Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sharing a splitter

We just got back from a great family vacation to Southern California where we took in Disneyland, Sea World and went whale watching. Unfortunately, the whales were not aware that they were supposed to make an appearance but we got to see dolphins and sea lions swimming alongside our boat instead. We did get free tickets to go back and watch the whales so we'll just have to plan another vacation to watch the whales :)

During our 12 hour drive we set up a movie screen for the kids to watch while we traversed across the desert. We don't have one of those fancy screens that just gently descends out of the ceiling of the van, we instead have a DVD unit with two screens and we strap them to the back of the seats so each row can see the movie. In the past, we've had some problems with all of the kids hearing the sound, so we bought some splitters that allowed two kids to plug into each unit using headphones. Chance shared a cord with his older brother.

As we were crossing the desert and coming into the city of Las Vegas, Nevada, we were explaining some of the sights. We explained how the Eiffel Tower was a replica of the one in France. We pointed out the Pyramid, and Treasure Island that had a boat that reenacted a battle. We had been giving commentary for a good 10 minutes, when Chance's brother in the back seat yells up to us something like,"Hey! Look at that cool hotel that looks like the Eiffel Tower! And what is that castle right there?"

I turned around in my seat and said,"That's what we've been talking about for the past 10 minutes and then teasingly I asked,"Were you not listening to your parents?"

Chance's brother looked at me, then took his headphones off and said,"What?"

"We've been talking to you about these sights for the past while. " I said.

"SORRY!" He exhaled. "Chance has had the volume on so loud that I think I may be deaf now!"

Chance was blissfully unaware that things were apparently really really loud when you could hear.

"You have to tell him when that happens because he doesn't know. It is not loud for him." I explained.

After that, we didn't hear any more complaints about the volume. Chance just had no idea that it was that loud. That is what happens when you are deaf and listening to a movie through a NoizFree device (it's similar to earphones, but it sends a telecoil/radio signal to the implant as opposed to earphones that send the sound through the ear canal).

Apparently you have to tell Chance when the volume is too loud when you share a splitter with him:)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Battle Still Continues

The state school board is no longer considering dissolving the School for the Deaf and the Blind during this legislative session and instead is going to open an investigation to look at the inner workings of USDB (Utah School for the Deaf and Blind).

This is good news for the immediate future of the school. Hopefully, upon investigation, the school board will realize that cutting the School for the Deaf and Blind will only add more monetary needs to the state budget if the services currently provided by the school are expected to be dispersed out to all of the different school districts throughout the state that have deaf children. Not to mention who will have oversight over the services the deaf kids would receive through the district. Not just the oversight of their education but the oversight of their specific needs as deaf children. Without someone who knows the needs and the process it takes to learn to hear with a hearing aid or implant, and can guide that process, the kids will still be short changed regardless of what the district offers through a piecemeal system of speech therapy etc.
So now is the time for parents of deaf children and deaf adults to let the school board know just what the services provided from the School for the Deaf and Blind have made possible for kids and adults alike.

Chance is mainstreamed and academically at the top of many of his classes due in part to the services he received through the School for the Deaf and Blind. Chance was able to get what he needed to become successful. I honesty can not imagine what it would be like now if Chance had not received what he needed early on in school in the way that he needed to receive it.

One element of this battle over the function of the School for the Deaf is the friction that is present due to the two different philosophies over how to educate deaf children. Unless you have knowledge of this battle or are "baptized by fire" into the battle by having a deaf child and searching out services that they need, it is hard to imagine.

The school board has heard complaints about the School for the Deaf and some of those complaints revolve around how one feels deaf children should be educated. The debate has been playing out in the opinion sections of our two main newspapers. Some opinions have been more fair and balanced than others.

I appreciate the fact that we as the parents of deaf kids may choose different methods to communicate and educate our children. That is a right that every parent should be afforded.

I do have a problem though when it implied or just out right stated that we parents who have chosen the oral/speech route for our children do it because it is easier for us and not best for our children.

An article in the Salt Lake Tribune titled,"Schools for the Deaf Grapple With Two Tracks," talks about the basically two tracks to teach deaf kids to communicate. A deaf adult who teaches deaf children at a mainly signing schools asks,"How do parents know which language the child needs?" The context of this question is based on the process that parents go through when their child is diagnosed. Changes have been made to ensure that when a child is diagnosed, the family receives a visit from both a deaf adult who signs and a deaf adult who listens and speaks. After some exposure to both routes by the visitors and other contact by professionals, a family is asked to choose which path they would like to follow. You aren't married to that choice. If you start on one path and realize that it is not working, you can switch over and follow another path. The point is to get language into these little kiddos pronto. No matter which way you choose, a language has to be learned. Sign language is not something you will just pick up if you are not surrounded by signing people in your family. And if a family chooses sign, the whole family needs to be involved in learning to sign.

