The Spoken Language vs ASL Debate is Back

Jane Madell
June 14, 2016

As I have said before, it’s not the same old deafness. Kids born today have different choices then those born 40 or 50 years ago, even 20 years ago. However, there are still some people out there who do not want to offer a choice to parents. When Nyle diMarco, a deaf model/actor, won Dancing With The Stars, there was a lot of excitement, as there should be. It was exciting to see a young deaf man win. However, Nyle and many others are now using his celebrity to push sign language for all children with hearing loss.

As there always has been, there are people pushing for ASL for all children with hearing loss. Now there is a group (LEAD-K), which is pushing for sign language for all deaf kids and calling it language equality. There is a bill in the Rhode Island legislature which requires that deaf children be tested using ASL. That is a good idea for children whose parents have chosen ASL, but it is a terrible idea for children whose parents have chosen spoken language. It would be like testing me in Turkish; it is not my language. I would fail the test, and to have someone plan my future schooling based on a test in a language I do not speak is ridiculous. The LEAD-K group is targeting 23 states with bills like this one.


What is bilingualism?

For typical hearing children, bilingualism means speaking two different spoken languages. Sometimes this is because their parents or grandparents speak different languages, and sometimes because children learn a second language in school. A few years ago, bilingualism in the area of deafness meant that deaf kids learned both spoken language and ASL. Some called it Total Communication, others called it Bi-Bi – bilingual, bicultural. Actually, using both sign language and spoken language is bimodal, and not bilingual communication.

It became clear that Total Communication classrooms did not always work well. Most ended up being primarily signing classrooms even if the teacher spoke when she was signing, with a small amount of time spent on listening and speaking without sign. Many children educated in Total Communication classrooms did not develop good spoken language skills. Recent bilingual/bimodal education in deafness is defining bimodal as using ASL and reading English – not including spoken language.


Things have changed

There was a time, not that long ago, when listening/auditory information was not available for many deaf children. Technology did not provide enough auditory access to the child’s brain to make listening easy.


With the technology available today, almost every deaf child canhave brain access to auditory information – sufficient to use hearing to learn and acquire knowledge.  Is it easy? No. Technology needs to be implemented early (ideally within the first few months of life), families need to provide intensive and enriched language stimulation, and auditory-based therapy needs to be available to help families learn to provide good language and literacy stimulation. There is a lot of research which demonstrates that children who are fit with technology early and receive appropriate therapy have language equal to their hearing peers at kindergarten. (See the LOCHI studies.)


Why should children learn spoken language?

The obvious reason is that children who speak have different choices than children who do not. An article in the Wall Street Journal reported that adults who were not English speakers earned significantly less in their lives than those who spoke English. The article was specifically about foreign language speakers but the analogy is clear.

Less than 1% of the population understands ASL, limiting communication transactions. It is absolutely fine to limit one’s social life to people who communicate the way you do, but for those who want to work and shop in a spoken language environment, being able to speak can make a difference.


Learning spoken language – seven important points

  1. 95% of deaf children are born to hearing parents. Their natural language is spoken language. For a child to be part of her family group she needs to be able to communicate with her family.
  2. There is a time limit on when we can develop auditory neural pathways and avoid auditory deprivation. Work by Sharma, and others has demonstrated that there are critical periods for developing the auditory brain. Children who do not develop auditory cognitive pathways and learn to listen within the first few years of life, do not get the opportunity to do so later due to a reduction in neural plasticity.
  3. Work by Geers and others has demonstrated that children who use spoken language have better language and literacy skills than children who use ASL.
  4. More than 80% of children with hearing loss are successfully mainstreamed in public schools. They use spoken language. Children who use ASL certainly may attend a mainstream school with an interpreter, but they will have difficulty socializing with peers if they need to use an interpreter for social interactions.
  5. We learn language by exposure and practice. We ask parents to speak the language they know best. Parents who speak English should speak English to their child. Parents who speak Spanish should speak Spanish to their child. In this way, children will be exposed to a rich language environment. We learned this years ago when we told primarily Spanish speaking parents to speak English to their children so the children would know English when they got to school. However, the children came to school with limited English knowledge because their language exposure was limited. The work of Hart and Risley (1995) has clearly shown that children’s IQ and vocabulary at age 3 years is directly related to how many words they hear in a day. If a parent’s lack of communication skills limits what they can “say” to their child, the child will have limited language.
  6. Parents who do not know sign language well cannot provide a rich language environment for their child. There may be therapists or teachers who know sign well, but how many hours a day or a week will the child be exposed to rich language? For children to succeed, they need a rich language exposure all day, every day.
  7. Once a child knows one spoken language well, they can learn another language. Once a child has a good spoken language base, they can easily add ASL and float between the deaf and hearing worlds if they so choose. The only way a child can later have a real choice about talking and/or signing, is if the brain pathways for spoken language are developed within the first few years of life. Signing can be learned later in life; talking cannot.


Can a child learn spoken language and ASL at the same time?

Unfortunately not. If children could successfully learn an auditory and visual language (bimodal) at the same time, that would be an easy solution to the problem. There is enough evidence to convince me that it is not possible to successfully do both at the same time. The two languages have different grammars. Tense is expressed differently, and word order is different. Children can learn both, but not together. We know that.


Is there anything wrong with learning ASL?

Absolutely not. Many kids with hearing loss choose to learn sign language as they get older. Some at middle school, some at high school and some later. They are then bimodal and can easily be part of both the hearing and deaf worlds. That is fine and an individual choice. On the other hand, many other kids with hearing loss do not learn sign language, and do not feel the need to do so — also fine and also individual choice.


Time is so critical

I have known hundreds and hundreds of deaf kids in 50 years of being a pediatric audiologist. I want to tell you about two stories that made a significant impact on me.

The first incident concerned when a family with a 17 year old who came for a cochlear implant evaluation. The family had chosen sign language, and their daughter had been in ASL schools for the deaf all her life. She had not worn hearing aids since she was 2 years old, and she did not have any spoken language skills. She had just been diagnosed with a disorder that was making her blind quickly, and they wanted to know if she could have a cochlear implant. Specifically, the family wanted to know if the child would be able to hear on the phone with the CI. She could, of course, have a CI but, unfortunately, she would not likely be able to hear on the phone or even to have open set speech understanding. I know this because of my experience with older kids who were primarily signers getting CI’s as will as numbers published research articles. If children had not developed the auditory centers of the brain through early use of technology and listening practice, then they might have sound awareness with the CI, but not have speech understanding. It was very difficult to tell this family that their daughter likely would not hear well with a CI, because she was long past times of effective auditory neural plasticity.

