In this episode, I got chatting Kimberly Sanzo of Language First who has an incredible insight in the world of language deprivation that deaf children can go through and the importance of having the right environment to encourage language acquisition.
Like all interviews on this podcast, I come away with a different on a topic that I don’t have lot of knowledge about but after chatting to Kimberly, it has opened up my mind about the power of sign languages, and I’m sure it will do the same to you too.
You can listen to the podcast interview below, or you can read the transcripts by scrolling down:
- ‘Language First’ website
- Kimberly/’Language First’ on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook
- What is concentration fatigue?
- What can hearing aids do and don’t do?
Announcer: This is The Hear Me Out! [CC] Podcast, a place to hear stories from the deaf and hard of hearing people, and from your host Ahmed Khalifa.
Ahmed: …I’m very excited because the first time I notice you is on Twitter. The tweets that you have been sharing, it makes you think. It makes you think in different ways.
End even though I’m the kind of guy who should be … people think that I should know a lot about it because I am deaf, but it’s a completely different topic, so that’s why I thought you’re the expert, and I thought, “Great, I have to get you on.”
So, I appreciate it. Thank you for your time.
Kimberly: Yeah. Of course.
How Kimberly is linked to deafness?
Ahmed: The first thing I want to ask you about is what is your link to the whole topic of deafness and deafhood and Deaf culture, that area? How did you get into it? And what is your link to that?
Kimberly: Yeah, good question. I grew up in a trilingual household. Three spoken languages. I was always around language and I understood the concept of different languages and how they differ and yet are similar, right?
And so I was always very interested in signed languages because I knew so much about spoken languages.
When I started studying to be a speech pathologist, I wanted to work with kids in an environment where we used sign language, and I just started to realise that people weren’t thinking about signed languages in the same way that they thought about spoken language.
I thought that was interesting because they are all languages, and we really shouldn’t be thinking about them any differently.
So, I draw on my background of multilingualism to help, like you said, have people think about sign language in a different way. Just think about it like another language and not something that’s only for kids that are disabled or only for kids that have deafness. So, yeah, I think I just come from a bit of a different perspective that helps people think about it differently.
But so, yeah, I’ve been working at a school for the deaf for the past six years, so I do work directly with kids who are deaf, and I use American Sign Language in my therapy every day.
So, yeah, I’ve become pretty proficient in American Sign Language as well.
Ahmed: Wow! So you were or you are multilingual, and then you learned sign language on top of that as well.
Kimberly: Yeah. So that proves my point that once you know an extra language, it’s always easier to learn more, right? So why not give kids the chance to learn multiple languages?
Ahmed: It’s true. I mean, people say that to me as well. I know a few, and I’m learning BSL.
Kimberly: Oh, awesome!
Ahmed: And apparently, I’m picking up quite quickly, and I’m like, “I’m just picking up as normal. I just don’t see it.” But I’d say, apparently, we can pick it up quickly, or if you learn just an extra language, then the next one after that, it just becomes easier and easier.
Kimberly: That’s because all languages have what they refer to in the literature, they call it ‘Common Underlying Proficiency,’ or CUP, and all that means is that language is language.
So if you know concepts in one language, it’s going to be the same in another language. You just have to learn the words that they use in that language, but all the concepts are the same.
So, concepts are what’s behind everything, and that’s what helps build your brain and build your ability to think. So learning another language is just learning new words to express those concepts.
Ahmed: That’s interesting because I do see, for example, if you learn maybe, for example, I don’t know, French and Spanish, there are some correlation in terms of similarities, in terms of maybe the structure or the style or the format or something like that.
Whereas if you learn German, it’s completely different, but German could be related another language. I’m not sure what would that be, but it’s interesting that you said that because it is true.
I’m seeing that a bit more with BSL because the grammar is just like, I assume, most sign languages. The grammar is different to the spoken language of the country.
Still, it’s like you can still learn the concept of learning the language like any other language. I find it interesting. It’s just fascinating to me.
Kimberly: Yeah. Isn’t it?
What is language deprivation and language acquisition?
