A note from an experienced parent of deaf children

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The following message was sent from DeLores Wilson (now Lamb) in Oregon to her son Mike Wilson, who in turn posted it to DEAF-L at 6 Sep 1994.


Hi Mike, This is to the parent or whoever wrote about options in communication for deaf kids.

I have two deaf kids and have done extensive research into communications methods used to educate the deaf since my second child was identified as being deaf. My children are now both adults; one is 35 and one is 25.

The 35 year old was taught to be totally oral, attended the Oregon State School for the Deaf, and was very fluent in his speech. When he was four years old he could orally say allhis ABC's and at five he could read any book we gave him. It wasn't until he was about ten that it became apparent that he understood very little of what he could read! The language had not been fed into his brain even though we worked diligently from the time we found out he was deaf at seven months old.

Deaf kids are great imitators and if they are at all bright they can fool you into thinking they are doing better language wise than they are simply because they want to be the same as everyone else.

We also had a deaf boy come to live with us when he was eighteen years old who had gone to private oral schools and was starting his senior year in high school with all hearing students. His language understanding was so bad that he was functioning academically at the second grade level but his speech was wonderful and he nodded his head or said yes no matter what you asked him.

Our daughter was also started out totally oral but as I began to see more and more of my son's friends who didn't understand language even though they could parrot it perfectly, I started to research the whole issue and for the first time started to talk to and search out successful deaf adults of hearing parents.

When she was four years old (past the optimal time to learn language patterns) we switched her to TC and the whole family started to learn it. She went on to major in foreign languages, went to Germany as an exchange student in high school and is very fluent in German as well as being able to read French and speak some Spanish. Once the language was presented to her in a way she could absorb though TC she blossomed!

Our elder son wanted nothing to do with signing until he went to college and then he learned that he had to have a much faster way to learn new language. Even now English is not his native language. It is a struggle for him to write in English language patterns.

She thinks in English as well as in ASL and signs in PSE. I don't know of more than three or four deaf adults who are successful who don't use sign language and two of those feel isolated emotionally from hearing and deaf.

As educators and hearing parents who don't always know anything about deafness when God gives us our first deaf baby, the message needs to go out to present your child with as much sign as you can manage as quickly as possible as well as voice, gestures whatever. Don't restrict your child to one method until the child chooses the method. If they are never taught to sign then how will they know which is best for them?

I have learned the hard way that I don't care how children get language implanted into their brains at an early age just so they do it!!!

Hearing parents may find it difficult to learn to sign but don't cheat your child out of a normal life because of your hangups. I know that in Oregon, at least, deaf children spent many, many years being taught only oral in the State school as well as in the Regional Programs. Those kids whose parents were deaf were about the only ones who got a decent education during those years.

Yes, the educational opportunities for the deaf in State schools are terrible in many cases. Deaf educators and parents need to expect the best from these kids and give them opportunities to achieve it. But in the crucial early years of a baby's life give them language wherever and however you can find it; just do it!

DeLores Wilson in Oregon with message sent by my bright, computer literate deaf son who wishes he had learned to sign when he was a baby! I do too even though he is successful now it is in spite of my ignorance at the time!