Communication advocacy

When my children began school, I was amazed at how little I knew about individualized education plans (IEPs), even though I grew up having to deal with them as a deaf child myself. After a while, I finally learned the difference between IFSPs and IEPs…and it was only then that I really understood how powerful IEPs and my rights as a parent are.

One of the concerns I had was about ensuring that my children were in a complete American Sign Language (ASL) immersion environment, as opposed to simultaneous communication (sim-com). Although their school has a majority of deaf teachers, there are still some old-school staffers who think it’s perfectly acceptable to sign and speak at the same time.

This, of course, is one of the most ineffective ways to communicate with deaf children. Usually, when a person speaks and signs at the same time, which language gets words dropped more? Yup, ASL. As a result, the deaf person is forced to lipread more than watch the signs—and this becomes a horribly mangled communication system where the brain processes different things at the same time. It’s confusing, hard work and ineffective. Yet I knew I couldn’t be an ASL cop (nor did I want to be), walking around telling people to not sign and speak at the same time.

What to do, then? When my oldest child began having IEPs, I requested that the school add that she be exposed to only one language at a time—i.e., written English or ASL. In fact, the specific sentence in each child’s IEP says:

The parents have requested that [child] be exposed to only one language at a time (either ASL or written English) in order to prevent, or at least minimize, exposure to signing and speaking at the same time.


For example, the teacher can sign to my children in ASL while reading a book in English with printed words, but not speak and sign at the same time. Instead, she’d be doing consecutive language sharing. This is how I learned to acquire English, and I’ve seen it pay off with my children already.

I shared this with a school administrator, and he said that it was the most powerful piece of language advocacy he’d seen in his career. It’s also a really effective way to hold schools accountable for their communication choices with my children.

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