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.

Tian's Story on YouTube

If you follow this blog, but haven't yet seen Tian's newest video, be sure to check it out!

We are all in our bed, just visiting before sleep time, as usually happens in our house.  Ken had just returned from being gone several days, so Tian was catching him up on some stories.

Last week, I posted a blog about the boys discussing China more and more.  Tian began telling his dad that both Tian and Travis were born in China.  That we waited a long time and they waited a long time, then finally, we flew to China.  It took me this long to get my phone out and start recording!  The video quality isn't great due to lack of light, but you can still see.  His language is excellent here and the story itself was enough to melt this momma's heart.  (For my Deaf friends, at the end, you can hear Ken and TJ laughing.)

Right now, the video only has annotations, which don't show up on mobile devices.  I will caption it soon, but until then, enjoy!  (Also, find other videos, mostly of the boys, on our YouTube channel.)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Moms Need Physical Help

For the first time in our 16 years of marriage and 13 years of parenting, Ken and I have hired house cleaners.

Ironically, right about the same time we first used the house cleaners, I was beginning the book, Desperate. In a quote from the book's introduction, Sarah Mae says, "Moms don't need instruction manuals, we need physical help."

How true!  I've always felt like I should be able to manage it all.  Cooking varied, beautiful meals 6 nights a week, keeping a clean and tidy home, having clean laundry hung and put away neatly, working part-time, playing with the kids, homeschooling, managing their education, having my "quiet time," keeping up with my professional continuing education requirements, staying involved with homeschool and church groups, maintaining my own health, weight, and appearance, all with time to spare so I can give my husband the time and attention HE deserves.  Just typing that forces me to see how silly it is to expect so much!

If you've been following my blog for a while, you'll know I walked through depression last year.   Most of my depression stemmed from feeling like a failure.  One huge area for me was my inability to keep up with all the physical needs of our household.  I felt there was never any end to the mess, laundry, and places that needed cleaning in my home.  I thought if I were a "good mom" I would be able to manage my household alone.  If I were a "good mom" I would be able to motivate my kids to help me and, together, we could keep the house as a team.

My depression has faded.  After being on meds for about 6 months, I was able to stop.  I thank God for holding my hand through those darker months.  I thank Him for a sweet husband who was holding my other hand. :)

Once we got settled in here in Austin and our routine was down, I was able to just admit that managing everything alone was too much, but managing everything with help would work!  Instead of feeling defeated and giving up on trying to keep the house, Ken and I decided to hire a bi-weekly house cleaning team.  (I must add that Ken is not at all a lazy husband! He takes on extra work so we can get our lawn cared for, he works 40+ hours a week, travels quite a bit, drives the boys to and from school most days, and runs the house on his own any time I'm working.  He gives the boys their bath and gets them to bed most nights  He doesn't have extra time any more than I.)

I seriously want to kiss those ladies' feet as they walk out my door.  I told one of the gals today that she blessed my life.  I'm sure she thinks I'm nuts.  Or maybe she's a mom.  If so, she understands.

I hope other moms will have the confidence to make her needs known in a non-whiney, matter-of-fact manner.  For you, maybe you can trade chores with a neighbor or friend.  Maybe you need laundry help, meal planning help, or childcare so you can take the time to accomplish the physical things you need to do.   Asking for help is an unselfish act!  Continuing to "do it all" to keep up your own appearance of supermom, all the while, growing bitter and resentful of your family and your duties is what is selfish.

This reminds me of the story of Mary and Martha.  Martha is so stressed about getting the physical work done, she grows bitter toward Mary and completely forgets the fact that Jesus...Jesus is in her living room!  Martha needed a change in priorities and she, just maybe, needed a little physical help.  I would much rather spend time with my kids looking at books, playing trains, or jumping on the trampoline than mopping a floor or barking more orders at my family to "help me out already!"

Excuse me, but the cleaning ladies just left.   I'm going to bask in the shiny floor for the few moments it stays that way.
That is a beautiful sight!

Sweet little touches these ladies leave behind.

Goldfish cracker-free.

Sparkling sink? Yes, thank you! And I didn't even have to
follow The Fly Lady's instructions!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Montage Monday

Spending a thoughtful moment in the sunshine.

He's a Power Ranger Ninja!

A sign of the times.

These brothers melt my heart.


No yard is complete without a tree swing.


The hygienist polished off all the stains!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Speaking of China

We have several children's books about China adoption and have been reading one of them lately.  Last night, the boys really talked back to us about the subject for the first time.

The particular book we were reading last night was a gift from a friend. Made In China is a story told from a little Chinese-American girl's perspective as her blonde sister teases her for being "Made in China" just like the toys and clothes they have in their room.  The Chinese girl runs to her adoptive dad and asks him to explain.  (I feel like he should scold his other daughter for teasing, but he doesn't, so I add in that she gets in trouble for being mean.)   The dad explains that she is "from China," but not made like a toy or article of clothing.  The story tells about the birth mom who was unable to keep her, but cared for her enough to ensure she was safe and then about the family who waited for the girl.  The book is beautiful, although I do change up a few things here and there that aren't my favorite.

The boys have been enamored with the book and have asked for me to read it the past two nights.  The reading of the story is always followed by looking at our own photo albums of five of us flying to China and seven of us flying back to the USA.

Last night, after story time, Tian looked out his window saying, "I see China!"  In the last 24 hours since our story time, he's been constantly asking when we can go to China again.  Guess it's good we are going to the Chinese New Year celebration at Chinatown Center tomorrow.  While he's asking to visit China, he's also repeating to us what we've told him, that "Tian Travis stay forever and forever and ever ever."

Just this afternoon, Tian was asking about China so much, that I took out MORE photos as well as the globe to help him understand why we can't just go there to see China right now.  He asks by signing and speaking, "China in Earth?"
"Yes. Well, it's ON the Earth, way on the other side."
"China far far far away?" Then he uses ASL classifiers to show the earth and that China is on the other side compared to the US.

Travis was able to retell a bit of the story we told them about us waiting for them, then flying over to meet them and bring them home.  He signed to us, with a lot of excellent expression that makes the story flow:
Daddy, Mommy, Hannah, Mackenzie, TJ packed suitcases.
They waited and waited.
They flew to China.
Travis with friends. (He acted out what he saw on the video we showed him of when he met us....being happy and also crying.)
Then Travis hugged Daddy.
Daddy, Mommy, Hannah, Mackenzie, TJ, Tian and Travis flew back home.

He ended this story with the biggest smile on his face, jumping into his daddy's arms and hugging him tightly.  It was one of those moments I wish I had recorded, but will just have to remember in my heart.

Our goal is to talk to them about China enough that they just always know their life story.  I have a feeling we will be telling their stories again and again and again.  What a sad, happy and glorious story it is!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Happy Chinese New Year! 新年快樂

In honor of the beginning of the Chinese New Year celebration, we Browns want to share some photos of our recent visit to the Chinese Lantern Festival display in Dallas, Texas.  It was quite gorgeous! Scroll all the way down to link to even more photos.



It was a COLD evening, but worth the chill.

Nana and Pappy with the boys (all 3, see?)


Kenzie, at the pandas and with her panda she bought in Shanghai

Trav was mesmerized by the dragon.
This super-long dragon was made of plates and dishes!

More beautiful lanterns.

Some whimsical designs.

Would you like to see more? Enjoy this album of all our photos from the first half of the first month of American 2013!