| Deaf advocates debate communication methods
Tulare Advance Register, CA - May 20, 2004
Parents of the deaf have choices to make
By Anita Stackhouse-Hite Staff writer
Editor's note: This is the second of two stories dealing with deaf and hard-of-hearing schoolchildren in Tulare County.
A battle in the deaf community has raged for years. The issue: Which form of communication -- speech, sign language or a combination of the two -- is best for hearing-impaired children?
Kathy Carlson, coordinator of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Service Center, Inc., in Visalia, is an advocate of "total communication," the use of both speech and sign language. Sign-language communication is an important option for deaf and hard-of-hearing children as they grow older, said Carlson, who was born deaf.
"Oral [speaking] deaf people tend to be frustrated later in life," she said, "because they have a hard time getting a good education or a job because communication is not clear."
Carol Sonier, principal of Juvenile Detention Facility, Visalia, disagrees. Sonier, who hears, said she has two deaf children who are academically successful without the use of sign language.
She and her husband considered sign language for their firstborn, she said, but decided that the number of people he could communicate with would be too limited.
"We wanted him to be able to communicate with as many people as possible, like he would if he was hearing," Sonier said. "For us, that meant oral communication."
Her son went on to become an Eagle Scout and editor of his school newspaper and is about to graduate from high school and go to college, she said.
When a child has so little hearing that hearing aids won't help, cochlear implants provide an option. With this technology, a tiny receiver is surgically placed in the bone behind the child's ear, which is connected to 22 electrodes inserted in the inner ear.
Hanford resident and Advance-Register copy editor Dave Cooper went the cochlea-implant route eight years ago for his now-15-year-old daughter. Cooper, who did not choose an implant for his 10-year-old, hearing-impaired son, said it's the parents' responsibility to look at all options and make decisions based on their family's best interests.
Cooper said that because he lives in a small community with few deaf people, the total-communication approach works best for his family.
Whichever method of communication parents have chosen for their children, the Tulare County Office of Education combines a variety of teaching methods in its program for the hearing impaired at Frank Kohn Elementary and Live Oak Middle schools in Tulare. The program stresses the importance of educating those with disabilities alongside other students whenever possible, director Linda McKean said.
Also, teachers wear small auditory trainers -- similar to a walkie-talkie system -- that transmit their voice directly into children's hearing aids.
Sonier's children benefited greatly from Tulare County's program, the principal said. Her son's lack of self-consciousness about his deafness became apparent when he ran for class treasurer in fifth grade, she said.
Figuring that he might have to give a speech, Sonier asked her son if he needed help.
"He said, 'I've got to make a speech and make a poster ... [and] I'm going to need help with the poster,'" Sonier said. "That's when we knew we'd done it right."
Other parents, of course, are equally convinced that they did the right thing by giving their children as many communication options as possible -- including sign language.
Claudia Garcia's outgoing 10-year-old son, Salvador, signs, reads lips and speaks -- in English and Spanish. He says he likes having choices.
"I like to talk to my dad in Spanish," he said through a sign-language interpreter at Kohn School, where he often signs with hearing students who are learning the skill.
His dad is getting more choices, too, Salvador said.
"He is learning to sign, so sometimes I sign [with him]," the boy said.
In the end, decisions about using speech or sign language or whether to use a cochlear implant are personal ones. One method does not work for everyone, Sonier said.
All, however, agreed on one thing: the importance of patience. It takes years -- and a lot of help from a lot of caring people -- to successfully raise a deaf child, they said.
Juan de Ocha, 5, gets help putting on his auditory trainer during the Tulare County Office of Education Hearing and Speech Center preschool class at Frank Kohn School. The trainer is a kind of walkie-talkie system to allow for more direct communication between teachers and hearing-impaired students.
* Deaf and Hard of Hearing Service Center Inc.: 713-5032 or 713-5161
* Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf: www.agbell.org
* John Tracy Clinic (for free assistance): www.jtc.org
* National Association of the Deaf: www.nad.org
Options for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
* Visual communication: Uses American Sign Language.
* Oral communication: Uses speech. No signing.
* Total communication: Uses both oral and visual communication.
* Cochlear implant: A tiny receiver is implanted in bone behind the ear and connected to 22 electrodes in the inner ear.
For information on how to enroll your deaf or hard-of-hearing child in school, contact your home school district.
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