Ahmed: The thing I’ve noticed about you is you’ve talked a lot about language deprivation and language acquisition, so two very, very different things. But let’s just … if we get back to basic, what do you mean by language deprivation?
Kimberly: Yeah, that’s a really good question because I think some people maybe take my tweets or my posts to mean something that they’re not. When I’m talking about language deprivation, I’m just talking about a child who does not have access to language, period. It can happen in any case.
There are some famous cases of hearing kids that were neglected and severely deprived of language, it doesn’t matter what language. In this case it was English, but what I’m specifically referring to is in the population of children who are deaf, what happens is even when they’re given spoken English or spoken whatever country they live in, that they don’t necessarily have full access to that language because of their hearing loss.
There’s a variety of reasons, but overall, they’re not getting full access to that language. What ends up happening is their language acquisition is incomplete, whereas if you had provided them with an additional language … I’m not saying get rid of spoken language, a lot of people think that I’m saying that but I’m not.
I’m saying if you provide them with an additional language that’s a signed modality, they will be able to get it through their eyes, which we know that they’re going to be able to access that, and you won’t have that incomplete or bits and pieces of acquisition. You’ll have a full, complete acquisition.
Ahmed: Right. Okay, because I was thinking language acquisition, it sounds very, very simple, but from your perspective, is it really that simple? Is the topic that simple? Or is it really something a bit more than meets the eye that we’re not thinking about?
Kimberly: Yeah, it’s incredibly complex. I think it’s hard because, like I’m trying to tweet about it in how many characters do I get in a tweet, and it’s so hard to express the complexity of it in such a short frame.
But I agree, it’s so complex, especially when it comes to children that are deaf and hard of hearing when they’re born to parents that speak English. We know research has shown that it is the most beneficial when a parent speaks to a child in their native language.
So, yeah, we do want American English parents to speak to their deaf kids in American English. Of course, we do.
But because we know that those kids may or may not be able to hear all of the parts of that language, we need to also afford them the right to a fully accessible language, which would be American Sign Language.
Ahmed: Got you. Okay.
Kimberly: So yeah, it is incredibly complex.
Real-life examples of limited access to languages
Ahmed: So then what if we … if you can maybe provide examples, we don’t have to name anyone specifically. Let’s create a story then. Can you give an example then of a situation like that? Is it something like a new parent with a newborn baby?
Is it something down the line, like maybe a five-year-old or something later in life? Could you give one or two examples of what could happen in cases of those who have been, as you say, deprived of what could be an additional language?
Kimberly: Yeah, so there’s a bunch of different possibilities for how it would work out, but I’ll give you a couple of examples of actual kids that I’ve worked with
It could happen where you have, let’s say you have a deaf child, a deaf infant, and you get them fitted with a cochlear implant, hearing aids, whatever it is. You get them all the audiological equipment that they need, and then you just feel like you did your job, right?
So you’re just talking to them in English. You assume that they can hear you, but what you don’t realise is that they’re still, even though they have, let’s say, one implant and one hearing aid, they’re still missing out on a lot of sound, so they might misperceive a single phone me.
They might not hear the S on cats, and therefore not understand what a plural is because that S means many cats. That little, tiny phoneme holds so much meaning.
And so, over time, continually missing out on these tiny phonemes here and there that hold a lot of meaning, and therefore missing out on all this meaning, by the time the kid is five, you’re like, “Wait, they’re delayed in their language. Why is that? They have an implant. I talk to them all the time. What’s the problem?” So that’s a classic one.
Another example I think people don’t think about is a child who’s implanted later, so let’s say you have a child who did not get good benefit from hearing aids for the first, let’s say, five years of life. Then, at the age of five, five and a half, they decide to implant them.
Well, if you put an implant into that kid’s brain, their brain is not going to interpret that electrical input as meaningful at all.
A) because their brain is almost fully developed for language at this point. B) because they have no basis for spoken language if they haven’t had good benefit from their hearing aids, then they don’t have a strong language foundation at all.
So to just put an implant in there and think that their brain’s going to know what to do with it is unfair to that child. What happens is you have, in this case, you have a kid who’s five, who is newly implanted, and you expect them to just take off like a five-year-old would, and they don’t.
