS is pleased to offer event interpreting services in NYC and the surrounding areas. If you are seeking a high quality interpreter for your next family gathering, or other event, please contact me to request interpreting services. I strive to make the process of hiring an interpreter as simple and seamless as possible!

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!