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.
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.