The second was an experience I had at an EDHI conference. There was a discussion about why to teach kids to listen and speak. There was a lot of yelling from people with different viewpoints. A mom said, in a very angry voice, that she had a very bright son who was graduating from college with a degree in engineering; she knew he was going to have difficulty finding a job because he could not speak and would require an interpreter. I certainly understood her frustration, and in a perfect world this should not be a problem, but with two equal candidates for the job, it is. She was, in fact, making a case, for teaching children spoken language.

The speaking/ASL argument is likely going to go on for many, many years. Likely, past the time when I am no longer in the field. We can all argue as much as we like, but we need to remember what and who is at risk here. We are talking about the lives of children with hearing loss. We are talking about their futures. Many adults who only sign, and who do not speak, work successfully in the deaf community. Many fewer work outside of the deaf community. Those who speak have many more choices for work and community engagement. I am not suggesting that children never sign; only that they learn to listen and talk first when their brain has the neuro-physiological capacity to develop spoken language.


birdsong hearing benefits
  1. Signing is a perfect way to get a language base for any child.

    fact: it has been proven to occur well before spoken language
    Fact: technology fails
    Fact: implanting children has killed dozens
    Fact: recall of these devices is harmful, painful and causes loss of developmental time
    Fact: many children have paralysis and other disfiguring, tragic complications from implants
    Fact: people who sign can have deep conversation under water, in crowded noisy places, across the room, an acre away, where there is sight, there can be communication.
    Fact: many of us in our senior years will be deaf, not candidates for this invasive surgery.
    Fact: bimodal bilingualism can add IQ points estimated between 5-10 in research.
    Fact: Auditory training is not easy, requires time and patience all on a small child; let children be children, ease of language is so logical- the adult can add a language. When the child is ready, they can choose to add a language or not.
    Fact: i have never regretted learning to sign
    Fact: hundreds of my friends are angry that they were not allowed to enjoy childhood, they were trained to speak and hear, felt like the family pet, were told more times than they can recount, “I’ll tell you later…”
    Fact: thousands of stories are out there saying the same thing- wish I’d found Deafhood earlier, i wouldn’t have felt like a taking monkey in my younger years.

    Fact: anyone with a point can prove it

    I speak, i can speak to people & have them understand me, but as i advance in age the one thing in this journey I’m beyond thankful for- the fact that sign was not vilified, it was used, encouraged, incorporated and naturally acquired. I’m the lucky, privileged, balanced bilingual.
    I’m not without a voice in my community because i sign. I’m not afraid of being isolated in some senior facility.

    Sure some people want to speak and listen, but it isn’t a small child who comes into this world asking to have life made more difficult, life risking surgery, natural acute senses forgone all for the purposes of making their parents lives easier.
    Cater to the child, don’t make the child cater to your ease. You want them to speak, they show interest and ability- yes!

    Vilification of signed languages is petty, it is wrong

    Push your own agenda all you like, keep your fingers out of our world. Stop manipulating young parents.
    Talking positively about your route is not the problem, distortion of that which you don’t know and understand, is the issue.

    1. Did you bother to even read the article or just start writing your comment from the title? You have not addressed a single point she talked about.

    2. Signing words, rather than language is learned before spoken language, which is why parents sometimes use Baby Signs for their hearing children and deaf children…these are not truly ASL, since they are words. They are beneficial for both hearing and deaf babies if parents decide to go that route.

      Of course, all technology fail. Including hearing aids, iPhones, video relay service, and more. Let’s choose not to use iPhones, hearing aids, or watch TV or drive a car, because they are prone to failure, right?

      Implanting children has killed dozens, is an exaggeration. The only record we have are few kids that died from meningitis after being implanted. It is not the CI that killed these children, it was meningitis. Children with cochlear implants are more likely to get pneumococcal meningitis than children without cochlear implants. Currently, vaccine is recommended and the incidents of children getting meningitis is not a concern anymore.

      Paralysis and other disfuguring, tragic complication is an exaggeration on your part, Storme. As with all new procedure, there is always trial and error. The chance of someone getting facial paralysis is less than 1% now. Surgeons now know where to avoid the ‘fifth’ nerve and it is now much easier to do with image technology.

      Now with new aqua technology, people can hear underwater with their implants! Typically people do not communicate underwater as a necessity.

      You need to cite your sources on “bimodal bilingualism adding IQ points between 5-10”. Please add that source. Thank you.

      Audio-Verbal Therapy is a component of LSL, Listening and Spoken Language, like many surgery, rehabilitation is necessary to achieve optimal results. Yes, the parents and the child or the individual will have to put the work into it and often the results are rewarding for life. If a child waits to get CI, you may as well not get it in the first place, it will not be worth the surgery itself.

      Signing is awesome, and there are many parents who do include signing as a back up communication tool. ASL is not used by majority of deaf cultured people, the source is from Dr. Byron Bridges, Phd in linguistics. Majority of deaf people in America do not use ASL, rather they sign in English order or mouth English words while signing. That is not ASL.

      I grew up in deaf culture, was born HOH to deaf cultured parents and I have dual L1, Spoken English and ASL. Listening to how other people spoke and intensive reading contributed to my literacy. I rarely, if ever, met an angry deaf person, much less, angry elderly deaf who had oral beginnings. I first met angry deaf people online ten years ago. I believe they represent a very small but outspoken population of deaf culture. Majority of angry former oral deaf people have issues with their relationship with their families, the lack of communication and lack of parental dedicaton and involvement in their lives. There are a good number of former oral deaf who are happy and well adjusted individuals.

      Deafhood Thesis was written by a former oral deaf in the UK (England) and is based on his experience and the experience of many other UK deaf people. Deaf experiences in UK does not mirror deaf experince in USA. It is hard to be a deaf person using BSL iin UK than it is for a deaf person using ASL or sign language in USA. Deafhood book is a THESIS. It is not a comprehensive research/study of deaf people worldwide.

      Deafhood’s ideology does not relfect the deaf culture I grew up in and embraced all these years. Deafhood ideology is extreme.

      I am a fluent ASL user, I use PSE more than ASL and many deaf people do too, if not PSE then it’s signed English or ASL with English on the mouth and/or hands. There are two scholars who will back me up with this. I also speak very well, and often people do not realize I have hearing loss. I have also trained myself to understand spoken language around me, and as a result, I can turn the radio on and understand majority of what is being said. I recently got a cochlear implant after losing all of the hearing in one ear. It is the most amazing device, no way comparable to hearing aids. The best decision I have ever made. For me, I am fortunate to have a wonderful, loving, open minded deaf cultured parent who listened to the professionals and encouraged me and my siblings to take advantage of our residual hearing by wearing hearing aids and they wanted us to be part of the family, so we were mainstreamed and did not attend a residential school for the deaf until high school. Back in the day, mainstream did not have interpreter, it was typically oral deaf/hh program. Some did well in regular classes all day and others may spend some times in a deaf/hh self-contained classroom. Thankfully today, interpreters are required.

