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Why I Choose Not to Drop Sign Language for My Daughter Who Has a Cochlear Implant

Updated on May 31, 2013

Hands Speak

I started looking at cochlear implant options for my daughter when she was three years old. My daughter was born deaf and has a bilateral hearing loss. Her hearing loss was detected when she was born, she failed the initial hearing screening that was performed at the hospital. I had to take her back to the hospital for a repeat hearing screening about two weeks after we left the hospital, once again she failed the hearing screening.

Then she was referred to the ENT to determine if her hearing loss was caused by fluid in her ears. Her ears were normal and they weren't being blocked by fluids. So the next step was an Auditory Brainstem Response Test (ABR). She was just a few weeks old when these were performed, she had to sleep during the test so that they could get an accurate result. After several failed tests, it was determined that she was in fact deaf.

As a mom, I started feeling like a failure and started looking back at what I could have done differently during my pregnancy. I had a normal pregnancy. I went through all the stages of grief, and finally came to terms with the fact that she was made this way for a reason.


Learning Her First Language - Sign Language

When she was about a year and a half, she was fitted with hearing aides. I remember her constantly pulling them out of her ears and throwing them on the floor constantly. They didn't provide any assistance to her but we had to go through the motions in order for her to get a cochlear implant. In the late 90's, it was common that babies weren't fitted with cochlear implants until they were at least 2 years old. However, that isn't the case any longer.

She began learning sign language around a year old and she started signing back to use around 18 months from what I can remember. I was excited that she was learning how to communicate her needs to me.

My daughter is also very good at reading lips as well.

Surgery Day

I found out that I was pregnant with her brother and decided that she needed to get her cochlear implant so that she could hear and communicate with him. She was three at this time. In order to get a cochlear implant, she had to go through a series of tests in order to confirm that she was a good candidate for an implant.

She finally is able to get her cochlear implant and is scheduled for surgery. I was nervous for my daughter on the day of her surgery, and it was probably the longest 4 hours of my life. She did great and this was part of her journey to become part of the hearing world.

She had to let her surgery site heal for about a month before she could get her implant "turned on". I took her to her appointment to get fitted for her implant and the look on her face was priceless when she heard noise for the first time. They set her implant on a low setting so that she could get used to hearing noises. I remember on our way home from this appointment, she heard her baby brother cry for the first time. She signed to me that he was being loud. It was the cutest thing ever.

After several more trips to the audiologist for fine tuning, she is able to heard sounds within a normal hearing range.

She Is Still Deaf

I remember that the doctors recommended that we drop the sign language and force her to use her new hearing and speech in order to communicate with her. However, I didn't listen to the doctors. I decided that she still needed the re-enforcement of her sign language skills to help her communicate. I am thankful that I made this decision, because over the years I found that there has been many times that sign language was a necessity for her.

The bottom line is: "she is still deaf without the implant" and needs the sign language for the following reasons:

Bathing/Swimming - You can't use the implant in water.

Broken Equipment - There was several times that she was without her implant for a few weeks, when we were waiting on replacement parts or new equipment, due to it getting broken or lost. We had an implant go into the Atlantic Ocean, she tripped and fell and it flew off the dock. Stuff happens and most insurance companies won't pay for a "spare" or "back up" implant.

Batteries Die - If her batteries no longer are working and she forgets to bring more with her, then she is without her hearing device.

She is very fluent in sign language and it will come in handy when she is able to enter the workforce in a few short years. She will be considered bi-lingual.

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    • jenjohnson42 profile image

      Jen Womeldorf 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      I applaud your decision to continue on with sign language with your daughter even after her cochlear implants were placed. I, too, believe this will be a great benefit to her throughout her life. Kudos.

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      Susan 5 years ago

      Even the announcements in school ,on stage, group discussions, wondering lectures who don't stand in one spot or loud places.its Is nice to have interpreter as a back up. Audiologist tells u they hear 100 percent.. Not!

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      Christy Garrett 5 years ago from TX

      Your absolutely correct, my daughter has a hard time hearing when there is too much back ground noise. I was told that they hear far differently than those with normal hearing.

