May 24, 2009

Do You Know the Sign for...?

We have never used sign language with Hadley. We've had our share of (mostly unpleasant) encounters with people who disagree with this decision, and we've had countless conversations with family, friends and strangers, letting them know that a hearing loss is not an immediate ticket to an ASL class. We think Hadley is the perfect proof that children with hearing loss can be fully oral, fully mainstreamed, and fully functional in today's world-- especially with early identification, amplification and intervention.

I've always prepared myself for those conversations and explanations. I worked with Hadley to make sure she could explain what her hearing aids are and what they do. I explained to her why we chose auditory-verbal therapy and the other options that were available. What I never anticipated was that Hadley, herself, would have to answer why she doesn't use sign language.

When people see hearing aids, they automatically think sign language-- even little kids! (Thank you Sesame Street and other children's programming, I guess). This year, as a first grader, Hadley has had numerous classmates ask her to teach them signs. Hadley loves to share information and loves to be correct, so she's been upset to give the answer, "I don't know". At first, she would come home a little angry that kids were asking her questions to which she did not have an answer. We came up with some responses, like "I don't know sign language either". Kids just followed that up with, "Why not?". We came up with a few more explanations: "I can talk just like anyone else"; "I can hear like you when I wear my hearing aids"; "Just because I wear hearing aids doesn't mean I have to sign". We talked about how special it is that she can listen, talk and hear just like other kids. She didn't bring it up again, so I thought these responses were working for her.

Well, I don't know how often this has happened, but Hadley recently let me know that she now just makes up a sign when asked. "It's easier, Mom. I'm too busy to explain everything else" is how she explained it to me.

I'm resisting the part of me that wants her to be the poster child for spoken language...the urge to have her educate the masses...the desire to turn her into a walking billboard for the success of AVT. She's doing what we've always wanted her to do: figuring out for herself how to live with her hearing loss. And for right now, for her, that means making up a sign to answer another seven year old's quick question.

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