When Miss Kat was diagnosed with a hearing loss, we immediately sought out the Deaf community and asked for their experiences. We asked what their parents did with them, how it worked, and what they would choose for their own children. We heard the same story, over and over. They were raised orally, with varying degrees of success, then, as teens or adults, they discovered ASL and it changed their life. Communication became an ease, they discovered people who understood them, they were reborn.
We also asked them what they thought of oralism and cochlear implants. They told me that lazy parents chose CI's. They want to fix their kids. They don't accept them as Deaf. We were patted on the back, told that we were special, we were the only parents who "got it". Our daughter would turn out healthy and whole. She would read well, and never struggle. She would never have language delays, because we gave her ASL. They also promised that she would gain spoken language just as easily as oral kids. They told us that ASL NEVER hinders a child's spoken language and that she would pick it up.
We ate up the things we were told! We met a lot of kids in the beginning, through our early intervention and Parent Infant Program. We were the only family that did voice off ASL. The vast majority did a sort of TC approach. They would sign and talk, sometimes at the same time, sometime one then the other, sometimes focus completely on one of the languages. Then there were the "oral kids". I always felt so bad for these kids. I "knew" that they were destined to fail. I judged their parents. Why didn't they "get it"??? Why didn't they want their child to have language??? Why were they forcing them to struggle?? Didn't they understand that their kid NEEDED ASL? That they couldn't possibly learn spoken language fluently! Why didn't they just learn ASL and save their children years of pain? ALL deaf kids grew up and joined the Deaf community, why didn't accept that??
Then some time started to pass....I started noticing that their kids were doing great! They were learning and communicating and were happy. They were doing great in school and they weren't behind. I met kids with CI's who were doing AMAZING! They could speak and understand everything I said, and they certainly weren't struggling. They could hear. They were deaf, but they heard even quiet whispers. I thought maybe they were the exception....I had been told that these things were impossible. CI's were invasive, and they provided very little benefit. They were huge gambles that rarely ever work better than hearing aids.
In the meantime, we continued to use ASL. Miss Kat was doing well. We spent thousands of dollars and hours learning ASL. We were learning as fast as we could, but it still took time. We signed all the time. We encouraged our family to take classes at the Deaf community center. We invited them to community and school activities. Some came, some tried. The rest didn't. We were frustrated and angry. If they really loved Miss Kat, they would learn her language. We started to pull away, she was becoming isolated from her extended family. They didn't understand much of what she said, and she certainly didn't understand them. We spent most of our time acting as interpreters for her.
At the same time, she was not learning spoken language. In 5 years, she made no progress at all. Every year at her IEP we discussed how she failed to meet her spoken language and speech goals. She couldn't understand more than a handful of words. No one understood the things she said. When we were in public we translated for her at all times. We helped her learn to navigate without being able to use a shared language, and she was fairly independent, but other kids were starting to shy away from her, adults too.
Also, at school there were more complications. Miss Kat was smart and doing very well, but she did have delays. The school kept saying "It's just because you are hearing" and "She'll eventually catch up". Also, every time we discussed reading, all they would say was "She'll learn". When we pressed them on how, there were very few answers, but a lot of emphasis on memorization. (Miss Kat struggles with memorization as part of the effects of her birth experience.)
We were becoming disheartened. This wasn't how this was supposed to turn out! We were doing all the "right" things. They promised us that she would excel, promised that she would be bilingual....what was going on?