Saturday, December 28, 2013

Travis Update Ending 2013

Just the other day, the boys had a friend come over to play.  Before the friend arrived, his mom sent me a text saying that her son was bringing his Batman costume.  I told Travis, "Your friend will be wearing his Batman costume when he comes over."  Travis' face lit up, eyes lifted, and mouth opened wide.  Before I could finish signing, "Why not you go upstairs to get your Iron Man costume?" he was signing, "Yes, yes!" and making his way up the stairs.  Moments later, he came back to tell me he couldn't find his suit.  I directed him to look in my bathroom in the hamper.  He did and it wasn't there either.  Finally, I told him to hold on while I sent a message asking his dad if he knew the costume's whereabouts.  He did and Travis put on his alter ego.

I couldn't help but make a mental note of how that conversation was such a big deal.  We were discussing something happening in the future: friend will arrive soon.  Telling Travis about the costume didn't explicitly mean he had to get his costume on, but he got the implication and ran with it.  Travis predicted what I was going to suggest.  All of these are big deals regarding language skills, so it was one of those moments I mark up as a major success.

We are still waiting for Travis' expressive language to emerge beyond the basics.  Most of what he expresses to us are simply the facts: I want milk. Tian pushed me.  My finger hurts.  Or questions: Can you get me a bandaid? Can I go outside?  Can I watch TV?  Where is my blanket?  He will answer just about any yes/no question. He will answer basic questions: How old are you? What is your name? He now  often spells it instead of just signing his name sign.

He's not yet answering many wh questions except "where?"  He seems lost when we ask, "What did you do at school today?" or "Why are you crying?" or even "What's wrong?"  When we look at old pictures from China, he doesn't ask one single question.  He just looks with much thought, points, and names various things.  He will always ask who people are.

He spoke about Christmas and Santa only in facts and regurgitation of what we told him.  Tian, on the other hand, wanted to know, “Where does Santa live?  What is he doing right now?”  In contrast, Travis just takes in information, processes it, and will answer questions only if we’ve already discussed it.  He doesn’t express thoughts of his own beyond liking and not liking something.

When I read stories to the boys, Travis will lose interest after about one or two books; sometimes not even that long.  He will not ask questions or expand on the stories.  He will point and name many things or happenings he sees on the page, but doesn't ask what things are or why or how (as opposed to his brother, who I can't get to be quiet most of the time.)   What he will do is "reread" a story we have read often. When he rereads the story, he changes some details and embellishes with objects he sees on the page.

I believe some of this is Travis' personality. He's more contemplative.  He's thoughtful.  He's precise. He likes order.  He will be silly, but can only take so much silliness before it either makes him angry or he takes it overboard.  He's not very talkative in general.  I think these parts of his personality combine with his language delay and make progress in his expressive language crawl at times.

Despite the slow process of his expressive language, Travis is still making very noticeable strides in all other areas of language development. Like our conversation last night, I often find myself thinking, “Well, that’s a first!”   We notice new skills weekly if not daily.  He's reading sight words.  He loves loves loves math and numbers.  (Makes sense.)  He enjoys writing and certainly has an artistic talent.

Some days I can hardly wait for him to show us more of what's going on in his mind.  I want to know what he's thinking and feeling.  Ken and I have no doubt Travis will hit that day when he just lets out all that’s been stirring in his mind.  I love this boy so much it makes my heart hurt sometimes. I'm so thankful that I'm able to be his momma.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Deep Thoughts, by Tian

Tonight, we read The Very Hungry Caterpillar, a book we've read many times.  When the caterpillar became a butterfly, Tian said, "Like me. I will become pilot."  (Keep in mind, he signs and talks at the same time when he communicates with me. His language ability astounds me.)

I asked Travis what he wanted to become when he grows up.  Tian answered for him, "He wants to become a pilot like me."  When I asked Travis for his opinion, he agreed and refused some other options I offered him, insisting that he, too, wanted to become a pilot.

Tian asked if, when he's a pilot, "Will you see me?"  I explained that, yes, I will see him.  We will always be together.  We will be family forever, even when he's old.

He asked, "What about when I'm gone?" I told him he didn't have to worry about being "gone."  (I wasn't totally sure what he meant by "gone" and I didn't push it.)

I said, "See, Nana and Pappy are still my mom and dad. Even though they are verrrrry old (sorry, guys) and I'm a mommy, they are still my mom and dad."

Tian said, "But where are Pappy's little kids?"  I said, "I AM Pappy's little kid. And so is Aunt Laura."
Tian was silent, processing all of this information.  I added, "I'm Pappy and Nana's kid AND I'm your mom."  Tian looked totally blown away and said, "But that's different."

Joe, my dad, Dad's mom
So we pulled out some old photos from facebook. We looked at pictures of Pappy when he was a little boy.  Travis joined us for this and pointed, saying, "That's TJ!"  I said, "No. That's Pappy!"  He looked at me like he didn't quite believe me.  I said, "I'm serious! He was a little boy like you, then he grew up and is now a man."  Travis cracked up!  He then wanted to know about the other people in the photos. Those were tough to explain since my dad's brother and mom have both passed away.  Tian was already nervous about us not being together forever.  I did explain as matter-of-factly as I could that they had died and we missed them. (I used that specific word and sign for "die." No euphemisms or talk of "sleep" or "going to a better place." That would be baaad!)  Tian didn't ask what "die" meant. Whew.

The boys saw a newborn picture of me.  I was in the incubator at the hospital with the clip on the umbilical cord. He asked that that was. I explained.  Then we came to a photo taken moments after TJ was born.  He asked, "What about a picture of me when I'm born?"  I said, "I don't have a picture of you when you were first born.  I wasn't there when you were born.  Sometimes, I feel sad, because I wish I could have been there.  But I'm happy that I met you when you were two.  I'm happy God put us together.  But some of it is sad, too.  I'm sorry I don't have a newborn picture for you."

Dad's dad, my dad, Mom's dad, Travis
We moved on to a picture of my parents' wedding day. My dad was standing between his dad and my mom's dad.  I explained that these guys were Nana and Pappy's dads and that one of them was named, "T-R-A-V-I-S, same as you!"  Travis' eyebrows raised and he laughed, very pleased that they had the same name.

We looked at more family photos, then it was WAY past time for the boys to be in bed, so I scooted them along to their beds.

Tian thoughtfully came up to me and said, "I'm worried.  I don't want to grow up.  I'll become old, then lie down and be gone."  *gulp*

I hugged him and told him he didn't need to worry about that for a long, long time; that he'd always be with us, even when he's old, because we'll be with Jesus forever.  I do wonder where some of his thoughts came from.  He knows he doesn't see or know his China mom.  He asked why we didn't live in Nana and Pappy's house.  Why we don't see his other grandparents often.  To him, not living together meant "gone."  I told him that, if he wanted, he could live with us forever and ever. (Mackenzie used to wish the same thing and I made her the same offer.)  As they get older, they're able to better understand extended and immediate family, but for tonight, Tian just wanted everyone to live in the same house forever and always.

