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  1. Dr. Jaen Andrews
    Dr. Jaen Andrews May 24, 2016 at 11:20 pm |

    I am actually writing in response to the column you wrote for nytimes.com about your son Sam, and the questions you have about the decisions you have to make about his education and communication. I want to share my family’s story with you. In a nutshell, my brother was born deaf (he is now 67), and experts advised my parents NOT to learn sign but to force him to learn to lipread and to speak, thus effectively depriving him of language acquisition and communication with those around him. He started “school” to learn these skills at 18 months of age. We were not supposed to home sign with him (he is the middle of 5 kids), but we did. Fast forward to college: he attended the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) at Rochester Institute for Technology (RIT) where he finally learned ASL. He married a woman who was also born deaf, and also learned ASL at NTID, and they had two sons, the older of whom was deaf and the younger hearing. But my nephew learned ASL from birth, since both his parents signed. His language skills are so far superior to my brother’s that I am heartbroken at the terrible loss my brother suffered. My nephew, who did not attend college, has written English that is superior to that of many college graduates. In fact, when he was in the 8th grade, he won a city-wide writing competition — and when the mayor called to congratulate him, he had to speak with my hearing nephew, as he had no idea that the winner was deaf. I could write so much more, but my suggestion is to talk with folks born deaf and hard of hearing, find out how they were raised, then determine how well they are doing, language-wise and otherwise. But please, most of all, please do not subject your son to the terrible isolation of no language with which to communicate with those around him, and especially his family. Learn ASL right away with Sam; it is an amazing language and wonderful experience. My mother, now 92, says she regrets the decision my father and she made with respect to my brother; she says they were wrong. And I wish I knew ASL better (I’ve tried to learn as an adult) so that I could communicate with my husband in noisy environments as our hearing deteriorates (we are 65 and 73). I wish your family all the best.

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