      Now we have so many choices that are available, there are pros and cons to each language/communication choices. Success often is the result of dedicated and involved parents. Parents now days are more apt to know about the history of deaf education. Those who are well informed are aware of this, and if they chose LSL, they are very much aware that LSL is in no way comparable to the old days of oralism.

      Due to extreme decline of deaf students enrolling in deaf schools, these extreme deaf advocates are scrambling and becoming dangerous to the viability of deaf culture.

      Just simply ‘Accept and respect all languages and all forms of communication’ per the new ICED resolution.

      Because there is no clear guarantee with any choices due to the differences in every child and every family, parental choice nees to be honored and respected.

  2. This makes me so sad. It’s so full of lies and misinformation, starting with the first paragraph. It’s not spoken English versus ASL. That’s very old. It’s oral-only versus both-and. It’s very different now. And it’s really unfortunate that you’re pushing this logical fallacy that never should have happened in the first place. Jane, for you to say that we cannot learn spoken language and ASL at the same time is the present-day version of saying “deaf can’t.” Given the length of your time in the field, I am so sorry to read that you are saying “deaf can’t.” Deaf can – we absolutely can. “The human brain does not discriminate between the hands and the tongue. People discriminate, but not our biological human brain.” – Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto. The research you look at puts the ears in a box. We can’t do that. We need to look at Dr. Petitto’s brain research. The synergistic effects of using both are something that I and many others have benefited from. It makes me shudder to think that anybody is telling people to not also use the eyes for language access for newly identified deaf babies. I am sorry, it is language deprivation to tell people to not also use the eyes for access to language. Hearing aids at 6-8 weeks do not give a deaf baby access to language. And cochlear implants don’t come until later. Please don’t put people in a position of needing to play catch-up by telling them to wait for hearing technology. We can’t wait – we need access to language right from the get-go. We have the right to language right from the get-go. Please honor that right by recognizing that the eyes are as valid a vehicle for language as the ears are, and are always available. Please. Thank you.

    1. Excellent comment Nina. I am an SLP who serves bi or multi-lingual children. It is recommended that children acquire languages simultaneously from as early as possible. Waiting until one language is proficient before beginning to learn another is a very old school thought that has been shown to leave them with gaps in knowledge and often thicker accents depending on the age of acquisition. I cannot imagine that our brain couldn’t sort out the various grammars between spoken English and ASL, as the writer states, if we have children appropriately (and in many cases effortlessly might I add) acquiring Mandarin and English simultaneously; two languages with very different semantics, syntax structures, morphology, phonology AND pragmatic systems.

      I respect the writer’s right to hold her opinion, but I feel that this article is a bit misleading. If you are thinking of discontinuing ASL or avoiding it based on this article, do a little more research for yourself to determine what evidence there is or is not behind the author’s claims then armed with actual sourced and up to date information, make the decision that is best for you or your child.

  3. There are so many inaccurate statements in this Mandell statement that it was impossible to count all the clangers. First, many are outdated and based on assumptions common to uninitiated hearing people with little understanding of the realities of growing up with differences in hearing. Second, there is little information that was obtained directly from the very people she talks about, including thousands of practicing Deaf professionals. Third, there is no evidence of appreciation of the strengths and affirming qualities of a community with cultural characteristics equal to any other proud ethnic group. Fourth, talking about a people one is not a member of amounts to paternalistic attitudes, or what would be termed bigotry in other blunter circles.

  4. Well said Ms Madell. It doesn’t surprise me that you get attacked by the Deaf, especially those here who want to hold children back from communicating with the rest of the world

  5. Thank you, Jane Madell. Your research, education and extensive experience with the latest technology for the deaf make you a credible source of information for parents of deaf children. My own teenage daughter with hearing loss validates all that you said. ASL is not necessary, and people should not be condemned for not choosing to use it with their child. You can communicate with your profoundly deaf child using listening and spoken language alone along with today’s technology and your child can achieve age-appropriate speech and language. ASL is an option, of course, but no one should be made to feel like they are wrong for choosing not to use it, especially when there are so many successful children mainstreaming in our schools who listen and talk and were never exposed to ASL.

    1. I agree!! 🙂 I had never exposed to ASL while growing up as a child.. My family and relatives are all hearing….My mom chose Cued Speech over ASL… I was more happier at hearing School with Cued Speech Program than School For The Deaf. ..I get it why…I do not feel quilty for not using ASL…. I have no grudge against my mother for not choosing ASL for me.. I am proud being non-Deaf Cultured person… Now I have CI! It helps me to hear more than my previous hearing aids… I am happy… 🙂

  6. This argument is age old going back to 135 years. The people who are angry with you are former students of speaking and listening aka oralism. LEADK is about language acquisition accountability, not ASL and/or English. Your usage of “or” is divisive. LEADK is about making so not child gets left behind with education due to lack of access to language acquisition, no matter which language their parents choose. This is called language acquisition accountability to ensure all Deaf children are kindergarten really, not about ASL vs English. Stating ASL and English is in the same sentence not bilingualism. It is to put both languages on equal footing to give ASL the same respect its English because many Deaf children do thrive from ASL but are told to wait until they are adults just like you did. That’s withholding a natural language. Those adult oral children are saying enough. Please hearing professionals, stop speaking for us and let this be led by Deaf people from all walks of lives. Nothing about us without us. Thank you.

    1. The old days of oralism and LSL are not the same. LSL would have been impossible to use back then due to the lack of technology that brings up hearing level where it is needed for LSL, for many people.

  7. I am a profoundly deaf woman from Greece. I lost my hearing at age 4 and I am 43 years old now. I speak orally all my life. I am a doctor (pathology) in my country. I am also president of an organization who support oral deaf people. I never learn sign language because I don’t need this. I can communicate by lip reading. I agree with every word of this article. I want to translate this in Greek language and discuss about it with other Greek deaf people. Thank you!

    1. Do you know Dr Chrisostomus Papaspyros? He was also brought up orally, successfully in the judgement of oralists, obtained a doctorate in chemistry in your country. But he discovered the meaning of being Deaf and the horrendous history of oppression against the whole Deaf humanity from oralism. He then obtained another doctorate in linguistics in Germany. He will disagree with you vociferously. You fail to consider the wide effects of oralism against humanity, the oppression of Deaf people.

      Yourself like Papaspyros and myself belong to the high 10% of the deaf population who will succeed acquiring a spoken language, no matter how. You cannot use your example to prove oralism. Because 90% of other deaf people SUFFER from this one-sidedness, from the routes as THIS – OR (socalled “options”), or TRY THIS, IF IT FAILS THEN THE OTHER.

      Even it astonishes me that you with your education judge Mandell’s article highly. Don’t you see the many flaws in her thinking and logic and using misleading vocabulary for propagandistic effect?

      You are in the minority in Greece. Many there will disagree with you. You need to consider the 90% not the top ten percent to prove your point.