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      kristina 5 years ago

      Thank you so much for your story..I have had the same issues with my son. He is now 21 months and was implanted at 12 months.I can not begin to tell you how many times I have been told to stop signing with my son and I continue not to listen to them because as you stated he doesn't sleep with his cochlear on,swim,bath either plus Ian not begin to tell you how many times he has eaten his and it has been weeks before we get a replacement part

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      Lucky 5 years ago

      Your daughter is fortunate to have you as a mom!

      You are doing the right thing.

      From one who knows!

      Lucky

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      Christy Garrett 5 years ago from TX

      Thank you. I am glad I didn't listen to doctors over 10 years ago.

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      Christy Garrett 5 years ago from TX

      I know that getting replacements is a slow and painful process. I know that my daughter was without her implant for a few months one time.

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      Jennifer 5 years ago

      That is great you continued to sign but why would it possibly take so long to get replacement parts? We have never gone more than a day without replacement parts. Even if the processor needs to be replaced we have it within 2 days. Just curious.

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      Christy Garrett 5 years ago from TX

      I think some of our delays have come from insurance company taking their time approving things. When her implant was within the warranty period I got things pretty quickly but once the warranty ran out and insurance had to pay it took longer to get things.

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      Sebastian72012 5 years ago

      Wow, your article was very touching. I work at a day care and I teach sign language to all of my infants on a daily basis. I think sign language is useful to everyone. It is so exciting to see my infants sign for the first time, because they are so little. If reinforced throughout life and they meet someone that is hard of hearing they will be able to communicate with them.

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      Christy Garrett 5 years ago from TX

      I am also trying to teach my baby sign language as well. It is wonderful when they can sign back. Melts your heart.

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      deafaccents 5 years ago

      Wow... I gotta say. Wow again. Pray that there are millions of parents who think like you. Go mom!

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      Kat Brockway Koopman 5 years ago

      Even though I disagree you making a decision to put implant on your child (my belief is that child has the right to make a decision themselves, not the parents nor the state nor the doctors who wants to make money off insurance and bonuses for advertising cochlear implant that Alexander Graham Bell Association is doing a campaign lately to try to oppress the Deaf community to continue sign language is a dumb option. It is the BEST option. Accept our deafness as we were born with it. Just learn to cope with it. I am proud my hearing parents went to Gallaudet to learn sign language when they found out I am deaf. I am glad I could communicate fully with my family all my life. My parents ended up becoming late deafened and they had sign language ready to communicate!!!! Isn't that awesome. I applaud for you to choose sign language even though cochlear implant is involved. I send messages to all out there that a CHILD has the right to make a decision, not the parent or anyone on cochlear implant. The child WILL take it off by the time they're in 20's if a parent or someone puts cochlear implant on that child, I assure you. I have seen so MANY do that. They were angered by their parents or anyone force to put it on them later on when they grow up realizing how unnecessary it is. So let a child make a decision and let a child understand about cochlear implant before they make a decision.

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      Christy Garrett 5 years ago from TX

      I don't regret my decision to implant my child, I feel that she has benefited from both sign language and the hearing world.

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      Chris neufeld 5 years ago

      Hi, As former CI user, I'm very proud of you to choose sign language for your daughter. I've been using CI since I was 7 years old. I grew up as oral speech that I spent very frustrating how to communicte hearing people. Most people don't understand my voice except for my family and few friends. I ended up for attending speech therapy for 10 years because my speech always was not improved. Unfortunately, my parents are not signer but we knew few words in sign languages at home-school with my teacher while I attended to private school all morning. My silbling began learning sign language for communcting. However i always write or type either note or computer for communcting. I transferred to canadian school for Deaf that I learned much in ASL when I was 16. I'm Fourth-year student for Gallaudet university. I agreed with you that we don't trust any doctors who recommend not sign language for CI users because of AG Bell lobbying. Did you know that I'm one of many CI users who are frustrating how to communicte. I've not regularly woren my CI since 2005 but I sometime wore it for testing how to understand any speech. I forgave my parents for Regarding their decisions that They didn't send me to deaf school until i was 16. They recongized that I love deaf culture. :D I'm sure that your daughter will develop understanding speech and experience in deaf culture :)

      Have a great day.