Finally, he astounded me even more by asking why his good friends don't always live with their dad and why they have a "new dad."  Yikes.  I didn't realize how much he paid attention to what was being said around him.  But we talk openly about it when he asks where his friends are.  The dad will come over and when Tian asks, our friend states the fact that the kids are at their mom's house.

Not ready to delve into the topic of divorce with Tian tonight, I just said, "They do still live with their dad and their mom, just in different houses."

Whew! Interesting conversations stemmed from a caterpillar becoming a butterfly.

All I can do is pray for wisdom to answer truthfully and judiciously in a way that will be gentle to my boys.  I can't imagine the fears of abandonment that are deep in their souls.  I can only pray that God will give them peace that passes all understanding.  And I'll reassure them with every inch of my being that I will *always* be their mommy.  Forever and forever.

Travis thought it was funny that this was me and my sister. He said, "You are both happy!"

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Tian Update Ending 2013

My two girls are off visiting their Nana and Pappy, so since they are away and the little boys are still in school, I made some plans to spend one-on-one time with my oldest boy.

Then we got the call from TSD:  "Tian has a 102 fever and needs to be picked up."  So, TJ and I took a one-on-one drive to the school to get a very sleepy and very hot Tian.

Having Tian home prompted me to post a quick update about this little comedian. He reminds me of TJ at the same age.  Tian is a natural ham who loves to be the center of attention.  He is not shy in the least!  He'll approach people, ask questions, and mostly assumes everyone in the universe knows sign language.

For example, at the Christmas parade downtown, a parade photographer walked by and asked if she could take our picture. After taking a shot of the two little boys and me, Tian tapped her on the arm and asked, "Take another picture of me. I'm Spiderman."  He then proceeded to pose in a number of "Spidey" poses while the photographer clicked away.

For some reason, the videos aren't playing. I'll work on fixing it later.

Tian's ghost story. Scrub through to the very end. That's my hammy boy.

Tian is super curious. His favorite question is, "Why?"  A simple answer won't satisfy this boy.  He'll keep asking and asking until he shows his approval with an, "Oh-I-see."  See in the video below how Tian plays with Santa's hair and hat while Travis shares his list.

Raw video of the Santa visit.
From December 2013

Tian loves to talk about China.  He enjoys looking at this lifebook and has begun to tell us more and more about the photos.  We have no idea how much of the information is accurate, but it's fun regardless.  A month ago, we were looking though his photos when he said, "That's when I was a baby. I was *this* little, then I grew in your belly."  I said, "You were that small and you did grow in your birth-mom's belly, but not mine.  Remember, I didn't meet you until here (pointing to a photo of Gotcha Day.)  I wondered if he would be sad, or quiet, or thoughtful.  Nope.  He instantly said, "Yuh, huh. Yes, I did. You wrong."  I told him matter-of-factly that his China mom gave birth to him, then we met him later.  He looked over the photos again, then gave me the accepting "Oh-I-see."

Tian, talking to his class.
Tian is truly growing up bilingual.  He's the first of all our children who has grown both languages at equal speed.  Both his English and ASL are progressing at amazing rates.  He visits with us about anything and everything at this point.

Tian likes to make things and draw pictures for other people.  The other day, he brought paper to me and asked me to help him "make it become a present" for his sisters for their birthdays. 

Tian would rather drink milk than eat, but he does love bacon, various meats, all kinds of fruits and very few vegetables or grains other than crackers.  When he's sick or having sinus problems (which are frequent with him), he says, "I can't drink milk now. It will make me sick."  Knowing how much he loves milk, I'm thinking milk might actually make him feel sick or more stuffy.  He's a bright kid to recognize that.

Currently, Tian's favorite games are Just Dance, Plants vs. Zombies, and Flight Control.  His favorite TV shows are Animal Mechanicals and My Little Pony, but he doesn't mind watching Avengers and Power Rangers with his brother.

Tian is a pro at whining when he doesn't get his way and overreacting when one of his siblings "hurts" him.  What else would you expect from the baby of the family?

Tian is a total joy to be around.  He makes people smile everywhere we go. It's a privilege to be his mommy!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Travis Is Reading!

Travis is an early emergent reader!  When it's time for him to read a new book, Ken or I will model the first page, allowing him to read words he already knows, then introducing the new words.  From there, he takes it and flies, as you can see.  At the beginning of the video, you see Travis tell me "No! Look at me."  I was trying to feed him a word and he would have none of it.  Often, if he gets stuck on a word and we tell him, he will start the page all over again, because he wants to read it all by himself.

Monday, November 11, 2013

My Whole 30 Challenge

Chocolate MousseTomorrow marks the end of a 30-day challenge I accepted from a co-worker.  You can read my results, weight loss numbers, and thoughts, including why I don't think eating Paleo is THE answer, on my other blog.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Last week, Master ASL! posted a fun video teaching the signs of various popular superheroes.  Their staff member, Travis, did an amazing job. I couldn't wait to show the boys, and, sure enough, the loved it!   (If you haven't seen it, it's imbedded below.)

Yesterday, a second installment was posted and was equally fun to see.  This video included two of my Travis' favorite superheroes: Power Rangers and Iron Man.  Click the video at the bottom of the blog to view Part 2.

My Travis gets very excited, animated, and "talkative" when the topic is one of his favorite superheroes.  (This excited his parents because his expressive language is what is lagging right now.) Over the past two years, he has made up his own signs for these characters; I'm always impressed with what he creates.  Watching Master ASL's Travis sign "Power Rangers" and seeing him talk about how he, too, loved them when he was younger, made me think of Travis and why he chose to sign "using sword" for "Power Rangers."  The sign shown in the video makes sense for the older Power Rangers shows, when they used the handheld communicators, but the newer Power Rangers are Samurai, therefore are always carrying swords.

What Travis signs for "Iron Man" is very similar to what was on the video.  As for Captain America, Travis' "A on the forehead" makes sense, although he would change it if we taught him "Captain America."

Before I showed Travis the second video, I asked him to show me his signs for a few of his favorites:

Deaf kids liking superheroes makes sense.  They are overly-expressive, active, colorful, and visually stimulating.  No wonder these videos from Master ASL! are so popular.   Once you view these, don't stop with the superhero videos; be sure to check out all of their teaching videos for a fun way to learn ASL.

Part 1

Post by Master ASL!

Part 2

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Homeschool Year Kick-Off 2013

The older three Brownies started school the day after Labor Day.  We were thrilled the week before when our Sonlight box arrived at our door!  We haven't celebrated a real Box Day in a couple of years; we haven't started a new core in a couple of years, so Box Day felt momentous.

This year, we are studying through Core F, which covers a study of the Eastern Hemisphere.  The first country we are studying is China, so we certainly kicked off with a bang!  It's been fun to study a "far-away" country we just happened to have visited for a month.  We are looking forward to the next 5 weeks exploring China!

TJ, labeling brain parts while Mater keeps him company.
A huge change this year has been how TJ does school.  About a year ago, I started to accept the fact that TJ had some challenges with writing.

This year, I've totally revamped how TJ does school and the results have brought me to grateful tears more than once.  TJ logs the majority of his schoolwork on the computer.  