  8. “With the technology available today, almost every deaf child canhave brain access to auditory information – sufficient to use hearing to learn and acquire knowledge.” ~ THAT is very seemingly deceptive. I can speak very very well that many people assume i am hearing with foreign accent. yes i enjoy full interpersonal communication. a table conversation is very confined to one on one conversation in auditory world for a Deaf person. much less the school and lecture halls. lipreading is not a good substitute of ASL interpreter.
    I was born that way to hearing parents. half of my siblings are hearing. i make this note because it is your world as you know it. the way you wrote is as if you are a proverbial blind person explaining to public as if you know what the colors are.
    Nyle broke the barrier with his good fortune of intelligence and skills that supersedes most of us including you. he had full access to communication since the day he was born. he could communicate with his deaf parents and deaf siblings. it was a perfect environment for any Deaf to be born into. he did not have any communication issue with his deaf teachers thus his academic knowledge grew in full capacity. already he became a math professor before embarking to a next level of challenge.
    Now back to my journey as a Deaf. my DNA did not include the 5th sense thus my brain was being developed with 4 senses and communicating to all of my organs as i grew from embryo to full developed healthy newborn. there was nothing wrong with me, just that i have 4 senses. i never lost that hearing sense to begin with so i do not know what hearing is like. i got my language, talking to my Deaf sister as a baby. my sister would interpret for me to my parents. my mom admitted finally after all those years that my Deaf brother and Deaf sisters were conversing beautifully in different language. of course my parents wanted the best for us and sent us to Clarke School. we got the BEST education available to Deaf in the world at that time. we did learn how to talk and listen. i can talk well but cant listen with my ears at all. even my audiologist strongly advised me not to take cochlear implants (CI) because it would not amount to anything. so at that testing time, i asked audiologist if hearing person would maintain hearing sense when receiving CI even the hearing is normal. the answer is no. the current technology may enhance the hearing sense but cannot replace the natural hearing sense. therefore the hearing access is limited and varying according to individuals. any hearing person can sense the superficiality of CI just like the breast implants.
    Mind you that there is no faking at all in Nyle’s case. Paddy Ladd, another successful professor in UK. he discovered his own Deaf identity and wrote dissertation on his journey as Deaf person “Understanding the Deaf Culture”
    here and there, we all have to take the humble pie and swallow it. rather, be inquisitive and grow. 🙂

    1. Well spoken!
      For me, I did not lose my hearing, although deafened at two. I never searched for it. I have acquired being Deaf.
      The oralists trained me to say, I lost my hearing, which I did until I realized the nonsense behind it. I will say that I don’t hear, am unable to hear, or have hearing inability. When I say, I am deaf, I assert my whole being, my identity, my humanness.

  9. I inhabit both worlds, hearing and deaf, I use sign language, lip reading and the spoken word depending on my situation and who I am communicating with at the time. The impact of deafness doesn’t just manifest itself in communication is ever really that well understood. It’s about the energy involved in lipreading and being attentive all day long. Processing and constructing meaning out of half-heard words and sentences. Making guesses and figuring out context. And then thinking of something intelligent to say in response to an invariably random question. It’s like doing jigsaws, Sudoku and Scrabble all at the same time.

    However, EVEN THE MOST skilled lipreaders in English, I have read, can discern an average of 30 percent of what is being said. I believe this figure to be true. There are people with whom I catch almost every word—people I know well, or who take care to speak at a reasonable rate, or whose faces are just easier on the eyes (for lack of a better phrase). But there are also people whom I cannot understand at all. On average, 30 percent is a reasonable number.

    Because I can “read” their lips, I must, therefore, be able to “read” everything they say.

    SOMETIMES I FEEL GUILTY that I lipread at all. I fear that I am betraying myself by accepting the conventions of the hearing world. I fear that I lack balance—that I am abandoning the communication tactics that work for me, in order to throw myself headlong at a system that does not care about my needs. When I attempt to function like a hearing person, am I not sacrificing my integrity to a game that I lack the tools to tackle, a game that in the end makes me look slow or stupid?

    This video is an excellent example of lip reading issues!

  10. “Children cannot learn both languages at the same time…We know that.”
    How do you know that? Are there studies to that affect? Have you looked at language development in CODAs? You should see the work NYC schools have done with bilingual classrooms for hearing children who speak ASL at home.

    Ultimately parents will be making difficult choices for the life of their child. At what age is a child labeled an oral failure? By that time, key years of visual language development (cognitive development) have passed. You say that the language spoken at the home is their native language. But if they don’t have regular access to that language is it truly a native language. Access to English (spoken/auditory information) is greatly limited. The opposite argument is that deaf children are visual by nature and so ASL is their native language. Access to this language is hindered by professional community who feels threatened by it and discourages parents from exposing their children to it.
    There seems to be a concerted effort to fix a child with hearing loss. I’m sure you can at least understand why people would be concerned with young children going under the knife for a non life threatening condition.
    Even with assistive technologies these children are impaired in a hearing world. The Deaf community aims to provide pride and support their identity through ASL and community. Many members of the ASL community have used the technologies of their childhood only to find ASL later in life. The common statement is I wish my parents had learned ASL. You are making this cycle continue.

  11. In the State of California, Lead-K succeeded in getting a bill passed that requires all children identified with hearing loss to be evaluated for their language acquisition every six months. They can be evaluated in English (spoken language), ASL (signed language), or both. Every six months. By independent evaluators.
    This is what was passed. Its not about forcing parents to use ASL. Its about forcing States (each state in this country) to look at the language acquisition of all children identified with hearing loss. Simple. Other States with Lead K are following this example.

    1. Every lead-K bill that was proposed, and I’m not talking about CA, did not start out with respecting the choices parents will have made. They do not list modalities becuase lead-K does not see them as critical since they are not languages. Yet, languages are achieved using these modalities. Even cuers are not happy with it.

      Every bill, except CA, did not start out including spoken language, it had to be added on to it.

      Nyle DiMarco is the celebrity spokesperson and he keeps calling these bills, ‘Bilingual bills”. The misconception going around are from people like Nyle and those representing Lead-K. You see, Lead-K’s website only talks about ASL and English, but their definition of English is not the same as the bill’s definition of English. Lead-K does not support all modalities, they only support ASL. Which is not a problem as an advocacy organization, in my opinion, but for them to attempt to create a ‘bilingual or ASL bill’, hoping no one notices it, speaks volumes.

      Parents in RI are upset because the bill in RI was almost passed without ‘Spoken English’ in the bill. And, Cuers are not happy with “visual supplement’.

      So, Gina Oliva, the parents are more upset about the original proposed bills that caught them by surprise. Now, they know, and they’re going to have to watch their state.

      Hope this clarifies things for you, Gina Oliva.