So these are the more severe cases of learning deprivation because they really … I’ve had kids come to me like this that really have literally no language.
Ahmed: Wow! It’s something that, especially the first case you’re talking about, in terms of the pronunciation of certain words, something that I can completely sympathise with. Hearing aids for me, it’s just not my favourite thing, but I wear it. I was a late … not late-diagnosed, but I was five years old. I think-…. I’ve had … I don’t know what’s the medical terminology of it, but I just couldn’t hear it as well.
So until I was the age of five, it was officially diagnosed. But I remembered, when I was in school, then I had to learn English because my first language is Arabic.
I learned English, and then learning English for me, you listen to oral things, and you hear what they say on TV. I remember, you described it, there are certain words you missed out or used certain words that you didn’t pronounce the correct way, which can completely change the meaning of that word.
Ahmed: And that’s something that I have gone through so many times. An example would be I actually had a speech therapist. I remember an example of one. Apparently, and I probably still do it now, I pronounce the words that begin with SH and CH very different.
Ahmed: And it’s to do with the way the tongue is placed behind your teeth, and there’s a big difference between Sharlie and Charlie. It’s like you’re pronouncing correctly. It makes a lot of sense what you said, and throughout my life, I thought it was pronounced this way, but then I didn’t realise it’s pronounced another way. Even a person’s name, I’d been pronouncing the wrong way entire time.
Kimberly: Wow. Yeah.
Ahmed: Because you just don’t hear it as well.
Kimberly: Yeah. So, a good example. I had a student. He was 17 at the time that I was evaluating him, and he had two cochlear implants, and he was raised oral. We were doing a very simple vocabulary test, and I asked him to label different pictures.
I showed him a picture of a bulldozer, and he said it’s called a bulled. And I was like, “Well, what’s the rest of the word?” And he said, “Bulled. It’s called a bulled.” So to him, he either never heard the “ozer”, or he perceived the “ozer” as part of the next word in the sentence because you can’t tell where one word ends and one word begins. So he genuinely thought that that machine was called a “bulled”.
Kimberly: Yeah. I think that’s such a good example.
Ahmed: That is an interesting example because, I mean, can I ask? Is that person, is he deaf to maybe lower frequency sounds, for example? Or…?
Kimberly: I don’t remember what … See, this is the problem. Because he has two cochlear implants, his audiogram looks perfect. And this is why cochlear implants are very tricky because people look at the audiogram, and they say, “Look, they can hear like a normal hearing person.”
But they can’t, so in that case, I don’t know. It’s hard to say.
Ahmed: That’s interesting because I just, for my example, I think it’s because I am almost complete deaf to certain high-frequency sounds, as well as other sounds as well, but most of the high-frequency sound, I just don’t hear it.
So because of that, people say it’s because I am not able to listen and differentiate like SH and the CH because it’s so high frequency, you just can’t hear that.
Ahmed: So it’s interesting that you said, in that case, that sound occurs at the opposite end of a spectrum for me, personally. But, of course, everyone is definitely. Everyone has their own type of deafness to them, so you can’t really say one person is exactly the same as another. It’s just crazy to think like that.
Kimberly: Exactly. Yep. Exactly.
What Kimberly does on the job with deaf children?
Ahmed: It makes sense. So then what do you exactly … what is it you do then, face-to-face, with that patient, student, or however you call it, or client? What do you do to help them to get through that, to overcome it, and get to the stage where you’d like them to be able to have that language acquisition? What is it that you do?
Kimberly: Most of what I do actually is language therapy in American Sign Language, so I do a lot of explicit teaching of language concepts, like “WH” questions.
A lot of what I do, honestly, is teaching kids, when I ask who, you have to give me a person. You can’t give me a place, and you can’t give me a time. Right?
So I do a lot of teaching of language concepts, a lot of just language exposure because a lot of my kids come without any language, and so we automatically immerse them in American Sign Language.
That way they at least they just get language into their brain. So, yeah, currently, my caseload requires mostly language therapy in American Sign Language.