I have to say that I haven't been surprised at TJ's success.  I knew he had the cognitive ability to do the work.  For example, the kids love Sequential Spelling.  They actually beg to do it. In the past, when TJ sat down to do a lesson with us, he would give up before he would finish numbering his page 1-25.  I would be so frustrated, thinking he was just lazy and mad about having to do the work.  Oh, how wrong I was!  Now, TJ zooms through the spelling lessons with no problem at all. He's good at spelling, which sometimes is not the case with kids with dyslexic dysgraphia.  His struggle seems to center in on just the physical act of writing from memory.  His typing speed has improved several words per minute just in the last week, so I can't wait to see what all he will accomplish this year.

All year, the kids will be adding to their Eastern Hemisphere notebooks, praying for these countries, and learning about the human body. Each is working through their level of Teaching Textbooks, a company and math curriculum we highly recommend.  And, of course, we will be reading lots and lots of really good books, which is one of my favorite parts of "doing school."

Here's to all of you homeschool warriors out there!  Have an excellent year!

Friday, September 13, 2013

School Year Kick-Off 2013

We kicked off our 2013-2014 school year by sending off the boys to TSD the last week of August.
Tian is now in pre-k and Travis has started Kindergarten!  They both have excellent teachers, so we couldn't be more pleased.

I have a bit of a learning curve to get through this year. I've never had a child in government-run grade school.  Now that Travis is in Kindergarten, he has homework he brings home every night. The idea of having him do assigned homework after he's been in school for seven hours goes totally against my personal teaching philosophy, so the second week of school, when the homework began, I struggled with my own attitude regarding his homework.

In the midst of my exasperating about it to Ken and silently to myself, I realized I wasn't being a good example to my kids.  How can I expect them to work diligently and with a good attitude, even when they don't like what I'm asking of them, if I don't model that myself?  So, I look at the homework as more "special time" with Travis.  Ken has been doing a lot of the homework with him, too, so that's precious time they have together.  Travis mostly does homework in the mornings.  When he gets home from 7 hours at school, I don't blame him for not wanting to do more school work. It usually only takes minutes and I've seen how he really needs to work on building up his attention span.  I don't expect too much of an attention span out of a 5 year-old boy, but this one won't even keep eye contact for 5 entire seconds most of the time!  Homework has now become a time to focus on learning how to pay attention.

What has been fun about his homework is to see how he does most of the assignments with ease.  Last night, he had to match capital letters with the lower case partner. He zoomed right through it.  Then he matched numbers with a picture and the word for that number.  Again, I was delighted at how quickly he could do it on his own.  He's come a long way in 2 years!

The attention-span problem creeps up when we read a book.  He wants to look at other things; look at one page, then move on. Tian on the other hand, asks if HE can do homework.  He would read books and answer questions for 20 minutes and still might ask for more.

They've both had a good start to the year!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


This blog post is written directly to my friends, family, and anyone who has commented on my blog or YouTube account this year.

I'm not ignoring you! 
*smiling and cringing in apology*  

Well, I haven't been ignoring you, but I have been putting off replying to many of you.  Whether I've gotten emails, facebook messages, or texts, I've just had a tough time replying in a timely manner.  This has been a challenging summer to say the least, but I would say my busy-ness started months before that.

I have several friends from my boys' classes with whom I've been talking about playdates for months, but they just aren't happening.  When I finally do get together with someone, it's because they were persistent in contacting me.  For you I'm grateful!  It's ironic, because in the past, I was told on several occasions that I was the friend always reaching out.  Years ago, I even remember having friends with kids about the same age as my older ones are now, who never seemed to say "yes" when we wanted to get together, but then they would say they really wanted to hang out.  Now the tables are turned.  With Ken working full-time on his/our business(es), the kids doing school all day, me teaching all day and working 20+ hours per week, we don't have much time left over.  Weekends are full with church and my working at the call center.   Weekdays, the boys are in school 7 hours while the older kids and I homeschool about 5 hours.  Add to that chores, mealtimes, playtime outside with neighborhood friends, bedtime routines, grocery shopping, and some downtime (yes, that actually happens!), and we don't have a lot of time left to block for other activities.  With my work schedule and the boys in school all day, I prefer to be home with them on the evenings I don't work.  Ken and I have been missing out on time with each other, so making time for others has taken a back-burner.   Our schedule is something we have put at the top of our to-do list, but it keeps getting bumped back for more "urgent" things.

What I can tell my friends and family is that this is a season.  It's a season that we've had to focus almost all of our non-working time inward on our household.  I have no shame nor apologies for that, but do miss time with friends and wanted any of you asking, "Is is just me?" to know that the answer is, "No!"  (That sounds like a bad breakup line: It's not you. It's me.) My own sister, with whom I speak on the phone for at least 3 times per week, recently posted, in jest, on my facebook that she wondered where I was and what happened to me.  We live 15 minutes from each other and have seen each other about 3 times since the beginning of summer.

This post has been in my drafts for months now. In line with this theme, I've been off social media since September 1st.  I logged in to facebook long enough to post this link, but will remain on break for now. My break from facebook and Instagram is open-ended, although I figure I'll jump back on the wagon within the next couple of weeks or so.  With the kids' school starting September 2nd, I needed to focus all my "free" time on either schooling them or preparing to do so.  I needed more time to be quiet in my own mind so I could seek and hear from God.

In the meantime, facebook friends can reach me via email or phone.  (I answer texts much more often than I answer the phone.)

See you soon!

(Next blog post will be about homeschool and how I'm  having to adjust to being a mom of a government-schooled kindergartener.)

Monday, August 19, 2013

That Was Weird

In the land of The Internets and the more all of our internet usage is linked together, I'm more and more amazed at how businesses work their ads in place in front of our faces.

That said, I just ordered two Shutterfly photo books for the boys.  When I ordered, the album somehow linked to my blog.  I'm sure it was user error and I overlooked some checked box saying it would post, but I was surprised to see the album listed as its own blog post.  A post I promptly removed.

That said, this was my first experience using Shutterfly and I loved it!  One book was free with our Cozi family calendar membership (Which I highly recommend. They may still be running the promotion for a free book, but I'm not sure.)  The second book was free thanks to a promotion though The View.  It's still good through September 20th, so click and save the code, then get busy making your book! You have a month to put it together!

I chose a basic "look" with the pages already set for me.  I didn't choose to auto-place the photos, but it was beyond easy to click and drag photos into place.  Uploading my photos from my drive and simply grabbings photos from Picasa was also quick and simple.

At one point, I had some technical problems.  I choose to use LiveChat help on the website.  Working with the representative, we fixed the problem in minutes.  Bonus: No phone tree!  As someone who processes tech support calls for hour, I appreciate the option to just live chat on the computer.

I'm excited about the boys' books.  They are their first Lifebooks, chronicling as much as we know and even some speculation (which we stated as speculation...we didn't just make up stuff and state it as fact) about their first 2 and 3 years.

I'll post more about their books when we get them, which should be this week!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Are Riskier People Happier?