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      Leala Holcomb 5 years ago

      Exactly! The ASL-English bilingual route means being fluent in ASL AND English (speaking, reading, and writing). The oral advocates promote the misconception that choosing the "ASL route" means the child will never learn how to speak, read, or write English and will be lost to the Deaf world. Many parents are led to believe that if they sign with their Deaf children, their Deaf children would never be able to develop speaking skills. Why are doctors/audiologists giving out false information? The politics of the medical field... is it about money? Is it just blatant fear? Patronizing perspective of Deaf people? This, I don't understand.

      Thank you for pointing out that sign language does benefit Deaf babies, in contrary to what the medical folks are saying. Giving parents "options" doesn't mean they have to choose only ONE of the communication modes. Parents shouldn't have to choose ASL OR English. Parents should give their Deaf children WHOLE through ASL AND English. Bilingualism has so many cognitive benefits!

      Plenty of studies have shown that being fluent in sign language during early years will help Deaf children acquire English effortlessly. Those who had access to sign language during their early years usually master their English skills, have healthy identity as Deaf people, and have no problems fluctuating between two languages and cultures.

      It is truly awesome to be Deaf. I admire you for standing up for what is right, despite all of the pressure from the medical people. I hope you serve as an inspiration for other hearing parents.

      Leala Holcomb, Deaf, 24 years old, Early Childhood Education teacher

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      Heidi Koivisto 5 years ago

      As Joseph Murray writes, we are 'a visual community in an auditory world'. Or, as Ben Bahan says, we are 'a visual variety of the human race'. Perceiving and experiencing the world visually does not mean that you are less able to live your life to the fullest. Or 'disabled', or 'deaf', as we are labelled by doctors.

      Wouldn't it be a more supportive approach if they identify our strenghts rather than focus on where we have failed the test of 'normalcy' - the newborn hearing screening test. Learning to hear and speak should not be a profoundly visual kid's ultimate life goal - it's risky because you can lose your true self in the game and end up feeling quite lost when you reach your teens.

      It's sad to see that language is still being confused with speech, and that speech is still seen as superior to sign language. The wider society still can't see the effectiveness and unlimited possibilities of visual languages, which enable a direct, visual connection from a mind to another. This is different from speech where thoughts are compressed into words and the recipient then extracts the file and opens these thoughts into a picture in their mind.

      Visual language is not only for profoundly visual people - those from auditory world should be offered the opportunity to make it a part of their daily communication. It's time to understand that a visual language is not 'special needs' or 'language for the disabled'. It evolves from the visual community which everyone can be part of.

      It's fantastic that you have a mind of your own and didn't listen to doctors - they don't fully understand what sign language means, and learning to sign isn't even on their job description. They are in no position to recommend dropping the use of sign language.

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      Dan Parvaz 5 years ago

      Bravo, Mom! Can I clone you?

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      Jake 5 years ago

      I applaud you for keeping up with signing to your daughter. I only ask that you write a blog asking why it is OK for hearing babies to learn to sign but not deaf babies. I have heard many stories of how parents are happy they can talk with their child through sign before they can speak. If this is encouraged, then it should be double encouraged for deaf babies to learn sign. As for doctors and audiologists, their agenda does not help the deaf child, but serves to fatten their own wallets and pockets with money from the insurance companies, the CI companies and hearing aid companies. I hope others will speak out like you and show that signing is important still regardless of sound!

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      Christy Garrett 5 years ago from TX

      Jake,

      I don't understand why your wanting me to write a blog about deaf babies learning sign language. My daughter was learning sign language before she was implanted at the age of 3. When she was a baby they didn't implant children as quickly as they do now. They learned that these kids were missing a huge language gap with the delayed Cochlear Implant. Deaf children are often times sent away to "deaf" schools away from their parents.

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      Christy Garrett 5 years ago from TX

      Ops, I meant that she was implanted when she was 4.

