Parents of deaf children must navigate sounds, signs and choices early

Published: Friday, Oct. 7 2011 9:00 p.m. MDT

Once parents decide which path their child and family will take, language therapists meet with them in the home to teach them tactics that will bring out their child's language, whether LSL or ASL-English. Around age three, the child enter ASL-English or LSL preschools and continue on at the Utah Schools for the Deaf or enter their neighborhood schools. About 80 percent of parents choose LSL, with 20 percent choosing ASL-English, according to Mullings.

The Rosbachs, however, knew the answer for them would not be so cut and dry.

Shelli Rosbach said she realized one night that if they went strictly the LSL route, she would have no way of calming her young son if he woke up from a bad dream, since he doesn't sleep with his external implants on.

"I'm going to be in here with my child and I'm not going to be able to communicate with him at all without going through the process of putting the implants on," she said. "I wanted to be able to communicate with my child no matter the situation. … That's when we decided that ASL needed to be a part of his life."

While ASL-English has an oral component, LSL has no sign language component, a fact some parents in the deaf community believe is bad for children.

The 'right' way

The Rosbachs chose ASL-English for Colton, who is now 28 months old, even though they elected to have cochlear implants surgically implanted earlier this year. The implants were "turned on" in early September.

An ASL-English therapist employed by the Utah Schools for the Deaf comes into their home about twice a month to teach the family sign language. They go elsewhere for his oral therapy, which isn't as helpful for the family since the appointments are during the day when her other two children are at school and her husband is at work, Shelli Rosbach said.

"I would love to have LSL in my home as well as ASL," she said. "Because I'm forced to choose, I have to go to an outside, private therapy to get the oral side."

Mullings said the school has opted not to teach LSL and ASL simultaneously because research shows it isn't effective. ASL and spoken English have different grammar structures.

"When you do that, one language suffers," she said. "So that's why we've chosen the path of focusing on language rather than trying to do everything."

She said the school's approach is consistent with national standards.

"USDB seems odd to the people that are here and don't understand that outside of this state, this has been going on and has been for decades," Mullings said. "It's not new, it's not innovative, it's not cutting edge. It's best practice."

The Rosbachs said they experienced pressure from families and experts both within and without the schools on what is the "right" way to teach a deaf child, something that makes the decision-making process even more difficult.

"During that process, a lot of people tell you if you do implants you should not sign. … It's frustrating from a parent's perspective that so many people try to push you into one channel or the other,"  Phil Rosbach said. "There's a very strong school of thought amongst a lot of people that you either sign or you do implants, you don't do both."

The Rosbachs have turned to a parent-driven deaf organization called Hands and Voices for the support they crave.

"We're trying to connect with other families because we do feel like we're kind of standing alone," Shelli Rosbach said. "It just feels so divided and it's a hard place to be when you're already dealing with issues for your child. … It's a lonely feeling."

Superintendent Noyce said claims that he favors LSL are unfounded, and all programs have taken hits amidst recent economic turmoil.

"There's so much just conversation and gossip and distrust," Noyce said. "But there's no conspiracy at the Schools for the Deaf and the Blind to withhold anything from any children."

He said the schools have faced challenges and cut backs that he and his staff are trying to work through.

"We have some needs that are really unmet," he said."We don't have the personnel always that we want. ... We have two building needs. ...We're bursting at the seams. … Too often this controversy, as well call it, needs to be put aside because we have too much work to do."

E-mail: mfarmer@desnews.com

Twitter: mollyfarmer

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