Often over the past few weeks, we've been asked, "How's the role-switching working out for you guys?"  I've been totally honest, answering simply, "It stinks.  Big time."

Today on the way to work, I was listening to The Jillian Michaels' Show podcast.  The title of the post was "Are Riskier People Happier?"  The title got my attention and I listened to her story about taking a risk on a recent vacation which ended in a horrible sandstorm, unintelligible guides, and 100-degree-plus temperatures.  As horrid as the experience was in the moment, she now recounts the story with fond memories and lots of laughter.  Jillian then referenced the famous quote, "Comedy is tragedy plus time."

That somewhat sums up how I feel about this experience.  For the time being, it's tragedy, but given enough time, it will be comedy.  Right now it stinks, but it won't stink forever.

What's been going through my mind lately is "His mercies are new every morning."  Sometimes I've needed them by the hour.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

If you read the entire passage in context, you'll see the writer's suffering was severe.  Another verse that has played in my mind:

Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

The past three years have been a test of our family's endurance.  The downsizing, moving, moving again, growing family, job and lifestyle changes are major.  While some of the experiences have been what we would call "suffering," the end-result has been more.  More love. More joy. More endurance.  More hope. More faith.  Hope is nothing to be ashamed of. It's' not a crutch.  It's Truth.  And that Truth has sustained us, even when we weren't looking to The Source and Sustainer of that Truth.

Finally, this entire passage holds truth I must not forget.   Jesus is the author and perfecter of my and my family's faith.
Click these links to see our June and July photos

This afternoon, I asked the girls what they thought of Jillian's statement that "riskier people are happier."  We have taken some major risks following God's call (and our own desires at times, to be honest.)  Hannah brought up how stressful were the days in Shanghai airport: TJ throwing up, Tian busting his head open, spending hours and hours waiting for more waiting, crying over what we thought would be our certain separation across the ocean.  Now, that story, along with the miraculous way we ended up flying home together, are excellent "dinner stories" as Hannah put it.  (You can read that story here. Click "newer" for Part 2.)

So, do I believe riskier people are happier?  It depends on the type of risk.  If your risk is careless, then I can't see how that will lead to happiness.  We have certainly made decisions carelessly or selfishly.  Those don't usually end well.  If your risk lies in following God, then joy (not always happiness) will follow.  Risk-takers are more likely to experience amazing things.   Take a leap!!

The Brown Family is currently still mid-leap.  We're in the part where you're a little terrified, still not sure if your landing is going to be sure-footed.  I do know that some very cool things are beginning to take shape, despite the suckish days.  I know we have a lot of work to do.  I also know we Brownies (all 7 of us) are in it together.  Thick and thin. Better and worse.  Richer and poorer.

In the meantime, I'll take those new mercies every morning.

Friday, June 21, 2013


Back in January, I sent this email out to a select few of my homeschool friends regarding my oldest son:

I have a question and decided to ask you few ladies.
My son has struggled for years with penmanship. He writes very neatly and very well in his handwriting book.
If he writes on his own, on a blank sheet of paper, he just can't do it.  If he writes anything, it's a mess. He can't express his thoughts on paper because he struggles so much to remember how to physically form each letter. 
I've tried keeping a penmanship alphabet in front of him, but he will look up for almost every letter.   
I've been putting off dealing with this for the past two years. I have said, "He'll snap out of it." "One day it'll all click for him."  But he's close to 10 years old now and he's feeling "stupid" (his own words) because he "can't write."
Today, I sat him down to try to find out the problem and he said he simply can't remember how to form the letters. (He later told me when he tries to write on blank paper, he feels like he's choking.)
He's smart. He does well in math and is currently working a grade above his "official" grade level. He does math on Teaching Textbooks and loathes having to write out any math problems. He would rather sit there 5 times as long and do it in his head than write it down.  (He does get the problems correct; even multiplying 2- and 3-digit numbers.)
He loves history; he reads and comprehends well. He prefers (and seems better at) cursive over printing. (We use Handwriting Without Tears.)
These things make me feel like it's something related to how his brain is processing writing. Should I have him tested? Do places like Kumon and Sylvan deal with this type of issue?
In the meantime, he's loving typing and is very motivated to become proficient so he will never have to write.
Since he's mid "4th grade" I can't put off making him write. He has more and more writing coming down the pipe and I can't write for him forever. (I have been.  I'll dictate his verbal answers, copy down math problems so he can work them, etc. Now I'm admitting we need some help!)
Any ideas? If not, prayers are cherished!! He is far from dumb and I don't like him feeling that way. 

I have beautiful friends who offered ideas and encouragement.  The Internet has been another source of invaluable information.  Months after sending this email, I found a "diagnosis" for dysgraphia. My son fits many of them, specifically "dyslexic dysgraphia:"

- neat handwriting when copying from an example, but illegible handwriting otherwise
- prefers cursive over printing
- holds pencil too tight and presses down too hard, adding to fatigue
- does not remember how to form the letters
- abnormal spacing of letters

There were a few "symptoms" that he didn't fit, but everything I read said no child fits the exact mold.  My son reads and comprehends well.  He also spells well, which isn't always the case for people with dysgraphia.  He recently memorized pi up to about 15 places, so memorization isn't a problem when he's motivated.

A quick email sent to our Austin homeschool community let me know that Scottish Rite Hospital does assessments and therapies for kids with Dysgraphia.  I don't know all of the details yet, but am hopeful that they will be able to provide some professional advice.

In the meantime, I've scoured every corner of the internet and have learned:
- Lots of people struggle with dysgraphia, one form of which is dyslexia.
(One day, when my son was feeling "stupid," we googled and found this!)
- Typing is not cheating! He already loves to type and prefers to type.  I've always been reluctant to do this, feeling like it was giving him an "easy way out."  I now know better.  If he were in public school and officially diagnosed with dysgraphia, he would get a laptop as his accommodation.  A homeschool mom even suggested letting him use our label maker to print and stick answers on worksheets. How brilliant!
- Graph paper is a must for math.  He won't be able to work problems in his head forever.  I will not allow him to use a calculator.  I'm so glad we have Teaching Textbooks!  That program, along with having him use graph paper, will help him continue to flourish in math.
- We will pick his preferred writing method (cursive) and only worry about neatness when he does handwriting practice.  He does need to master writing to a certain point, but there is no need in making him learn two systems.

As his mom and teacher, there is a lot of freedom in knowing that it's okay.  It's okay for him to type. It's okay that I act as his scribe sometimes.  Over the past two years, I've struggled with feeling like it's my fault that he was struggling.  Did I teach him wrong?  Did I push him enough?  Too much?  Where did I fail?  Learning about dysgraphia was given me a feeling of relief for both my son and myself.  We have a game plan.  We know the root of his writing struggles.  We have hope!

Closing Out the School Year

The last week of school at TSD was an exciting one, filled with some very cute programs and field trips.  Both boys loved their teachers and made several good friends.

Tian amazes us daily with his ASL and spoken English skills.  He loves us to read books and doesn't care if we sign ASL or read aloud in English.  He'll pay close attention either way.  Tian is completely on-track with his peers and will do great in pre-k in the fall!  We just gotta work on his "obeying" skills.  At home and at school, he often thinks it's cute and/or funny to disobey, then produce a huge ear-to-ear grin.