      1. The spoken modality is included in “English” anyway, to specify it is wholly redundant. The term “spoken language” is a linguistic term to designate all auditory languages. It does not mandate that you MUST learn how to speak it. Many hearing people master a spoken language in the written form and speaking the language horribly. The LEAD-K proponents never exclude speech and use of amplification. When they speak of “English”, it always means both spoken and written. But the LSL always EXCLUDE sign language and other visual implements like Cued Speech, gestures, even the exaggerated mouth movements to ease lipreading. That is the neuralgic problem of making an intelligent decision for the deaf child. NOONE can make a correct choice when the child is young. The ASL-English bilingual is the ONLY correct decision for all deaf children. Speech can be added, because only a minority of deaf children can learn to use it well. You would not want to make a mistake of making a wrong decision at the beginning, and thereby rob the child of its crucial period of language acquisition when suppressing sign language..

        It is criminal to go by “Try this first. If it fails, then try else”. More humane is to observe “Use both since the beginning, and also try speech if indicated”.

  12. Children should speak and listen first and not be taught sign language especially if their parents are hearing. Sign language has approximately 7000 signs.The dictionary has over 350,000 words. Hearing aids have improved immensely over the years and when the hearing aids do not help there is the cochlear implant. Back in 1940 I remained in the public school system with my hearing loss and was given (lip) speech reading, speech lessons and hearing aids. I doubt I would have been successful as microbiologist laboratory supervisor if sign language had been my first language.

    1. I concur with you… That’s why my family are hearing so my mom did not choose Sign language for me while growing up as a child…I get it why… I did not know that Sign language has approximately 700 signs… That’s why I did not learn much through School For The Deaf .. No wonder why… Because I read and learn vocabulary without using Sign language it helps me to expand to learn more reading skills and vocabulary. I pick up more vocabulary compared to 4-5 years ago. ..You’re right! Thankful for my mom to take me to hearing school with Cued Speech Program before I enrolled School For The Deaf. .. I loved my hearing School with Cued Speech Program. It helped me a lot!! I was extremely delighted person… 🙂 Hearing aids did not help me at all so I got Cochlear Implant later in life as an adult. Finally, I can hear much better than my previous hearing aids.. I love Cochlear Implant!!! 🙂

    2. You are wildly inaccurate on that number of 7,000. There are innumerable words available in ASL, and like any living language new words and new ways to use words are always being added.

    3. There is another deaf microbiologist by the name Cordano in Wisconsin who is bilingual in ASL and English all her life in her deaf family. I also know of another microbiologist from Yugoslavia, who uses sign language and went to a school for the deaf there and had sign language as his first language.

      Hearing parents need to learn ASL as soon as they learned that their child does not hear and utilize the resources of deaf people around them. I am angry that my parents and siblings did not learn sign language, when I grew up and missed a lot of the family.

      ASL is an agglutining language. It uses a lot of inflections inside the signs to make up the low number of the basic vocabulary. There are a good number of ASL expressions that are very difficult to translate. So English does lack some vocabulary that are used in ASL. You don’t know 350,000 words really.

      I am deaf, but not my ears.

  13. phone conversations. check
    playing guitar. check
    playing water polo. check
    surfing. check
    talking to mom while in the back seat of the car. check
    public school. check
    wirelessly listening to music in class. check
    Cochlear implants and hearing aides work. Very well.
    I have two profoundly deaf children (son 16, daughter 12), both diagnosed at birth. They received HA’s and were then implanted at age six with one CI, keeping the HA on the other ear. They are now top students in the public school system. They each have minimal accommodations through their respective IEP’s…time and a half and notetakers in a couple of classes (and yes we have an exceptional audiologist and DHH itinerent teacher). Otherwise their lives are exceptionally “normal”. They have full social lives, participate in extracurricular activities – (our daughter is a top water polo player and wears her implant when she practices and plays) – and face the same challenges their “normal hearing” peers do…
    (As they age, they won’t lose their hearing – unlike my father, 79, who is profoundly deaf from years of sport hunting. Despite top hearing aides, he finds himself isolated and frustrated because of his deafness. (He has opted out of getting a CI)).
    The fact is CI’s and HA’s’s no longer about whether they work.
    They do.
    There is evidence everywhere to support it.
    To SIGN or to HEAR is now a families personal choice to be supported by both communities (especially for the children growing up in these communities). If it was my decision, I would choose CI’s and HA’s for deaf children over signing for any hearing family and choose bilingual learning (sign and hear) for children born into signing families, but it is not my decision. It is however my social responsibility to accept those families for the personal decisions they make.
    I have no regrets, nor do my kids.
    Lastly, when asked which my daughter would rather have: T1 diabetes or being deaf. That’s a no brainer – she’d rather be deaf every single time. The challenges she faces because of her deafness don’t compare to having diabetes. Not even close.

  14. Here we are responding to Jane Madell’s letter “The Spoken Language vs ASL Debate is Back.” First, we clarify terminology. Secondly, we address Ms. Madell’s claims that are not substantiated by research. Thirdly, we invite Ms. Madell to join us in keeping parents, families, and professionals in the medical, audiological and teaching fields abreast on current evidence-based practices for the benefit of all Deaf and Hard of Hearing children.

    Clarification of Terminology

    Ms. Madell’s definitions of terminology are not correct so we want to address these issues. Therefore, the early use of two or dual languages–ASL and English–has existed since the beginnings of Deaf Education with the establishment of the first school for the deaf in 1816 (Moores, 2010). However, it took until 1960 for William C. Stokoe to analyze and describe American Sign Language (ASL) as a natural language, thus establishing its linguistic and academic credibility (Stokoe, 1960). Children who use both ASL and English (either spoken, signed, or written) are considered to be bilingual, contrary to Ms. Madell’s statement that using a spoken and a sign language does not make a deaf child bilingual. Ms. Madell and her blog readers may be interested in learning that ASL joins the other estimated 171 living sign language compared to 7,097 spoken languages used worldwide (Lewis, Simons, & Fenning, 2016). So, Deaf children who are bilingual in the U.S. are not alone but join thousands of Deaf persons around the world who are sign bilinguals. Indeed, some become multilingual and multicultural and learn more than one sign language and written script systems (Wang, Andrews, Liu, & Liu, 2016).

    With this linguistic credibility in hand, Bi-Bi (bilingual bicultural) was a term used in the 1990’s because educators were dissatisfied with watered-down teaching practices resulting in low academic achievement, particularly in the area of reading for deaf students (Johnson, Liddell, & Erting, 1989). Total Communication (TC) was a term coined by Roy Holcomb, a Deaf man, who was a school administrator of a large day program for Deaf children. TC was a philosophy (not a method) and was initiated in the early 1970’s. It consisted of auditory training, speech, speech reading, fingerspelling, ASL, English-based signing, gestures, art, written communication, and even pantomime (Holcomb, 2013). The implementation of TC was often confused with Simultaneous Communication (SimCom), which was a communication system to speak and sign at the same time; thereby, not providing a complete grammar for either signed or spoken languages. Given bilingual language learning theory (Baker, 2011) this codemixing was not well suited to provide statistical regularities that are necessary to establish the neurological structures that facilitate the most effective linguistic processing (Kuhl & Rivero-Gaxilo, 2008).

