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Sign Language vs AVT - One Cochlear Implantee's Perspective

Posted Dec 02 2008 3:06am
As some already know, I am a Cochlear Implant user. I have been implanted for 16 years, and have recently just being reimplanted and am learning to hear with it all over again.

My last post about running got some fairly negative comments. I'm not sure whether this is because of the fall out over Rachel's blog on Deafread, or whether it's simply sour grapes because I can use an ipod and hear music again. I rejected the comments as I felt they didn't acheive anything at all, except to make the person who wrote them look small and silly, so you will not see them on the blog.

However I suspect that because I supported Rachel's blog in a previous post because of the way she was kicked off deafread, that this has angered a few people.

I stand by my previous post. Rachel was kicked off unfairly - remember she was not kicked off because of her 'views', but because of her allegedly profiting from Cochlear simply because she is a volunteer. Volunteers don't profit - thats the bottom line.

However, just because I support Rachel because of the way she was kicked off, doesn't mean I share her views on everything she writes. We are two different people, with two very different life experiences, although I admire her confidence and self esteem, something I didn't have at that age, due to my profound deafness.

I spent most of my life deaf. I was mainstreamed, and never met another deaf person until I was in my 20's. I lipread everything all the time. I struggled. In my 20s I joined a hearing impaired club. I learnt to sign starting with Signed English or Total Communication, and then going over to New Zealand Sign Language. You will notice my title for this blog is Sign Language vs AVT, rather than ASL. Simply because I do not sign in ASL and ASL is not a universal language.

When I was 31, I lost all of my hearing, and I was implanted. This was at the time when Cochlear Implants were hated by the Deaf Community outright. Did I lose my friends? No - my Deaf and deaf friends remain close. Did I change when I could hear again? Well - probably I gained more confidence and that made me do better in my working life, but my belief system and sense of justice remains the same, just as my reactions to things around me remain the same.

Do I need sign? No - to be honest, I can't read signs back, and never have been able to as I rely on lipreading, however, I sign for those that need sign, and while I may not be fluent, I am understood well.

Do I think children with implants should only be taught via the AVT therapy and no sign whatsover? Absolutely not.

Every individual on this planet has a preferred way of learning. For some it may be reading and understanding, and others may prefer watching how it's done. I myself prefer to work it out myself by doing, making mistakes along the way and learning from them. Learning languages is no different. But I believe if you give a child communication tools early enough, then they'll communicate much earlier, and therefore acquire language quicker. This was brought home to me 7 years ago when my best friend, who is Deaf, a full NZSL signer, has a cochlear implant and loves it, had her first baby. Jimmi-Zac is hearing. His ears are perfect. (lucky sod). But right from when he was first born, my friend signed and spoke to him. At 9 months old, when most babies when they're hungry just cry for food, he would sign drink or food or the sign for hunger, no crying. Whilst he was far too young to form the actual words, he could easily communicate to mum what he needed. He was an extremely happy child because of it. Today at 7 years old, he's bilingual - signing and oral, and bright and intelligent. He is well above his age in oral communication and use of words.

So - for me communcation and language are the most important things, and if this means children with cochlear implants are taught sign to help them, with AVT as well, then thats the way it should be. Just not one method over the other, but in combination.

I know I'll be teaching my grandchildren to sign as soon as they are born :)

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