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      Robyn 5 years ago

      I am glad you shared your story. I personally would not get a Cochlear Implant for my child if they were deaf but I understand each of our decisions are our own. However, I do believe that if a person chooses to get the implant for themselves or their child that sign language is still a necessity. I have talked to many people who think that the implant is a cure for deafness but you have shared how it is not and how things do happen and that a person will not always be wearing their implant and how teaching your child sign language has been a benefit. I have asked them what will you do if your child loses it, how will they communicate until you get a replacement. They think replacements will come instantly and that nothing will ever go wrong or that apparently their child will never take a bath I guess. Anyway I just wanted to say that your story is a great example for other parents. I am glad you did not look at the Cochlear Implant as a cure all and looked at the reality of the situation. The people who don't learn sign language when their child loses the implant I wonder how they communicate. I could not imagine the confusion a child has or frustration when they go from being able to hear and communicate to possibly going a few days or more not being able to really properly communicate with their parents. Many children may not be able to even lip read so even if they can speak reasonably well how are they going to understand what is being said to them. I find it somewhat selfish for a parent not wanting to teach their child sign language because (reasons I have heard) they don't want their child to know that they are deaf or because they don't want others to know their child is deaf. Do they think that no one will notice the cochlear implant or that it won't be information they may need to share with care givers or teachers. People are going to need to know regardless. Again, thanks for sharing your personal story, I do hope others learn from your experience.

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      Christy Garrett 5 years ago from TX

      Robyn I agree that Cochlear implants aren't the cure for her hearing problems. I haven't asked her for her feedback on being implanted, she is in her teens now.

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      Robyn 5 years ago

      Jake,

      "...why it is OK for hearing babies to learn to sign but not deaf babies." I may have missed something but I do not understand why you are making this comment. The author here did teach her child sign language before the implant and continues to use it. I don't think she said that it is ok for Deaf babies to not learn sign language. I am just curious about your statement. Whether a parent teaches their child sign language (deaf or hearing) is the parent's choice. Personally I have hearing children and they are learning sign language. I wish I would have tried harder to teach my oldest when he was younger because (my parents are deaf) he will not use much sign language because my parents just let him get away with pointing at things to get what he wants, although he does understand most of what they say to him he won't use it back. My 2 year old uses sign language for most of the time he is speaking, because when I talk to him I use sign language and voice, so he does also. If they would have been deaf I would definitely have started from birth and used sign with them 100%. This would have been my choice. I know in my state (PA) when the hospital could not complete a hearing test I got a letter from the Health Dept that told me I had to take him to a specialist to be tested because had he been deaf or hoh then they would have assigned me to the appropriate services. Which probably would involve therapy services and doctors such as for CI. As the child gets older that would include schooling options which would either be mainstreaming or deaf school. And just shipping a child off to deaf school the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act changed that in 1975. Although some local school districts may not be the best place for a deaf child, they have the right to attend a local public school and be placed in the least restrictive environment possible. I know families that still chose send their child to a deaf school and some that mainstream, it is whatever is best for the child. Over 30 years ago that was unheard of just like sending a mentally challenged child to a public school was, they considered the deaf challenged and sent them away but they have realized that with the proper environment deaf with or without a CI can thrive in a public school setting. If a deaf school is a considerable amount away the children do reside at the school during the school year, the one near me begins at 3 years old, they come home for weekends, holidays and summers, but this is only for students who cannot commute to the school on a daily basis. Whether the child uses sign at home is up to the family, do they teach their child sign from birth is up to them but with the services available today, if a child is not going to get the CI for whatever reason there are social services that will help the family with learning appropriate sign language or whatever other services they require.

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      Robyn 5 years ago

      May I ask if she decided she didn't want to use the CI anymore would you try to force the issue or would you let her make her decision?

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      Christy Garrett 5 years ago from TX

      I would probably let her make that decision at the age of 18 just because I see the benefits of her being able to hear. She plays band at school and I am sure that would be hard to do without some type of hearing. She hasn't ever complained about having hearing except for in loud situations, and then I have allowed her to turn it off because it was bothering her.

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      Leala Holcomb 5 years ago

      May I ask, what is wrong with sending your child to a ASL-English bilingual school?

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      Christy Garrett 5 years ago from TX

      She goes to public schools and is main streamed. She has an interpreter.