    The Bi-Bi movement of the 1990’s was further developed by Dr. Stephen Nover and his colleagues and was newly termed–the ASL/English bilingual approach. This language learning and language teaching approach was implemented with more than 400 teachers and administrators who were trained using this approach at the inservice and preservice levels (Nover & Andrews, 1998; Simms & Thumann, 2007). Dr. Nover’s original ASL/English Language Use and Teaching model did include speech under the term, oracy (Nover, Christensen, & Cheng, 1998). Some Deaf children are bilinguals using ASL and English reading and writing only (sign/print bilinguals), while other Deaf bilinguals are able to learn spoken language.

    Today, with the advent of cochlear implants more Deaf children have access to spoken language, as Ms. Madell correctly noted. To address this issue in the clinic and classroom, an approach called bimodal bilingualism (Nussbaum, Scott, & Simms, 2012; Gárate, 2011) has been developed and implemented at the Cochlear Implant Education Center at the Laurent Clerc Center at Gallaudet University. Bimodal means that both auditory and visual sensory systems are used to obtain language. Therefore, English is presented in its spoken format as well as its written format later in education while ASL is presented visually. Bimodal bilingualism differs from TC and SimCom in that it provides complete language models in both languages and requires careful language planning (Nussbaum et al., 2012). SimCom and oftentimes TC do not provide a complete language model; rather they mix and blend the grammatical structures of both languages. However, current research is examining these codemixes and codeblendings as language resources rather than language detriments (Plaza-Pust, 2014; Swanwick, 2015).

    Many of these bimodal bilingual children are exposed to sign language prior to the effective activation of their cochlear implants and later do better with spoken language acquisition than their peers who were not exposed to sign language (Davidson, Lillo-Martin, & Chen-Pichler, 2014; Hassanzadeh, 2012; Rinaldi & Caselli, 2014). These findings are counter to Ms. Madell’s unsubstantiated claim that children can leverage spoken language brain structures to later learn ASL. In fact, research suggests that the opposite is the case. Summaries of research studies also show that when Deaf children fail to learn spoken language and are deprived of early sign language, their cognitive, social, language, and later literacy development and achievement are severely curtained, and even stunted with long term repercussions such as psychological trauma, isolation, behavioral problems, and illiteracy (Leigh & Andrews, 2017). To prevent these problems, we need evidence based practices to guide families in helping their Deaf child grow psychologically, socially, and linguistically.

    Evidence Based Practices

    The brain’s linguistic neurological structures are established during the perceptual window when babbling occurs in both the manual and vocal modalities (Petitto & Marentette, 1991) between 6 months to 10 to 11 months of age (Kuhl & Rivero-Gaxiolo, 2008). In contrast to Ms. Madell’s notion that Deaf and Hard of Hearing children should attempt spoken language first to take advantage of the neuro-plasticity, this plasticity is not language specific (Wolsey, Pudan-Smith & C’n’C Research Lab, 2016). Rather the brain needs these statistical regularities in a fully accessible language that only a visual language such as sign provides. Recent work on both the structure (Pénicaud et al., 2013) and the function of the brain (Mayberry, Chen, Witcher, & Klein, 2011) shows that those Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals who had early exposure to sign languages, develop the brain in exactly the same way as do those exposed to spoken language. In contrast, those who were unable to master spoken language and then later learned sign language showed different patterns of brain structures and functions.

    Therefore, we must be sure to use evidence based practices in the early intervention with Deaf and Hard of Hearing children that tap into current, cutting edge neuroscience. Several effective websites that provide important information include; The Science of Learning Center on Visual Language and Visual Learning ( ), as well as Rachel Mayberry’s website (, Carol Padden’s website (Carol Padden – Communication – University of California, San Diego), Tom Humphries website (, and Karen Emmorey’s website (SDSU Laboratory for Language and Cognitive Neuroscience (LLCN). We must avoid responding with our hearts and guts, and respond with our heads, based on peer-reviewed evidence.

    Cochlear implants and digital hearing aids act as prosthesis, to provide Deaf and Hard of Hearing children more access to speech. But just like those who have glasses, when we take them off we still cannot see. Therefore, it is vital to provide fully accessible linguistic input between 6 months to 10 to 11 months of age to allow the brain to identify the statistical regularities within the linguistic stream. Ms. Madell correctly points out that hearing parents who begin to learn sign when their infant is identified as Deaf or Hard of Hearing will not be perfect linguistic models. But Singleton and Newport (2004) found that children in this situation tend to be more grammatical than the parental models. In addition, Allen, Letteri, Choi, & Dang, (2014) found that young children between the ages of 3 and 5 whose parents signed demonstrated more effective pre-literacy skills than their peers whose parents did not sign; these deaf children with signing hearing parents did not do as well as their peers, whose parents were highly skilled signers but there was a clear advantage from this family support for the signing occurring within their Individual Family Service Plans (IFSP). Therefore, there is striking evidence that sign input is more effective in helping to establish kindergarten readiness (Andrews, Hamilton, Dunn, & Clark., 2016). In contrast, 5 year-old children who had early cochlear implants, early intervention in listening and spoken language, parents who had the resources (both financial as well as high levels of education) were still behind their hearing peers in language development with many implanted deaf children having less than 100 spoken words by age five (Cupples, Ching, Crowe, Day, & Seeto, 2014)!
    (For a resources on Cochlear Implants and Deaf Children see the Cochlear Implant Education Center at the Laurent Clerc Center at Gallaudet University.

    Other comments

    Less than 1% of the population understands ASL. In contrast to Ms. Madell’s comment, ASL is one of the most popular foreign languages in both high schools and colleges. At Lamar University, we have difficulty providing enough sections of ASL to meet the needs of our students. ASL is popular throughout the country and Padden (2011) noted that there are more hearing learners of ASL who learn it as a second language than the numbers of Deaf people who use ASL as their primary language. Indeed, research by Rosen (2015) has shown that the numbers of high schools with ASL programs have increased 4,000% from 1996 to 2005. Further, 45 states recognize ASL as a foreign language that can be taken for credit at high schools, community colleges, and universities (Leigh, Andrews, & Harris, 2018). Parents and families can access ASL classes locally at universities and community colleges, as well as learn it online.

    Additionally, today not only hearing technologies have improved. Video relay services allow our department to have a Deaf Senior Administrative Assistant who is well qualified and able to interact with her hearing peers who do not know ASL. Smart phones function well as intermediaries for deaf-hearing interactions. Current cutting edge research is working on automatic speech recognition to allow these deaf-hearing interactions. Technology, as mentioned by Ms. Madell, is a wonderful thing.