Travis will be moving on to Kindergarten in the fall!  Ken and I were prepared to keep him in pre-k one more year due to his language delay, but the teacher and counselor feel that he can move on to Kindergarten since he is academically ready.  Travis is counting, identifying letters and numbers, writing letters, sequencing, and all the other things kids need to be doing to be ready for K.  He comprehends ASL signed to him, but still struggles when it comes to his expressive language.

The counselor let us know that he would likely begin expressing more over the summer, then the structure (on which he thrives) and nature of Kindergarten would draw it out even more.  Sure enough, Travis expressive language has grown my leaps just over the past few weeks.  In the days leading up to his birthday, we talked about his birthday, counted down the days, packed the door prizes, and named his friends who would be attending.  That single event motivated him to talk about future events more than he ever had before; they also led to him telling about past events.  Once the party was over, he continued to talk about it for days.  Monday morning, he told his teacher all about the party.  That in itself was huge process.

Over the summer, we are doing a lot of reading, then having Travis (Tian, too) re-tell the story.  I'm still editing a video that I'll post soon.  I made a set of sight word cards and we plan to label everything in the house so that Travis can start identifying basic words or at least understand that the words mean something.

I'm SUPER excited about the teacher Travis might possibly have next fall, but don't know the details definitively, so I'll save posting about that for later.

Also on the school front is news about TJ.  I'll save that for the next post....

Monday, June 3, 2013

Winds of Change

The first third of 2013 was fairly uneventful.  Ken changed jobs, but otherwise, the kids all rolled along with school, TJ turned 10 and I worked part time as a Video Interpreter for ZVRS, and we actively sought out a church home.  Otherwise, there wasn't much to report.

(We did have stuff going on. You may not guess the way I sometimes blog, but I don't share everything on here; probably not even a 5% of what's going on in our lives.)

Ken has always been an entrepreneur at heart.  He has some pretty amazing product and business ideas.  (He had the idea for this service, which we now happen to use and highly recommend, way back in the mid-1990s.  Certainly before its time.)  He's innovative.  He's forward-thinking.  His co-workers both in the law enforcement community and in telecommunications industry have called him a "maverick."  One person meant it as an insult, but he always saw it as a compliment.  Some of his friends call him "Deaf MacGuyver," which fits him to a tee.  

At the beginning of the year, Ken took on a new job, looking forward to the challenges and projects.  But it just wasn't "fitting."  He was feeling burned-out and restless; so he approached me with a proposition: Let's switch roles for a while.

Since we've moved to Austin...well, let me be honest...since a few months leading up to our trip to China, I've felt "off" regarding homeschooling.  I mean, we check most of our boxes.  The kids keep up with their Three Rs.  They read a lot.  We read together a lot.  We did a few science crash-courses.  Did I mention that we read....a lot?  But we weren't getting the structure that I desired into our days.  For the past few years, I've asked Ken to take a week off work and "do school" with us to help me find some solutions to work out the kinks, but it's never panned out.

When Ken first told me about his desire to resign from his job, I was scared.  That fear lasted about 60 seconds, then turned into excitement.  He needs this.  My kids need their dad!  I still have vivid memories of the semester my dad stayed home while mom worked full time.  I remember watching The Price Is Right and eating grilled cheese before Dad walked me to afternoon kindergarten.  How precious that my kids will get those same "daddy" memories.

We make a good team.
Through thick and thin.
 I've been homeschooling for 8 years now.  For 5 of those years, I homeschooled exclusively, not working outside the home more than once every two years.  I've always loved my professional job.  As an independent contractor, I can make my own hours, both in weekly scheduling as well as total volume of work.  Because of that and because I'm truly passionate about interpreting, I don't get burned out. 

So, we saw this as a great opportunity for both of us.  Ken turned in his notice and is no longer a sales engineer, but a stay-at-home dad/homeschool instructor!  

Over the summer, we'll work together on a plan for the school year.  We still have a lot to prepare and to pray over, but we both feel a sense of relief and excitement.  For now, we're committing to six months, but just might keep going if we both love it.  I'll be working more hours at Z (the absolute best work environment, I'm telling you) plus picking up some contract work in the community.  **Shameless plug: Request me or contact me if you need interpreting services in Austin!**

While this change is scary and I certainly have a few fears that dance around in my head, I'm excited!  Prayer coupled with my trust in Ken have given me peace about this new adventure.  We cherish your prayers always.

Upcoming Blogs: Travis's Fifth Birthday, End of the School Year, Our Search for a Church (That rhymes)!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Train Story Video

The boys' latest video.  Enjoy!


I'm working on an "end-of-year" review with lots of photos from the boys' school year. We are ready for summer! I've missed having these guys home every day!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

ECE Bilingual Conference Part 3

In Part 2 of this series, I was excited to share some of what I learned about technology and using ASL eBooks.  Well, if you like the good, old fashioned paper book, have no fear!  Drs. Jean Andrews and Damara Paris from Lamar University, shared their team's research findings from the Alabama Emergent Literacy Study.  They focused on the "Adapted Little Books."

Below is only a small portion of their presentation.  There is so much information that goes beyond my knowledge, so I will direct this blog to parents of deaf emergent readers.

As a homeschool mom, I'm very familiar with "little books."  We personally used Sonlight's own Fun Tales with my three hearing kids. (example)  You may be familiar with Bob Books.  The Alabama study used these 20 Little Books.  These "little books" are usually 6-7 pages, use high frequency words, have a close picture-word match,  and use short phrases to tell a whole story.  It was recommended that parents and teachers use books with subject matter familiar to the child.  Bedtime, reading, brushing your teeth, eating breakfast, or going to school are all familiar topics for a pre-reading child. 

These books are "adapted" by being copied and enlarged so that the adult ASL reader can show the book while reading.  If you aren't familiar, it's best to have a stand for the book so that both languages (English and ASL) are always visible.  The book can remain open to the current page, yet your hands are free to sign, expand, point, discuss!

A few key points made during the presentation were that: Literacy begins at birth, is inner-directed (children construct their own meanings of print based on background and personal experience), begins at home, is a social experience, and is based on holistic instructions with whole stories.

Parents, especially we hearing parents, must also constantly remind ourselves of what their study proved: Reading acquisition for some (I would say most) signing deaf children is qualitatively different than that for hearing children.  When we first brought home the boys and began reading to them, I had to fight my instinct to read to them and teach them letters and words in the same way I taught my three hearing kids.  When reading to the deaf child, it is critical to include ASL/English bilingual strategies such as translation, fingerspelling, expansions and chaining.  Over and over again this weekend, presenters shared their research showing that fully translating the story into ASL, expanding, and telling about the illustration, proves beneficial to the deaf emergent reader.  Fingerspelling certain individual words was also a key to literacy.  

