Miss Kat and I are back from the State school for the Deaf, and we had a great time! Miss Kat was pretty nervous (she said she didn't know enough sign) but by the time we were packing up, she said she wanted to stay forever! What really made the difference was when we sat down in our first ASL lesson, and Miss Kat looked through the handout and said "I know ALL of these! Is this the easy or hard class?" I replied "Hard." Her face lit up and she said "I know A LOT of sign!"
There were about 9 families there, with kids ranging from 2 to 16. I was far and away the best (non-staff!) signer. It was a strange experience. I reached this level of fluency by the time Miss Kat was 5. I saw parents with kids who were 16 and couldn't sign a sentence. And these aren't oral kids. These are families who have a child who uses ASL a their sole means of communication. I just don't understand how that happens. The saddest moment during a break, when some of the moms were sharing our "stories" (which always happens when you get families together) and some of the older girls were sitting nearby. (Whenever there were Deaf people around, I would make sure that I was at least SIM-COMing, even if they weren't involved in the conversation, I just think it's polite.) So, a mom was telling me about when they found out their daughter was deaf, and the daughter turns to me and asks, "What is she talking about? Is she talking about me?" I said yes, and gave her a quick run down of what had been said. She said "I can't understand her. She talks too fast. I am DEAF, and can't talk. I sign! I don't know what she says." Her mom sees her frustration (through her rate of signing and body language, I assume) and says "I'm trying!", to which her daughter says "I'm 16!"
I was so sad for her. She has no way to connect with her family. Later, I asked her about where she goes to school. She told me that when she was younger, she attended a local day school for the Deaf, but that her father had moved the family for a job and now she was mainstreamed (with an interpreter) but that she was dying to attend the residential school, but that her family wouldn't allow it. So, she can't communicate with anyone at home or school...so sad.
Another interesting experience was with another teen. This young lady is oral, but now that she is in middle school is starting to learn some sign. We were in the cafeteria for a presentation on Deaf culture. They had interpreters for the families. So, after just a few minutes the young lady's mother raised her hand, she was very upset. She said that her daughter didn't know enough sign to follow the presentation, but also couldn't understand the interpreter because of the acoustics of the room. They asked her what they could do to help her have access to the presentation...but mom just said "She needs to understand the language!" I suggested that the other interpreter sit right next to her and interpret the ASL for her. That seemed to work for her. Then the next day we were having another presentation, this time it was about reading to/with your Deaf child. We, again, had interpreters, but there were fans going and it was pretty noisy. This time the young lady burst into tears and ran out of the room. The family didn't return to camp....
This situation was even stranger to me! The mother had been asking some questions at the parent panel we had about socialization and how to help her daughter make friends (and the only advice that was given was "send her to the Deaf school", and she did NOT like it!) and then she was struggling so much to understand what was going on...it was so sad.
Ok, so here is my opinion on the situation. If you want your child to be oral, great, so make it happen. There are ways to ensure that a child can hear well in all situations (believe me, next weekend I will be seeing it with my own eyes!), so if you have an oral child, MAKE SURE THEY HAVE ACCESS!! But, on the other hand, if you want your child to learn and use ASL, you have to make that happen too! This poor young lady was stuck in "no man's land" unable to use either language to gain access to information! Something needed to change, so I hope that this was a wake up call for this family and that they will make the changes needed to help her be successful.