    Mainstreamed children. Deaf and Hard of Hearing children in mainstream schools often have limited social interactions (Wolsey, Clark, van der Mark, & Suggs, 2016) and report bullying. Some who choose, as adults, to learn sign language and become bilingual report that they did not understand what they were missing (Wolsey et al., 2016). Mainstreaming can have benefits if the environment has both deaf and hearing peers who can communicate (Antia & Kreimeyer, 2015). However, we must be realistic and see that widening their circle of friends is beneficial but in group situations, communication tends to break down. Social emotional development is a vital part of a healthy adult and not to be overlooked in this debate.

    LEAD-K Goals

    LEAD-K in Ms. Madell’s post is not accurately portrayed. LEAD-K’s goal is to be sure that Deaf and Hard of Hearing children are ready for kindergarten. The goal is to monitor their language milestones to be sure that they are “on-track” with their hearing peers, regardless if they are exposed to ASL, English, or ASL and English. Therefore, signing children would be assessed in ASL, children using spoken language would be assessed in English, and those being exposed to both languages would be assessed in both ASL and English. In this way, their IFSP and Individual Education Plans (IEP) could be modified to remediate any delays. To deny this monitoring to any Deaf or Hard of Hearing child is unethical. It is critical is to monitor this closely because up until this time, no one has been made accountable for tracking language development of Deaf and Hard of Hearing children.

    The goal of LEAD-K is to provide resources for parents in both the ASL and English languages used by Deaf children and it is up to the parent to decide which language milestones they want to work on with the early interventionist. In this way, they can develop language goals for the IFSP and IEP accordingly. We must be sure to provide early intervention to avoid psychological trauma, and resulting cognitive, social and language delays. We simply cannot wait until the child arrives at kindergarten without well-developed language and the readiness to achieve in school. LEAD-K is an evidence based effort to end communication isolation, language deprivation, and provide resources for language development toward K-ready English literacy.

    In Conclusion

    We believe that Ms. Madell, as well as those within A. G. Bell, have the best interests of all Deaf and Hard of Hearing children at heart, as do all of us. We hope that we can focus on evidence based approaches and take all of the evidence together. When we have conflicting evidence, we invite Ms. Madell and her colleagues to come together and join us in conducting the research to resolve our conflicts. When questions arise in regards to legislative actions, we need to be open, transparent, and ask questions of each other, without attacking each other. If we place Deaf and Hard of Hearing infants and children at the heart of the debate, we can do nothing else but collaborate for their benefit.

    References are contained in next blog response


    Faculty and Staff
    Deaf Studies and Deaf Education

    Doctoral Students
    Deaf Studies and Deaf Education
    Lamar University

  15. Here re the References from the Response to Jane Madell’s paper.

    Allen, T. E., Letteri, A., Choi, S. H., & Dang, D. (2014). Early visual language exposure and emergent literacy in preschool deaf children: Findings from a national longitudinal study. American Annals of the Deaf, 159(4), 346–358.

    Andrews, J. F., Hamilton, B., Dunn, K. M., & Clark, M. D. (2016). Early reading for young deaf and hard of hearing children: Alternative frameworks. Psychology, 7(04), 510.

    Antia, S. D., & Kreimeyer, K. H. (2015). Social competence of deaf and hard-of-hearing children. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

    Baker, C. (2011). Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism (Vol. 79). Multilingual matters.

    Cupples, L., Ching, T. Y., Crowe, K., Day, J., & Seeto, M. (2014). Predictors of early reading skill in 5‐year‐old children with hearing loss who use spoken language. Reading Research Quarterly, 49(1), 85-104.

    Davidson, K., Lillo-Martin, D., & Chen, P. D. (January 01, 2014). Spoken English language development among native signing children with cochlear implants. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 19, 2, 238-250.

    Gárate, M. (2011). Educating children with cochlear implants in an ASL/English bilingual classroom. In R. Paludnevicience & I.W. Leigh (Eds.), Cochlear implants: Evolving perspectives (pp. 206-228). Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press.

    Hassanzadeh, S. (2012). Outcomes of cochlear implantation in deaf children of deaf parents: comparative study. The Journal of Laryngology & Otology, 126(10), 989-994.

    Holcomb, T. (2013). Introduction to American Deaf culture. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

    Humphries, T., Kushalnagar, P., Mathur, G., Napoli, D. J., Padden, C., & Rathmann, C. (January 01, 2014). Ensuring language acquisition for deaf children: What linguists can do. Language, 90, 2.

Humphries, T., Kushalnagar, P., Mathur, G. Napoli, D., Padden, C., & Smith, S.. (2014). Bilingualism: A pearl to overcome certain perils of the cochlear implants. Journal of Medical Speech-Language Pathology, 21(2), 107-125.

Humphries, T., Kushalnagar, P., Mathur, G., Napoli, D., Padden, C., Pollard, R.,…Smith, S. (2014). What medical education can do to ensure robust language development in deaf children. Medical Science Educator, 24(4), 409-419.

    Johnson, R.E., Liddell, S. K., & Erting, C.J. (1989). Unlocking the curriculum: Principles for achieving access in deaf education. GRI Working Papers Series, No. 89-3, Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University, Gallaudet Research Institute.

    Kuhl, P., & Rivera-Gaxiola, M. (2008). Neural substrates of language acquisition. Annu. Rev. Neurosci., 31, 511-534.

    Leigh, I., Andrews, J. F., & Harris, R. L. (2018). Deaf culture: Exploring deaf communities in the United States. San Diego, CA: Plural Publishing.

    Leigh, I., & Andrews, J. F. (2017). Deaf people in society: Evolving perspectives in psychology, sociology, and education. New York, NY: Routledge.

    Lewis, M. P., Simons, G. F., & Fenning, C. D. (Eds.). (2016). Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Nineteenth edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Online version:

    Mayberry, R. I., Chen, J. K., Witcher, P., & Klein, D. (2011). Age of acquisition effects on the functional organization of language in the adult brain. Brain and language, 119(1), 16-29.

    Moores, D. F. (2010). The history of language and communication issues in deaf education. The Oxford handbook of deaf studies, language, and education, 2, 17-30.

    Nover, S. M., & Andrews, J. (1998). Critical pedagogy in deaf education: Bilingual methodology and staff development. Year 1. Retrieved from

    Nover, S. M., Christensen, K., & Cheng, L. (1998). Development of ASL and English competence for learners who are deaf. Topics in Language Disorders, 18(4), 61-72.

    Nussbaum, D. B., Scott, S., & Simms, L. E. (2012). The” why” and” how” of an ASL/English bimodal bilingual program. Odyssey: New Directions in Deaf Education, 13, 14-19.