But in the past, I’ve done listening therapy, your typical listening therapy and then using American Sign Language as a visual to help when they’re misperceiving things.
For example, I have a little kiddo, he’s six, and he also has two cochlear implants, and he signs while he talks, so you can tell where his mistakes, right? So I said to him, I said, “You’re such a goof,” like a goofball. Right? I said, “You’re such a goof.”
And he signed. He said, “I’m not a goose.” And he signed goose. So that told me that he misperceived the F as an S, and that’s a … like you said, that’s very high frequency. It’s very finite, and because he signed it, I knew, “Oh, he thought I said goose,” and so I said, “No, goof.” And I signed “silly, silly”.
So the visual really helps, right? It helps them understand, “Oh, she was talking about being silly and not a bird.”
Ahmed: Wow. This is why captionings are important.
Kimberly: Yeah, yeah, exactly.
Ahmed: It might mean you get confused goof and goose, and it’s like, even for me, I have to think quickly because, again, it’s a high-frequency thing. I’m trying to double-check whether did you say goof, as in goofball, or goose, as in the bird. And then… it’s like, “Oh, god, okay. That makes sense.”
Okay, I feel for you six-year-old boy out there. I feel for you. Don’t worry. I’m with you. You just totally get it, you know?
Ahmed: I’d give you a hug right now if I could.
Kimberly: I’m with you.
Ahmed: There’s nothing wrong with you.
Kimberly: I know, and that’s such a huge thing is that these kids need to understand that nothing is wrong with them.
And often times, this oral kind of perspective, spoken-language only perspective makes them feel like there’s something wrong with them when there isn’t.
Ahmed: It’s true. I think, again, speaking from experience, the world that we live in is that you can get bullied for these things, whether you stutter or you mispronounce or there’s something, “wrong” with you, and get teased for it. You get bullied for that. Sometimes as a joke but sometimes it’s not that funny.
Sometimes it did hold me back to say something in public or speak in public or talking about a particular situation in life, and then I’m like, “Oh, I don’t want to say because they probably will pick on how I pronounce certain things.”
And then this is also the issue that I had with learning languages, because I do love languages, but I have officially decided to give up learning oral spoken languages because it’s such a struggle for me to listen to other conversation.
Not only is it’s a struggle to listen in their language and then you translate it in your head and in your spoken language, but it’s also a struggle to listen to those tiny forced spelling or pronunciation that could make or break the whole conversation, really.
Kimberly: Yes. Exactly. So this is another reason why I think it’s so important for people to learn other languages, no matter if you’re deaf or not, because I’m not deaf.
But I know what it feels like to go to France, where French speakers are very, very, very particular about speaking their language perfectly, and not being a native speaker, and also speaking a different version.
I speak [inaudible 00:18:17], which is not Parisian. And so when you’re in another country trying to speak their language, and their nitpicking everything or acting like they don’t understand what you’re saying because it’s not perfect, or you’re misperceiving something they said because you’re not a native speaker, it can really make you feel small, and it makes you not want to talk.
It makes you not want to order a restaurant, so I can kind of understand. Obviously, I don’t know what it’s like to be deaf, I can kind of understand what it feels like to be like, “You know what? I don’t want to talk right now because I don’t feel like getting picked on.”
So a lot of what deaf people go through in mainstream can be understood by somebody who just knows another language or is a non-native speaker of something. So I think multilingualism is so important, you know?
Ahmed: I agree. It just opens up…I mean, there’s so many benefits, his is another conversation about the benefit of languages. I mean, we know what are the benefits of language, but as you say, I think it’s a great point that you’ve made about hearing people.
If you want to get a somewhat of a feeling of what a deaf person goes through in terms of pronouncing certain words, or what they can hear or can’t hear, it’s like a hearing person learning another language.
You’re trying to hear carefully, maybe listen extra hard, which literally, it would give you a version of concentration fatigue, which I get all the time, and then you can almost resonate with that.
Of course, it’s not exactly the same, but you can get an idea if learn another language, what a deaf person is going through when they’re trying to listen extra hard if they can hear those sounds at all. So, it’s a great point. It makes a valid point.