So, what if you are a hearing parent who is not yet fluent in ASL?  Go download some of the eBooks mentioned in my last blog.  Also, you can record other Deaf adults (pick those who are confident in their ASL storytelling skills) reading a book, then watch the video with your child.  Parents can collaborate to build their own ASL eBook library, saving the files in Google Drive or Dropbox. (Thanks again, Adam Stone, for that idea!)  If you don't know any Deaf adults, contact your state school for the Deaf and find mentors. Ask for resources.  Use social media.  There are so many Deaf adults out there who are passionate about literacy for young emergent Deaf children.  You WILL find the resources you need. 
So, how often should you read to your kids?   Lots of reading is good, but you don't have to make each reading experience a Shared Reading Experience. In the Alabama study, the children were read to 60 minutes, twice per week.  Each teacher would follow a specific order of tasks during their reading of the story: 
  1. ASL translation (either signing it face-to-face or having the deaf children watch an ASL translation on video)
  2. read English with signs and fingerspelling 
  3. children recite stories in ASL 
  4. children draw pictures of the story 
  5. children write, labeling the drawings
  6. use ASL to describe drawing and writing
Andrews and Paris also reminded us of the importance of other literacy-builders for your classroom and home.  
  • ABC fingerspelling chart
  • ASL handshape chart (My kids have had the most fun with this chart!)
  • Sign-to-print matching (label everything in your house with the English word as well as the sign.)
  • Sign-to-number matching (the written digit, word, and signed number)
  • Spend time signing read-alouds of more complex books and good children's literature
I don't know about you, but I'm ready to go read to my kids!


Monday, March 25, 2013

ECE Bilingual Conference Part 2 ASL iBooks

Using Technology for Literacy of ASL & English Bilingual Deaf Children

That's another handful of words!  Basically, if you're teaching your deaf (or hearing) ASL/English bilingual child to read, there are some amazing tools out there to enrich that experience.

At the conference, several different people presented on the topic of technology and ASL ebooks.

VL2 Storybook Apps
Check out their "About" page, too.
Click here to get the book in the App Sto

"VL2" stands for "Visual Language, Visual Learning" a Science of Learning center funded by the National Science Foundation and hosted by Gallaudet University.  The work they are doing is SUPER exciting for parents like me!

Right now, there is only the Baobab book, but two more books are in the works.  Each book, priced at a bargain $6.99, is packed with a rich literary experience for your bilingual child.  As the website says, "Every child loves and deserves a great story."  Each story has a "Watch" "Read" and "Learn" section.  "Watch" to see the story signed in ASL.  "Read" to see the English text (see photo).  Certain words and phrases are highlighted; when clicked, a video of the ASL sign, fingerspelling of the word, then again the sign, pops up on the screen.  Finally, "learn" opens an ASL dictionary.  Again, the signs are coupled with the fingerspelling of the word.  The fingerspelling is strategic as studies have shown what we've known anecdotally: fingerspelling aids in a Deaf child's reading skills.
"Read" view of the storybook.
Adam Stone, and ASL/English Bilingual Kindergarten teacher in Manhattan, shared his favorite iPad apps.  His presentation was one of my favorites.  Not only was the material presented beautifully, but the content he shared got me super excited to get home and use some of the apps with the boys.  Lucky for you, he's made his Keynote public!  You can view it here.

Pointy Three
Zoey Goes
These are all ASL and English storybook apps you can download on your iPad!  I can't wait to get each one of these stories, then blog about each individually.  They look fun!

Suppose you want to produce your OWN ASL ibook. Well, it's super easy with the iBook Author (free) app!  The kids and I tested the app today and loved it.  If you know how to put together a Keynote or Power Point, then you can create your own ASL ibook!  I plan to use this app to create lifebooks for the boys.  Not only will the books contain photos and text about their life, but Ken and I can sign the story to them and even ask friends to add their own thoughts.  What a treasure!

Not until I reached the end of this blog did I follow Adam's link to "FoundInBlank."  Here he provides links to these books, plus more! Thanks, Adam, for making it easy to find all these invaluable resources!

Yesterday, a friend of mine, Sheena McFeely, posted a blog sharing her opinions about eBooks and apps.  Be sure to check out her blog.  She also has an excellent YouTube site showing her bilingual Deaf and hearing girls. 

ECE Bilingual Conference Part 1

This weekend, I was fortunate to attend the (get ready, this is a handful) "ASL & English Bilingual Consortium for Early Childhood Education" Summit IV Conference.
Building Bilingual Partnerships:
Home, School, and Community

I say I was fortunate because I attended as a lay person.  The conference is aimed at teachers, researchers, and administrators working in the field of Deaf Education.  I'm a parent of Deaf and hard-of-hearing kids. I also happen to be an educator since I've homeschooled my hearing kids for over 8 years.  I am somewhat knowledgeable regarding ASL/English bilingualism since my professional field is teaching ASL and interpreting.  However....I was surrounded by people who knew worlds and worlds more than I about educating Deaf, bilingual kids!  They have challenges like I never imagined.  These educators and administrators are fighting a long battle that shows only slow, incremental progress.  (The battle being that against the governmental education system as a whole.)

Thanks to researchers such as Dr. Peter Hauser, though, I know the progress will speed up.  Thursday night, he presented research to back up what bilingual deaf educators have known for ages.

Peter Hauser shared research being done comparing Deaf and hearing brains: how they see, pay attention, process and express language.  It was exciting to see scientific validation of what we've known and seen anecdotally for years.

One study tested the peripheral vision of deaf people (signing and non-signing), CODAs (children of Deaf adults), and profoundly hearing people.  The speed at which deaf people could focus on a central image while still being able to identify images in their peripheral far exceeded the ability of hearing people, regardless of signing ability.  The truth was proven that deaf people have a greater peripheral vision compared to that of hearing people.  Read more about his studies by following the hyperlink in the previous paragraph.

Ken was with me for this presentation Thursday night.  I found myself nudging him over and over, saying, "See? We knew that!"  Well, we didn't KNOW, it was just life.  With Dr. Hauser's research, we know.   When we first adopted the boys, I had to adjust from a hearing mom with hearing kids to being a hearing mom with deaf kids.  Especially Travis, who hears nothing at all, presented a new challenge to me.  Ken would often interact with Travis in a more successful way.  I would watch him and wonder, "Why didn't I think of that?"  I didn't think of that because I "think hearing."  I have to remember to view the world from Travis' eyes.

A few bullet-points of the big take-aways for me on Thursday night:

  • Deaf people learn, process information, and pay attention differently than hearing people. They use different parts (often more of) their brain.  
  • Vision is the Deaf child's strength. Maximize each visual opportunity. Instruction should match how my child processes information.
  • Parent relationship with their deaf kids is critical.  Kids' esteem relies on their family: the language in the home and the parents' view of "deaf."

Finally, Dr. Hauser gave credit for this quote to a woman whose name I didn't catch.  Dr. Scoggins quoted it a few days later. I LOVE it!  The research has proven:

The brain doesn't discriminate against language. Only people do!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

It's Not All Roses

"Our pursuit is joy, not trite, silly, fleeting happiness. Now if happiness comes along with the package, yes and amen. We don’t hate happiness. If that gift has been granted to us, then that is grace upon grace." -Matt Chandler

We Brownies truly have a joy-filled life, but that certainly does not mean our days are filled with skippy-smiley happiness, throwing baskets of daisies along our path as we float through life.  My goal with this blog has been to be honest, whether in regards to waiting for what seemed like forever to get prayers answered, tough times in marriage, or dealing with depression

That being said, along with the fun updates about how well the boys are progressing, I will update any struggles as well.