    Padden, C. (2011). Sign language geography. In G. Mathur & D. Napoli (Eds.), Deaf around the world: The impact of language (pp. 19-37). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

    Petitto, L. A., & Marentette, P. F. (1991). Babbling in the manual mode: Evidence for the ontogeny of language. Science, 251(5000), 1493-1496.

    Pénicaud, S., Klein, D., Zatorre, R. J., Chen, J. K., Witcher, P., Hyde, K., & Mayberry, R. I. (2013). Structural brain changes linked to delayed first language acquisition in congenitally deaf individuals. Neuroimage, 66, 42-49.

    Plaza-Pust, C. (2014). Language development and language interaction in sign bilingual language acquisition. Bilingualism and Bilingual Deaf Education, 23-53.

    Rinaldi, P., & Caselli, M. C. (2014). Language development in a bimodal bilingual child with cochlear implant: A longitudinal study. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 17(04), 798-809.

    Rosen, R. (2015). Learning American sign language in high school: Motivation, strategies, and achievement. Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press.

    Simms, L, & Thumann, H. (2007). In search of a new, linguistically and culturally sensitive
    paradigm in deaf education. American Annals of the Deaf, 152, 302-331.

    Singleton, J. L., & Newport, E. L. (2004). When learners surpass their models: The acquisition of American Sign Language from inconsistent input. Cognitive Psychology, 49(4), 370-407.

    Stokoe, W. C. (1960). Sign language structure: An outline of the visual communication systems of the American deaf. Studies in Linguistics. Occasional Papers (No. 8), Buffalo, NY: University of Buffalo.

    Swanwick, R. (2015). Scaffolding learning through classroom talk: The role of translanguaging. In M. Marschark & P. Spencer (Eds.). The Oxford handbook of deaf studies in language. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

    Wang, Q., Andrews, J., Liu, H. T., & Liu, C. J. (2016). Case studies of multilingual/multicultural Asian Deaf adults: Strategies for success. American Annals of the Deaf, 161(1), 67-88.

    Wolsey, J. A., Clark, M. D., van der Mark, L., & Suggs, C. (2016). Life scripts and life stories of oral deaf individuals. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 1-27.

    Wolsey, J. A., Pudans-Smith, K., and the Lamar University Cognition in Context (CnC) Team. (2016). Language production and perception: What every parent of a deaf child should know about language. ADVANCE for Speech and Hearing. Retrieved from

  16. The above response and citations are not my work solely but the result of collaborative work of faculty and doctoral students at Language University.

  17. I am becoming baffled why it is so hard to understand that all LEAD-K wants is to give families information on an ongoing basis to monitor their child’s language acquisition –to ensure they are on track. Parents will then be able to make informed decisions for language and literacy goals in IFSPs and IEPs. The hope is that more children will enter Kindergarten ready to learn anything and everything!

    The suggestions put forward by LEAD-K add strength to those educational plans, to ensure a child’s language development. The idea that being able to articulate words (speak) automatically ensures the ability to perceive and comprehend language is old thinking. Sure, some children who use technology are able to become skilled in language and literacy without ASL. Some, however, are not able to acquire language through listening and spoken language training only. Of course I am an advocate for ASL, so to me it’s a no-brainer that LEAD-K initiatives will add safeguards to help ensure DHH children progress on a developmental path commensurate with their peers. Beginning from birth, it will help children develop the necessary language skills to be successful in school and in life. Simple as that. Many families, understandably, do not know language benchmarks and resources for DHH children, whether their family’s primary language will be ASL and/or English.
    Naturally, there will be learning curves as we pave the way the next 3- 5 years. The other LEAD-K bills will be worded so there is no doubt that the measures are meant to help with language acquisition, of course not excluding English, but also including ASL as an important language used by Deaf children and the ASL community.

    One other note I need to make that the statement made here really kills me: “More than 80% of children with hearing loss are successfully mainstreamed in public schools.” We know that is not accurate. Yes, 80% of students who go through the system identified as deaf are placed in mainstream classrooms. But I wouldn’t call it a success. See how deceiving it is for many. I feel so bad when ASL vs. English debates become so polarized. I feel we can all agree English will always be a part of school children’s education. It’s also important to know that banning ASL is unnecessary. Accountability for language acquisition is the REAL deal behind LEAD-K!

  18. The bottom line for all deaf and hard of hearing children is that we must give them support from birth through all their schooling. To simply put them side by side with hearing children in a mainstream setting is not enough. We must ensure they are progressing in communication, language, cognitive, and academic skills. And we mustn’t forget their social abilities and self concept development too. Mainstreaming can be for “appearances sake” for the parents to think their chid is “normal.” But in reality, it can be lonely and cruel world if deaf children are not provided with other deaf children to communicate with as well as academic support services. I encourage parents and professionals to read “Inner Lives of Deaf Children: Interviews and Analysis by Martha Sheridan and Gina Oliva’s “Alone in the Mainstream.”

  19. There are a few things in this article that are simply not true.

    First: “using both sign language and spoken language is bimodal, and not bilingual” – not true. English and ASL are two distinct languages (with different grammar and syntax), as she herself points out later. If you were learning, say, English and SEE, you could say that is bimodal. Because SEE is not a distinct language. ASL (and LSQ, and BSL, etc.) is.

    Second: “There is enough evidence to convince me that it is not possible to successfully do both at the same time. The two languages have different grammars. Tense is expressed differently, and word order is different. Children can learn both, but not together. We know that.” No, we don’t. And she presents no evidence, cites no sources to back up this claim. Hearing children in bicultural families learn multiple languages at the same time without problems. I grew up in the bilingual Outaouais region of bilingual Canada, and many people I know grew up bilingual. Many also drifted towards one lanugage or the other, and as adults, no longer consider themselves fluent in both, although they can “get by.” My son is exactly the same. His father and I are both hearing, so we made sure that he had time with native ASL speakers and took ASL courses ourselves. He went to a bilingual ASL/English preschool, where the teachers were a mix of Deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing, as were the students. Everyone knew and used ASL. He also has hearing aids, and did Language Thru Play with an SLP from the same age. He learned both languages together without problem, and now prefers English and spoken language, and his English language skills are excellent. (I will readily admit his French is mediocre!)

    Time *is* critical. Kids need access to *language* from infancy – and if they can’t access spoken language (as many can’t, especially if they are CI candidates and have to wait for surgery), then they need access to signed language as well.

    As far as fretting about not getting enough exposure to spoken lanugage – are you for real? Are you a hermit on a mountain, all alone? The world is overwhelmingly full of spoken language for anyone who can access it – on the radio, on the television, conversations on the street, any restaurant or store you go to. I have never yet heard of a hearing family that gave up speaking to one another to provide a silent environment for their child. What a silly and obviously phony argument for Maddell to make up!

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