But then while you focus specifically with deaf people, I mean, this can be applicable to a lot of areas, couldn’t they? I mean, a lot of spectrum in terms of different disabilities and different things, but why specifically you work with deaf people? Why do you enjoy that so much?
Kimberly: Yeah, it’s funny you say that because I’ve had people comment on things that I post, like on Instagram or Facebook and say, “Oh my gosh, I know this is about a deaf kid, but this applies to so many other things.”
So a lot of what I say is applicable to all sorts of disabilities or populations, but I, for some reason, I just, my heart is in deaf education. I don’t really know why.
I think maybe because I love languages and I have that background, and I just think that sign languages are gorgeous. They can express things that spoken languages can’t, in a way that spoken languages can’t, so maybe it’s just the linguist in me that gets really nerdy.
I don’t know. There’s just something about deaf kids that I just … they have my heart. I love them. I have no better explanation.
Ahmed: But I think that’s a good explanation. If it’s in your heart, if you feel it like that, then you’re able to contribute more because you feel it, rather than you’re here because you feel like you have to.
Kimberly: Yes. Exactly.
The tweet which sparked debate about a deaf child’s environment
Ahmed: And I love that. It’s great that you’ve mentioned, a couple of times, actually, about certain things that you have posted on Twitter of Facebook and wherever, and this is why I have wanted to chat with you because I found some of your tweets that you shared very insightful, very interesting when you look at it.
One in particular, which is probably your most popular tweet, and you probably know why, and you’ve written in this particular tweet, and I will put it in the show notes for people to see it, you’ve written:
“If a flower doesn’t bloom, we don’t ask what is wrong with the flower. We ask what is wrong with the environment.
If a deaf child doesn’t bloom, we mustn’t ask what is wrong with the child. We must ask what is wrong with the environment.”
It made me stop and think. I’m like, “Yeah! Yeah.” My brain was thinking, and my cognitive thinking would go on. It’s like, “Oh, that makes sense.”
I mean, first of all, what made you think about that quote. It’s quite a beautifully put-together quote if you like. And also, just to get more detailed about it, what specific aspects of the environment are we talking about?
Kimberly: So, when I saw that quote about the flower, “if a flower doesn’t bloom we don’t ask what’s wrong with the flower,” I thought immediately of my deaf kids because I work at a residential school for the deaf, so that environment is fully American Sign Language.
Everything is instructed in sign language, everybody knows sign language. All the kids talk to each other in sign language, and what we see is that when we get kids from other programmes, oral programmes or mainstream programmes, they come to us either very withdrawn, very, very shy, very low self-esteem, very limited language.
And then they come into our environment and they blossom. Blossom isn’t even a strong enough word. They just flourish. I see this happening over and over.
I’m like, “Every kid that comes to us from a different environment, all of a sudden, when they’re put in an environment where people use their language, everything’s accessible. They don’t have to work 90 times harder than every other kid to get the information, that all the sudden, they’re like these blossoming little kids.”
When I saw that quote, I was like, “This is exactly what happens with my kid. There’s nothing wrong with them. There’s something wrong with the environment.”
So, if they’re in an environment where everybody’s using a language that is inaccessible to them or, I mean, it doesn’t have to be 100% inaccessible, but to some degree inaccessible.
Then of course their going to start feeling withdrawn, they can’t talk to people, they can’t hear the conversations in the cafeteria. They can’t hear the gossip. They can’t hear kids talking about them behind their back. You know?
Or, even if they have an interpreter, they have to talk to their friends through the interpreter? That’s not cool.
So, when you take all of that away, and you put them in a setting where they can talk directly to whoever they want. They can make friends and talk to them on their own, everything’s accessible, then you see this huge change in their personality, and it’s so amazing.
Ahmed: And what’s even more amazing, I think, not just the way you answered that in terms of the actual scenarios and describing it, but the way you answered it and then the WAY you answered you. Your emotions. You got excited about it, and it’s like, “Damn it, come on! This is not the kid’s fault. It’s the environment…oh, come on!”
The passion in you is just coming out.
Kimberly: Yeah, I’m very passionate about this. Yeah. Very passionate.