Travis has made amazing strides in the past 19 months.  I've kept it updated here and on YouTube, but his latest skill is writing his name, Tian's name, and "mom" and "dad."  He also is putting together longer sentences and thoughts, often mixing real signs with made-up "babble" so that he will look like he's signing as fluently as an adult.  It's precious!  

Along with these unbelievable improvements, we are still dealing with major gaps.   He's a four and a half year-old with only 19 months of language learning, so the gap is totally understood. As "right" as this gap is, it can still be a source of serious stress at times.

Regarding language development, Travis is still unable to tell us certain things in complete detail.  He can describe things he wants (the red Cars cup, to sit next to Dad, to watch Power Rangers Samurai, etc). He can tell us if he’s hurting or sad, where it hurts, and even a very general description of what happened, such as, "Tian pushed me” or "I fell."  Beyond that, we have trouble getting detailed information.  The lack of ability to communicate what happened leads either to indifference or, more often, a huge fit. (More on fits later.)

More often than not, Travis’ first reaction to anything unpleasant is to whine. (Isn't that true of many toddlers?)  Within a matter of seconds, though, the whine escalates to a fit.  The fits always involve kicking (his signature move) and refusal to look me in the eye.  Often there is yelling and coughing/gagging.  If he's really mad, there will be drooling/spitting and growling cry.

This is a short example from the other night.  When he has a fit, I sit him on the floor so he won't hurt himself by falling off our bistro chairs or knocking into something that could harm him.  It also serves as a time out and gives me a chance to step back and take a breath.

What causes these outbursts?  He wants his milk poured 1/4-inch higher in his cup.  His sock isn't exactly straight.  His pants aren't falling to the exact spot on his ankles that he expects.  A particular item he wants right then isn't available.  He will go instantly from a happy kid eating breakfast or getting dressed to this.  

Travis will sit in time out for other typical toddler behaviors: not sharing, shoving a sibling, not obeying Mom or Dad.  In those instances, he will sit in time out without much of a fuss, if any at all.  One thing about Travis is he is a rule-follower.  We still can’t convince him he is allowed to get out of bed and go to the restroom by himself after we’ve put him to bed.  He will sit screaming on the edge of his bed, wiggling and holding himself because he has to potty so urgently.  But he will not get up because that is a rule so engrained in him, he just can’t bring himself to break that rule.

But I digress...his fits don't come so much when he is being corrected, but when something isn't just the way he wants it.  I believe it's about control and lack of ability to fully express himself yet.  But I'm just guessing.

After this particular fit, I swept him up and took him to his bed.  I laid down with him, letting him cry for a few moments.  I began caressing his hair, showing him I was concerned and telling him I loved him.  He wasted no time before snuggling up with me, hugging my neck and kissing me.  This is common.  He never stays mad after his fits and the fits rarely last much longer than a few minutes.  Those minutes can feel very intense, though.  The situations escalate depending on the time of day, where we are, and if we are trying to get somewhere.

While Travis will be quick to soften, to give and accept physical affection, there is no real resolution in my mind. At this point, I don't know how much he understands about “next time.”  There is no back-and-forth discussion of what just happened and why it was not good.  I can only briefly show him what he did, tell him it was wrong, then show him how to respond in the future.  Travis will appear to pay attention.  He will parrot back an apology. Progress is slow, but at least present.

What I've learned:
  • My hearing kids probably never understood nor cared about my lectures about "next time" either.  Since they can hear, I could fool myself into believing they were listening.  Travis does show improvement in the area of his reactions, so he is understanding something.  Because his eyes have to be on me or else I'm talking to a brick wall, I keep my correction very short and to-the-point.  I probably should have done this with all of kids.
  • The fit will end more quickly if I stay calm.  It reminds me of Cesar Milan's phrase "Calm, assertive leadership."  If I freak out, Travis reads that and will react accordingly.
  • I must keep in mind Travis' first three years.  98% of those years are a complete mystery to me.  When he goes berserk because I've brought him his tennis shoes when he wants his boots (and all he has to do is ask for his "boots, please") I have to consider what's been engrained in the formative years of his life.  "You have to make lots of lots of noise to get what you want." If I show a positive reaction, shaking my head yes and signing back to him what I know he wants, I'll most often snap him out of the path to a fit.  At that moment, I can remind him, "What do you say?" and he will put on the biggest fake smile (still whining under his breath....haven't figured out how to teach him to not do that.) and say, "Boots, please."
  • I'm just like him.  How often do I not get my way and throw a little fit.  My fits may not involve kicking and spitting.  My fits may come out as an outburst toward my kids, but most often, my fits stay in my head.  It's easy to be quick to complain to myself when things don't go my way.  God is always patient with my unending petitions and, yes, whines.  Yet, God has told me I just need to ask. The answer isn't always what I want, but it's always good. 
Ken and I keep our eyes on the fact that there is amazing progress.  We just can't become lazy or forgetful about the work we have to do or the pasts these boys have. Travis brings us abundant joy every single day.  He's making me a better person and a more patient, understanding parent.  I know he's going to do amazing things in his lifetime.  I imagine he will look back at this blog with me one day and laugh at his fits.  It's all a part of the story of who he is. He's exactly who God intended him to be. 
Travis is showing a talent for drawing & writing.

Love that face!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Response to Dr. Karl White's TedxTalk "Establishing A Sound Foundation"

I wanted to comment on Dr. White's TedxTalk video "Establishing a Sound Foundation for Children Who Are Deaf or Hard Of Hearing".  With my permission, he used video of our boys signing in the car with their dad.  

I will comment in order of the lecture, so you may want to watch the first several minutes to get a context:

First, Karl White says, "If not identified early, the deaf child fails to develop language, has a difficult time in school, is socially isolated, and will have a menial or no job later in life."  The entire opening is a typical scare tactic used on hearing parents.  The opening line of this TedTalk begins with a negative view of being deaf.

Let me enthusiastically state that I support early identification! It WILL increase the child’s chances for success IF the parents begin pouring language into their child right away. But, even if it is not discovered that the child is deaf until later, the child CAN succeed and doesn’t have to be behind forever. Scaring the parent into thinking their deaf child will be socially isolated or have no job later in life is bullying.  

A google search for the word "bullying" pulls up this definition: Verb
Use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.

I would certainly say medical professionals are in a position of superior influence, as are so-called "experts" in a particular field.  Of course, not all medical professionals or experts use that power to intimidate, but what I see here is an example of using intimidation and fear.  I see it all too often.

Dr. White speaks of “Amazing advances” enabling deaf children to achieve.  While I believe that parents have a right to choose technology to aid and amplify the hearing of their child, it's underplayed and downplayed just how much early acquisition of sign language will help the child in their success, even their success in speech, listening, and reading comprehension.  