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      Cassandra 5 years ago

      I think what you are doing is great! I am fluent in ASL and married to a HH/Deaf man. We speak and use ASL at home, and both are great! I do not understand why when the "hearing" community is teaching Sign Language for brain development to perfectly normal hearing kids, why the doctors continue to tell parents of deaf kids NOT to teach it to them. CI or not. Baffling and backwards! How can more language and more brain imput ever HURT? Teach EVERYONE Sign Language. I KNOW that is part of the reason my hearing son can read 2nd grade level at age 4.

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      Christy Garrett 5 years ago from TX

      I have yet to understand why health professionals and doctors discourage sign language. I understand the importance of children to learn to use their "ears" to hear sounds. And to learn speech sounds. But to take away the only language that they fully understand is crazy. My daughter has had no problems learning how to use her cochlear implant to hear sounds and learn speech. In fact, she has good speech for her adjusted hearing age.

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      Kimberly 5 years ago

      I will clarify Jake's question, as this is something that has come up a lot recently in ITP and ASL classes. The question is essentially, "Why do doctors encourage parents to use sign language to communicate with their hearing children, but discourage parents to sign with their Deaf or recently implanted children." Since you mentioned that you went against the advice of others to drop sign language because you felt that it was beneficial and recognized that your daughter is still Deaf. There is a huge stigma out there still, that despite all of the benefits of being exposed to language at an early age through sign language, parents of Deaf babies are still told to not sign with their babies or they will not be able to speak appropriately, that sign language will make them "lazy". I believe that Jake would like you to write a blog explaining that this is a huge myth, and that Deaf babies SHOULD be exposed to sign language. That it opens doors for them for early communication in the same way it does for hearing babies. If early exposure to sign language is good enough for hearing babies without the implication that it would make them lazy, then it is infinitely better for Deaf babies whose eyes are a super highway of information.

      I applaud you for your well thought out decision. My brother is Deaf (unaided, no CI, strictly Sign, I am an educational interpreter and work with a wide range of Deaf/HoH kids who have a wide range of success and failure with CI. But I will say, the absolute common factor that I have noticed CI, Aided, or Not, is that the students who's parents sign (REGARDLESS of whether the AID or CI brings their hearing to near normal levels or is a complete failure) are the most successful in school in general. When the parents sign and provide that opportunity of visual language for their children, those kids absolutely do better academically, socially, and emotionally. Kudos to you on your decision! ILY

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      Christy Garrett 5 years ago from TX

      Thank you for your explanation Kimberly. I agree that doctors or health care providers feel that sign language will make a child lazy and not rely on their CI for hearing. I could understand this being an issue if the child was never taught how to use the English language. My daughter is exposed to both spoken language and sign language. I wish health care providers would see the benefits and stop discouraging kids from learning two languages.

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      Heather 5 years ago

      I am writing a paper for my Orientation to Deafness class at OCC in MI. I would like to ask your permission to refrence your article in my paper titled, "The Use of Sing Language with a Cochlear Impalnt", which I very much support.

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      Christy Garrett 5 years ago from TX

      Heather you may use it as a reference as long as you credit my work please.

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      Rhonda D Johnson 5 years ago from Somewhere over the rainbow

      You are a beautiful mother and this is an excellent article Keep doing what you're doing!

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      Judy Deaton 5 years ago

      Ok.....this is a different subject....sort of. We have just adopted a little girl from China who is 5 years old with complete hearing loss. She has had no language up till now except for body language and gestures. She is very smart, but not interested in signing. What ways would you suggest to get her interested? I KNOW that it is CRITICAL that she learn language as soon as possible. We've had her for 5-1/2 weeks now. She does know a few signs like shoes, potty, eat, drink, water, easy/careful, those are the ones she will sign on her own unprompted, I think she understands many more than this, such as noodles, eggs, bacon, outside, swim, no, ok, yes,....and maybe a few more. I realize she doesn't know this is a way to communicate yet, but how do I engage her interst in it more? We watch signing time videos together, and she will watch some of them, but gets easily distracted or bored, but they are really geared more for hearing children than deaf. We are a hearing family and while we are learning signs as fast as we can, we are not fluent yet. We started classes as soon as we knew we were adopting her. And are continuing to learn. So I'm asking for creative ways to bring language alive for her so she will WANT to look/listen. Right now she is more interested in playing....and gets aggravated if i try to get her to look at me while i'm signing. We sign table, plate, cup, water, drink, doll, bear, dog, cow, etc. single words mostly at this point...just labeling her environment. Do I need to be doing more? Thanks for your insight and help,

      Judy

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      Christy Garrett 5 years ago from TX

      Judy,

      There are a lot of resources available to assist you with teaching your child sign language. If you haven't already contacted Early Child Intervention program(ECI), assuming that you are residing in the United States. This program doesn't cost anything and they can evaluate your child and help you.