Ahmed: It’s amazing, and I applaud you for that. It’s really-
Kimberly: Thank you.
Ahmed: – it’s amazing. And again, it’s the environment thing that made me think quite a lot because it’s something that I felt like didn’t have a lot of control about when I was younger. I felt like I had to accept it that there’s no way around it.
The world is like this, and let’s face it is a hearing world, if the world is like this, and the environment at or school, whatever, I feel like I have no choice but to accept it.
But really, you don’t have to accept it. There could be, I’m not saying it’s easy to find a solution just drop of a bat, but you could find a solution in terms of a local deaf club.
Or maybe there’s a local community that you can connect with, or maybe you can find out what technology can help you, or you can find out whether you have those facilities available, but you didn’t know about. You can ask about it.
It’s so important for people to know that when people think, “Oh, you’re struggling in that environment,” well, sometimes maybe they have no hope, but maybe the other side is we didn’t know that there was an option, there was another option.
Kimberly: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ahmed: And that is why that tweet, in particular, really resonated with me, and apparently, judging by the number of retweets, a lot of people. I mean, you’ve done well with that.
You should copyright that immediately. Just take it. Just take it.
Kimberly: It’s interesting because I don’t know if it’s the same in Britain, but in the States, we have this concept of “Least Restrictive Environment”, and we call it LRE. We say this term a lot in deaf education, but everybody has a different understanding of what it means. Right?
So, when you think about least restrictive, to me that means the ability, the child’s ability to get to the academic information with the least amount of restriction. So, in that case, wouldn’t that mean a signing environment, a place where they can directly talk to the teacher in American Sign Language.
They can directly talk to their classmates in American Sign Language. There’s nothing restricting that like an interpreter in between or the need for an FM system.
Because when you’re in public school and you need an FM system, or you’re wearing your implants, and then it’s field day, and you’re out in the field, and you can’t wear your implant and there’s no FM system, how is that not restrictive? You know what I mean?
So, yeah, I really think about this a lot. What is the least restrictive environment? To me, it means something … an environment where you can access something without anything in the way. Right?
So to me, that’s a signed environment.
What can hearing parents do for their deaf infant?
Ahmed: Well, obviously, a big part of the environment is at home, which is, I don’t know what other people think, but I feel like that is the foundation of all environment. You want your home environment to be perfect almost, as comfortable as you can be to help you to, as you say, blossom and to bloom in the outside world.
In that respect, I always hear stories about how hearing parents, they realise almost immediately that their newborn baby is deaf. And, of course, they are not aware of the deaf world, the Deaf community, and they get scared about it.
Kimberly: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ahmed: For those parents, what advice do you have for those parents are living that fear and they don’t know what to do, whether they should go in one way or another in terms of should you get a cochlear implant? Or should they just learn to speak, or whatever? All these things.
What advice do you have for those hearing parents who are initially scared about what’s the best way to provide that right environment for their newborn baby?
Kimberly: That’s such a good question because I also talk a lot about how parents are made to feel like they have to choose, right? Either spoken language or sign language. But from my perspective, they should really be doing both.
So I think what’s so paralysing, obviously I’m not a parent, and I’m not deaf, and I don’t have that experience, but from what I’ve gathered, what I think is the feeling of paralysis, of fear, is that I have to make a decision right now, and it must be the right decision. It has to forever work for my child.
What a huge weight to bear to feel like that decision in that moment has to be perfect? And how can you possibly know what’s going to work for your child? That’s like being like, “Okay, you just had a newborn. Decide what he’s going to do for a living. Right now, decide what he will do for the rest of his life and make a career at it.” How can you know?
So instead, why don’t we offer parents both languages? Say, “Okay, here is how you would pursue implants and hearing aids and spoken language, and here is how you would also pursue the Deaf community. Here’s a deaf mentor. Here’s how you learn sign language.”
Give them as much as you can. Not everybody’s perfect, and not everybody can give their child everything, but to the best of your ability, try to give them both. That way your kid can decide when they’re older or their brain can just subconsciously decide, which one, or both, works for them. Right?