Helen Keller is used as an example of a Deaf person.  Oh, Helen.  You did some amazing things with your life, but your legacy is not a friend to the Deaf community, only because how the story has been spun.  Deaf and Deaf-Blind are two completely different things.  The 1800s and 2000s are two completely different eras.  To compare Helen Keller with Deaf people today is ignorant.

Even within the Deaf-Blind community, how and when one became both deaf and blind makes the person's life experience vastly different. For this reason, it irks me to constantly see Helen Keller used as an example of a Deaf person or a deaf child in today's world.  Using Helen Keller as an example of a deaf child today is like using as an example someone with Spina Bifida in the 1800s to someone with Autism today. You CAN'T do it because they are not alike.

Helen said, "Deafness is much worse than blindness. Blindness separates people from things. Deafness separates people from people."  In HER experience, this was obviously true or she would not have said it, but consider that she suddenly lost both her hearing and her vision at the same time when she was a toddler. She did not have the chance to experience just being deaf or just being blind, therefore, her statement can't be used to "prove" that being deaf is worse than being blind. This quote (again) scares hearing parents. Instead of calming them to understand that their child being deaf does not mean their child will be cut off from the family or the world, the parents are immediately worried, not wanting this “sad fate” for their deaf child. 

The opening instantly gives parents/doctors/spectators the message that “deafness cuts your child off from the world.” There is also an undertone of the fact that a deaf person will always need a “hearing hero” such as Helen had to rescue them out of their soundless world. (Note my sarcasm.)

If you have not seen this video entitled "Early Intervention: The Missing Link" I highly recommend you watch.  This is a much more reasonable way to present the news of a deaf baby to new hearing parents.  

On with the TedTalk video:

Dr. White correctly says, "People are the most important thing. Engaging with the people in your life."  That's true.  When parents learn that their child is deaf, they will have fears about not being able to engage with their child in the way they are accustomed.  The way this talk is presented, parents will assume that without speech (their first language), they will be cut off from their child.  Simply put, it's not true.

What happens between the birth of the child and their learning "listening and speech?"  Imagine if we had adopted the boys and only worked on listening and spoken skills.  I guarantee that Travis would be frustrated and would not be communicating well with anyone right now. He would likely still be throwing horrid fits, banging his head on the wall, and drooling, as he did when we first met him.  American Sign Language is the way to get immediate language access to a deaf child.  The listening and speech can be learned, but over time.

Dr. White showed a photo collage of successful Deaf people, saying that, “Back then, this was the exception rather than the rule.” Well, that type of fame (Beethoven, Edison, Matlin, etc.) is also the exception to the rule in our general culture, hearing or otherwise, wouldn’t you say?  Most people, Deaf, hearing, or otherwise won’t become a world-famous inventor, actor, or composer. These examples DO show that hearing status doesn’t matter when it comes to reaching this rare level of fame. But people such as this will always be the exception to the rule.  Again, this collage is propaganda and is misleading.

Next, Dr. White shows a video of a hearing mom talking about her deaf child.  I love the mom in the video. Her reaction is real and honest. I like that she said, “We were heartbroken, not so much that she was deaf, but that we did not know how to communicate with her.” Beautifully said. Having a deaf child is a true, overwhelming fear for most hearing parents. Sometimes, those of us who are heavily involved in the Deaf community forget how scary that unknown can be.  This is all the more reason that medical professionals and experts should approach the parents in a more positive way.  (Please see the video I linked above.)

The "Key Points" he mentioned here are good. I agree with them as they are written.

Next, Dr. White showed our boys’ video.  He did ask my permission to use the videos and I gave permission. I do not regret giving permission and am thrilled to see their videos get out there. I did have a few problems with what was said. 

He says this type of language success can happen “If given a fluent example” and “If started early.”  While I agree early is best, our boys did not start early. This video was taken 4-5 months after they were first introduced to any type of sign language.  That's a far cry from an early start.  Why do I feel this fact is important?  When framed in the truth, it completely proves the real value of ASL.  It would give hope to parents who don't know ASL.  They would see that they have time to learn ASL along with their child.  They don't have to be perfect, fluent signers with their child from birth.  They can learn, struggle, and sign with their child and see GREAT success.  If they start signing with their child and utilize Deaf mentors, their children will be worlds ahead of my boys by the time they are that age!  This video shows the success of ASL despite the worst possible life start.

Travis missed three years of ANY language at all. He was raised in an orphanage without any exposure to signed langauge!  In his orphanage, he was surrounded by other children who were severely developmentally and physically delayed.  He was plucked out of his home country and culture and brought to America, so any facial cues or lipreading he may have had (didn't seem like he did) was lost instantly.

Tian was not even babbling in Mandarin when we got him at age two. He did respond to sound and we have since learned that he hears almost as well as any other hearing person. He’s completely bilingual, both signing ASL and speaking English.

Cochlear Implants and digital hearing will not achieve language results so quickly. I would love to see ASL promoted as a first language whatever the other language choices may be.  ASL can be acquired and used while going through the long processes of hearing tests, speech training, and even surgeries, if families choose that.

I do appreciate that the video was used to show that ASL is a valid choice. Like Dr. White says, “They can communicate every bit as well as hearing people communicate.”  I just wish he showed more of the proof out there to support his statement.  My boys' language is not the best model out there and is certainly not the only model out there.  The other negative comments regarding being deaf make his quote seem empty.  

The next section is about early identification, which is what the speaker is promoting. This is great! I totally support Early Identification.  Dr. White shows a chart stating that both ASL or speech can be considered "successful."  Great, but too often, parents aren't told that they can do both! Ideally, they would explore every option and use both ASL and listening and speech. We first gave our boys American Sign Language so they could connect with us and begin to learn about the world around them. Now that they are in school, we are taking advantage of speech training for Tian and, at some point, will be trying hearing aids for Travis. Our philosophy is to test out every avenue to language that they have. We do draw the line at CIs. For our family, we don’t believe the risk of the implant is worth the possible benefits. (I won’t go in to the whole CI debate, because it’s an endless one.) 

In the same way we choose not to implant Travis, we won’t open Tian’s ear with Microtia/Atresia. The risk of the surgery (involving removing bone from his rib and grafting it to his head to build an ear) isn’t worth any possible benefit. If he wants a prosthetic ear when he’s older, we will explore that with him.

In closing, Dr. White mentions that, although much of his work is with the Sound Beginnings, which promotes listening and speech, he believes early identification is equally important for those families who will choose ASL. Again, it never has to be an either/or. Most Deaf people I know cherish ASL as their first language, but also greatly value speech training they received.  Deaf people certainly value written English.  

The remainder of the talk is specifically about the speaker’s area of expertise. I do love the videoconferencing technology for early language programs. I don’t know if programs promoting ASL are doing this, but it’s brilliant.

In summary, in my opinion, Dr. White does not hold up ASL as an equal option.  It is mentioned for the sake of being mentioned.  It feels patronizing.   Thanks for reading my response.  

Here is another vlog in response to Dr. White's TedxTalk.  You can read a transcript by following the instructions in the video description.