Ever since I became a mother, I was suddenly propelled into the marketing world, and I was bombarded with varying developmental toys, and tools for my son to learn. One of the developmental tool craze was to sell Baby Signs. Of course, the target audience was the hearing parents. It became a fad among hearing parents to teach their babies how to sign.
The reasons are to teach babies to express themselves to prevent meltdowns, frustration, and anger from not being able to convey what they need from their parents. It alleviates the feeling of helplessness from the parents, wondering why is their child so upset, and what does he/she want from them. Also, the benefits of teaching a second language is vast, and it fosters a child's cognitive development in incredible ways that we can't begin to fathom.
As a Deaf person, I have a mixed feeling about this for many reasons. I love the fact that my language is finally being recognized as a language, and I have a common ground with many hearing mothers. I enjoy seeing the benefits being reaped among the parents. I like being able to talk about using sign language, and seeing it in a positive light.
At the same time, what I am torn about is that I meet so many hearing parents of Deaf babies, the hearing parents immediately turn to auditory approaches of oralism, cochlear implants, and speech therapy. They are so quick at wanting to fix their Deaf baby because they are overwhelmed by their grief of not having a hearing child. Are they in wrong for wanting to do this? I don't think so. I do believe that it is very overwhelming, scary, and sad to have a child with a disability. As parents, we want the best for our children, and we worry if we are doing the right thing for them. We worry that they will face hardships in life, having same experiences as their peers, and providing foundation for them to grow from. On top of this, hearing parents are bombarded by doctors, audiologists, and even other parents about what they should do with their Deaf child. The overwhelming majority will tell them to consider cochlear implant, speech therapy, and not to use sign language because it may hinder their ability to learn how to speak. Of course, not all hearing parents are quick to turn to this, and go straight to using sign language, early intervention, and immersing themselves into Deaf culture as much as they can. Even so, this is not very common or at least it is not in my experience among the hearing parents with Deaf children.
Among my Deaf and HOH friends, I only meet a handful people who are like me; who are blessed to have been exposed to sign language first, have had a minimal experience with speech therapy and hearing aids, had interpreters throughout our school careers, and are still using ASL as our primary method of communication. We are comfortable in our skins, our hearing loss, and not needing any hearing aids to get by in the hearing world. It is not that we are without challenges. Even with that, we are pretty okay with where we are.
Not so many Deaf and HOH people have similar experiences. More often than not, they talk about how they had to go through intensive speech therapy to learn how to speak flawlessly, never quite achieving this feast, using hearing aids to get by, and feeling stuck between wanting to be themselves, and wanting to please their parents. Some eventually ends up rejecting hearing world completely while some others are busy rejecting Deaf world. Some are like me, they are pretty content with being in both worlds. I have noticed that some Deaf adults are very bitter about oralism was pushed upon them, and how they never had a chance to use their native language (ASL) in the first place. I understand that anger; the lifetime of oppression whether intentional or not, and feeling torn between wanting to fit in, and wanting to be yourself.
It is why I am very uncomfortable at times when I see this very subtle undercurrent of oppression when it comes to Baby Signs. Some hearing parents slam baby signs, claiming that it is going to interfere with a hearing child's speech development, and there is where that underlying current of oppression lies. I am not saying that they are wrong or right for voicing this opinion. I am saying that they are unconsciously harboring that attitude that oralism is the only and the best way to use.
I am uncomfortable seeing people rejoicing at this very popular You-Tube video where a mother cries at the fact that her Deaf baby, having his cochlear implant turned on, hearing for the first time or when a Deaf child utters a single spoken word. Yet, nobody rejoices when a Deaf child explodes in a large vocabulary of signing. I certainly don't remember being praised for learning hundreds of sign when I was a child. I do remember being praised for voicing I LOVE YOU regardless how badly I had sounded. By the way, it is why I am very uncomfortable with speaking words--not because I feel conscious that my words have that Deaf accent, but because I am being praised for something that feels unnatural to me.
In gist of all this, people praise when their hearing baby signs one or two words at time, and exclaims how great it is to be able for the baby to express her/his need for something.
This does not make sense to me.
Does it make any sense to you?