And then the burden is off of you as a parent to make this paramount decision on the first day of life of your kid’s life. That’s such a huge burden to bear.
So I think, as professionals, we shouldn’t be making parents feel like they have to make this crazy decision. Make them feel like, you know what? Your child has a diagnosis, and it’s not a terrible diagnosis. They can still be perfectly successful with the diagnosis of deafness, but here.
Here are the two things that you have to do. Try to do both to the best of your ability, and let your child decide which one works for them, or both.
Ahmed: That’s true. It makes a lot of sense because the way you said “give as much options and access to things as much as possible,” it’s exactly like, and I’m just guessing because I’m not a parent, but what I’m seeing is that a parent always gives a child as much options when it comes wanting to get involved in sports or activities or instruments. You just try a lot of different things, especially in the earlier days, and find out what sticks.
Kimberly: Yep. Exactly.
Ahmed: So that just came to my head. I’m thinking, “That makes sense because then that way the child can decide what is more comfortable for the child rather than enforcing it and rather than because of fear.
Or maybe you’ve been listening to only one side of your argument, and you thought, ‘Okay, that makes sense.'”
Kimberly: Yeah. I like the sports example because some kids are naturally good at some sports, right?
Ahmed: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kimberly: And not so good at others, and you can’t just decide for your kid, like, ‘You’re going to be good at soccer,” and that’s it. “You’re only going to play soccer.”
What if that kid is naturally phenomenal at tennis, but they never know it because you just never let them play tennis.
Ahmed: That’s true. And again, it’s the environment, as you say, get that environment and find out where they bloom, really.
Kimberly: Yeah. Exactly.
What can (or should) medical practitioners advise for parents of deaf infants?
Ahmed: It makes a lot of sense, so then what about in terms of the medical side of it for the practitioner, the doctors and things, because I do hear a lot of stories, and I’ve even interviewed a person, again based in the US, profoundly deaf, so we communicated and interviewed via email.
And he told me about how the doctors when he was a child, the doctors encouraged the parents to choose the angle of learn how to speak and go for that angle, and just because then the child would be left behind.
And that is often something scary for a parent so think about. You don’t want your child to be left behind.
So then what advice do you have for the doctors, then, in terms of just being open-minded, providing the right advice and giving options because I don’t see that a lot.
Maybe I’m wrong, but from the stories that I hear, it seems like doctors, in some cases, not all, are encouraging parents to go on just one side of your argument, which is what they know of. Do you have anything to say about that side?
Kimberly: Yeah, that’s a really good question because that is still pretty prevalent here in the States that doctors have a very medical perspective.
I mean, that’s how they’re trained. They’re trained to see a medical problem and to fix it, and so if you look at deafness from that perspective, you can see why they would say, “Implant them. They have this type of hearing loss. They are a candidate. Let’s do the surgery. Bing, bang, boom, we’re done. I’ve fixed this medical problem.”
But I think that any good doctor should be looking at a child from a holistic perspective.
The problem is when you only look at a patient, let’s say, from one perspective, let’s say you have a heart patient, and you’re only looking at their heart, and you’re not considering that they might have a thyroid condition that’s affecting their heart defect.
So you can’t look at a patient in a very singular way. You can’t look at their one condition as a vacuum. It doesn’t exist on its own.
The child is complex, is a whole being, and so you have to consider, “Okay, if I’m trying to fix this “problem” of deafness by implanting them, how is that then going to affect their brain development? Will their brain interpret that?” You have to think about all these things that are going to intertwine and interact.
What if the child has apraxia of speech? I’ll bet doctors don’t think about that. I’ve had plenty of deaf kids that have apraxia of speech, and they were implanted, and they can’t talk because it’s a neurological condition. It doesn’t matter if you implant them, they can’t motor plan out to talk, and so it’s really important to consider that deafness doesn’t occur in a vacuum.
You have to think of all these other parts of the child and other possible diagnosis they might have that you can’t see right now because they’re only two weeks old. So really, I think … I would hope that doctors are slowly starting to realise that they can’t look at deafness as a singular diagnosis.
They have to look at everything.