      Since your child is over the age of 3, you may have to contact the school system in your area. They have programs from the Regional Day School for the Deaf/Hearing Impaired. My daughter could have also attended a Deaf School, however, since she has a cochlear implant and can hear, I choose to keep her in the public school system. She attends mainstream classes and has an interpreter with her at all times. She also has classes to help her with her reading and English skills that are small classes for hearing impaired students only. I think you are on the right path.

      My guess is she has limited receptive and expressed language skills. She will need lots of help to catch her up since she missed learning a language during the infancy stage. I think if she can attend school with other children and peers who also sign will help her come out of her shell and want to sign more.

      I don't know what level of hearing that she has, but I would look into finding out what type of hearing loss she has. And determine if she can be fitted for hearing aides or a cochlear implant, if you want her to have this type of medical help.

      I know that when my daughter was in EIC, they used play therapy to teach her sign language. This helped her learn new vocabulary and it was fun. So you might try play therapy as well.

      I hope this helps. Let me know if I can be of further assistance. Thank you for stopping by my page.

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      renee21 4 years ago

      Great hub! I have a friend who had a cochlear implant. She speaks very well, and never learned sign language.

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      nehaa 4 years ago

      hi.. great hub !! I have had the same issues with my daughter.

      is it safe to get pregnant again... or cozz the same issue for another baby too ?? tats is my concern... nwadays . but nice to have a second child to play n communicate with her ..

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      leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York

      Great hub. My son was born with a mild-moderate hearing loss and wears hearing aids - but it has progressed and he is now moderately severe in one ear and severe in the other. He isn't quite an implant candidate (not in range yet), isn't a baha candidate (mixed loss, but the air-bone gap isn't wide enough for a bone anchored aid to help much), and his acoustic hearing aids do not get him entirely above the speech banana - so he misses certain sounds of speech (particularly /s/, /t/, /f/, /ch/).

      We used to sign with him, but he never took to it. He has fine motor delays and some vision issues, so despite 4 years of including sign in his IFSP and IEP, he didn't use it. We finally dropped the use of sign language because he just isn't interested. He's mainstreamed and has a TOD in school, along with speech therapy.

      We'll probably try to add sign language back into his education in a year or so (particularly since his loss appears to be progressive). Hopefully he'll "take" to it better when he's a bit older.

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      Christy Garrett 4 years ago from TX

      Leah does your son have an IEP and get help through the school district? If not, you should get him enrolled they can help your son greatly and help him catch up on areas that he is struggling with. Sign language is a great way for him to learn how to communicate, plus it can be used as a second language.

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      leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York

      Yep - he has an IEP and is in full-day kindergarten (mainstreamed). He has TOD (teacher of the deaf) pull-outs every day and speech therapy 2x in a six day cycle. We're thinking of adding ASL back into his goals since he might have more interest now that he is older and his fine motor skills have improved. We're taking him in for a hearing test on the 13th and we'll see what his hearing is doing. We're also looking at new hearing aids - his are 5 years old so they don't have as many features as some of the newer hearing aids out there. If he keeps dropping, he will become a CI candidate - our ENT has mentioned this to us, so we'll see where it goes.

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      Christy Garrett 4 years ago from TX

      That is awesome. If you can get him interested in sign language it is a great tool for them to have as a back up to hearing aides or cochlear implants. Without their devices they are still deaf and sign language gives them a means to communicate, without relying on lip reading or written communication only. I hope he seems interested, I love watching my daughter sign with her friends.

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      Guest 13 months ago

      I know I am super late to the party but does your daughter still use sign language today as an adult?

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      Christy Garrett 13 months ago from TX

      Yes she is still using sign language and her cochlear implants as an adult. She will be going off to college next year.

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