If a child is learning to listen and speak, they will need help with that route as they are fitted with hearing aids or implanted with cochlear implants. And there is a language window when it is better for children to learn to speak. Hearing kids are learning to speak from the day they are born as they hear sounds and learn words. Kids who are implanted early, join their peers in mainstream classrooms earlier and generally speaking are extremely successful with an implant.

When Chance was diagnosed, we were exposed to a deaf adult who signs and that is all. We had to actively seek out the other option of speaking and listening. Frankly, our main concern was only for Chance. We even looked at enrolling at a neighboring university to major in sign language. We took sign classes...all of us. Speaking and listening was right for Chance and it was not decided on a whim. As far as the question of "How do parents know which language the child needs?" Could that not go both ways? And as parents we are precisely the ones who know what our children need. That is our job as parents to seek out what our children need and provide the best we can.

The argument was made by this same person in the article that she supported choice, but that it should be the child's choice and that parents often chose listening and speaking for their children because it is convenient for them.

Um, being brutally honest here, nothing about teaching a deaf child to communicate is convenient. Convenient is your hearing children who learn to speak just by living with you. You don't even have to give it a second thought, it just happens as you are going about your days. This argument does not seem to be brought up when it involves signing deaf parents who choose to teach their deaf child to sign. If parents who choose speech and listening are questioned with, "How do parents know which language the child needs," could not signing parents be asked the same thing? The problem is the second guessing of parents by others at all.

There is a lot of commitment involved regardless of which method you choose to teach your deaf child to communicate with. Convenience is not what motivates parents. Being a parent is rarely about what is convenient for the parent. Giving all within your power to give your child what they needs is usually what motivates parents. To imply that parents who choose to teach their child speaking and listening are somehow selfish, and would be willing to short change their child just for convenience, is not only grossly unfounded, but very mean spirited.

The School for the Deaf should be able to operate with the two methods to teach deaf children together. Parents who choose sign should be respected and supported in what they need just as parents who choose listening and speaking parents should be respected and supported. It does not have to be a war. There is no right or wrong here, there is only CHOICE. And parents are entitled to choose what is best for their child without judgement.

Monday, February 07, 2011

The battle continues...

I woke up Saturday morning to the news that in these lean times the state is considering getting rid of the Schools for the Deaf and the Blind to save money in the state budget.

My first reaction was,"WHAT?"

Who is kidding who, that is still my reaction.

I feel getting rid of the School for the Deaf and the Blind would be a travesty. There are many reasons I feel this way.

First of all, I understand that economically this is a hard time for many people and by extension the state. I understand that there are more programs and services than money. Heavens, we all deal with this all of the time in our families. You have to pick and choose what are the most important needs and go with those.

I truly feel that the Schools for the Deaf and the Blind is one of those important elements that the state should leave intact even in this difficult economy.

Not all government services give back to the community ten fold as the kids who get what they need from the Schools for the Deaf and the Blind do. If these kids like Chance get the services that they need while they are young, they can acquire language skills and integrate into their neighborhood schools where they learn along side their peers like any other child. Just those few years of intervention by specialists can literally work miracles in these kids lives. They flourish and grow and are able to reach their potential in a way that is remarkable. Shifting this task to the school districts would be a travesty. Each and every district could not provide the spealization that is required for these deaf children to aquire language. I truly feel that the services offered through school districts could be nothing but substandard. School districts have enough they have to do and adding kids requiring such specialized help in the beginning would not be possible.

The Schools for the Deaf and Blind have the professionals already in place along with years of experience. In order for each district to acquire the specialists to help these kids would be near impossible. Not to mention a huge increase in expense. Which is truly cheaper, having a consolidated school that specializes in helping deaf children get what they need and then moving them out to their regular schools, or expecting each school district to acquire and provide these services individually?

Deaf children need specialized schooling beginning at age 3 in preschool. I cannot fathom school districts being able to provide these services. I believe we would see a huge drop in the quality and progress of deaf children. Years of experience and methods that work would be thwarted.

Not to mention the dedication of these professionals. I truly felt that my son was loved by many of the people that provided services. They were devoted.

The money put into these deaf kids now, pays off 10 times what is put in within a few short years. Many times the children are able to perform at the same level as their peers and reach their potential which includes having the capabilities to eventually go out into the world and support themselves and their families.

We have written our representatives and parents of deaf children are going to gather at the state capital this week to make our presence known. Our representatives need to see what these deaf kids are capable of and what a specialized focus on language and hearing can do for years and years to come.

No money will be saved by cutting the Schools for the Deaf and the Blind. In the long run money and services will be lost.

I can only imagine what parents of blind children are going through at this suggestion.

We need to put faces to the numbers for the legislators so they can see who this will directly affect, which would of course be the deaf and blind children of Utah.

There is hope. Our representative lives next door to a deaf child who went to school with Chance for many years. She has seen the impact the early intervention has had and she has many disabled children herself as she and her husband adopt children who have special needs.

I believe we have many allies on capital hill. We'll just pray for the number of our allies to outnumber the naysayers.