Tag Archives: cochlear implants

The Great Sign Language Controversy

Peace, Brother

The very day we learned of Fiona’s deafness I ran out to buy a baby sign language book. Yes, I actually went to a STORE to buy a book. For this job, the Kindle wasn’t going to cut it.

Eliza and I flipped through the various signs and thought to ourselves “this doesn’t look too bad, what great parents we will be!”

Not so fast.

Learning sign language seemed a no-brainer to us, but little did we know we stumbled into a controversy, and the source is our friend the cochlear implant.

The controversy goes something like this: because implants are now an option, many parents believe that sign language is becoming unnecessary. And not just unnecessary, but in fact can be detrimental to learning verbal language. Why? Because signing is “easier” and the child will grow lazy.

The opposing argument is that signing is the natural language of the deaf, denying this training is denying the child a successful integration with the deaf community. In a sense, the child will not fully exist in either world.

More extreme viewpoints even say that the child should not be given a cochlear implant until they are 18, at which time they can make an informed decision for themselves. “Hearing” parents are trying to fix something the deaf community views as not broken.

Here’s a good article that talks about this in more detail.

Our Viewpoint

We’re still new to this and definitely don’t have all the answers, but we clearly have a bias, admittedly colored by being “hearing” parents:

  • There’s no definitive proof signing inhibits language development, provided appropriate effort is applied in their education. In fact in some cases, it actually helps. The key is you have to put the effort in. Here’s an interesting whitepaper.
  • We do feel sign language is important to learn and will be doing so IN ADDITION to verbal language. Its harder, but ideally a “best of both worlds”.
  • If Fiona is eligible, we are ABSOLUTELY doing the cochlear implant, and as early as we can (age 1). We understand the right to choose argument, but in this case we feel the cost of waiting is just too high. 18 years squanders all the key language learning years. She can always choose to turn off the implant when she’s older.

We would love to learn more from those who have been through this, though, on both sides of the issue. We promise to keep an open mind.