Ahmed: Sure. No, it makes a lot of sense, and it’s an argument that I have to repeat over and over again that my hearing aid is not a cure.
It’s not a solution for everything. It’s just completely wrong, and I’m assuming the same applies to those with cochlear implants. I’m assuming it’s the same idea. It’s not a solution. It’s just an aid.
Sometimes it’s not an aid. Sometimes it’s actually counter-effective. It might be doing the other direction, which is something I would say, for example, if there’s a neurological thing, then that’s not going to fix it.
It makes a lot of sense.
Kimberly: Exactly. Somebody made the analogy once that a cochlear implant, and you could say hearing aids, too, are like a prosthetic arm. So if I’m missing my arm, and I get a prosthesis, yeah, I technically have an arm, but it doesn’t function in the same way a normal arm would, right?
I can’t grasp things in the same way. I don’t have all the functionality of a natural arm. So to look at someone with a prosthetic arm and be like, “Oh, yeah. They’re doing just fine.”
You have to understand that it’s a prosthesis and that it replaces some function, but it will never replace the natural function of the cochlea.
Ahmed: I agree with you. And that’s another argument I have all the time. It’s like if I listen to music, it’s not the same way as listening without hearing aid and with hearing aids. The sound quality is very different. It’s an argument that it’s hard for people to imagine.
It’s just education, isn’t it? It’s just education actually.
Kimberly: Yeah. Yeah, exactly.
Ahmed: Sharing that knowledge.
I mean, I can go on forever talking to you, but I need to wind it up. But I wanted to ask one final question, and whether it’s an easy answer or not is another story.
When is oral languages better than sign languages?
Is there a point … I know you’re laughing…is there a point where you think oral languages is better than sign language in any particular situation?
Kimberly: Ooh, that’s a good question. So, I’m going to answer that question with an analogy, okay?
So, to me, that question is like asking is there a point where French is better than Spanish? Well, no, there isn’t really because they’re both just languages. What does it matter if you know French versus if you know Spanish versus if you know Chinese?
They’re just languages, so me putting spoken language above sign language or even vice verse, putting sign language above spoken language is moot. I mean, what’s the point of doing that. There’s no … putting any language above another language isn’t really helpful because they’re all equal.
So, again, obviously, I come from a multilingual background, so I’m always a proponent of multilingualism and bilingualism, so my ideal would be spoken and signed. But no, I guess a short answer would be I don’t really see a time when any language is ever better than another language.
I think that’s a good question, though.
Ahmed: No, I think it’s a great answer. I think it makes sense. There’s no one thing better than the other. There’s no language better than the other. There’s no country better than the other. It’s just it has its own pros and cons, its own benefit, its own disadvantages. You just weigh up in your particular situation, and then what works for you, then you go for that option.
Ahmed: It makes a lot of sense from what you’re saying, so I just felt like I needed to pass that idea with you. I just felt like “Kimberly would know. She would know the answer”.
It’s a great point, and I think it’s a great way to wrap things up because I can, if I want to, I can talk to you for another hour, but there’s just too many things to talk about.
Yeah. But it’s just really interesting to hear from your perspective, from someone who I’ve never spoken to before in terms of that angle, and like I thought, it was just a really great to talk to.
How to connect or reach out to Kimberly?
I hope people can learn from it, as well, and also, if people want to find or connect with you, where is the best place for them to do that?
Kimberly: Oh, to connect with me?
Kimberly: Either on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, I’m on there as Language First. Or they can email me, firstname.lastname@example.org.
I always take time to respond very thoughtfully to all my emails, and if people have questions and need research articles, I always attach research to support what I’m talking about. I always try to give people as many resources as I can.
Ahmed: Perfect. I’ll make sure I’ll include that in the show notes, in the transcripts.
Ahmed: And just to make it easy for people to find it as well.
Kimberly: Awesome. Well, and I really appreciate it.
Ahmed: No, it’s no probably at all. I do appreciate it, and hopefully, we can maybe reconvene and talk about a different side of the topic and maybe a different angle that we can just … because I think there’s a lot to be discussed.
Kimberly: Absolutely. Awesome. Thank you!
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