Sunday, October 31, 2010

Family Dog

I wrote this for My Deaf Culture Class... Thought I would share for anyone that might want to read it. It is basically about how Deaf people feel that grow up in Hearing Families

The Family Dog

By, Emily Loveless

The picture that I would like to discuss is called “The Family Dog”. I think the name in itself tells you a lot about how Deaf people feel about being around people that are hearing, especially in their own families.
The artist who drew this picture is named Susan Dupor. Susan states “This work is expressive of feelings typical to isolated Deaf children living with non-signing hearing families. The faces of the other members of the family are blurred, likening the experience of lip reading to the experience of listening to a TV program disrupted by static. The deaf child, who wears hearing aids, is made analogous to a family pet that is patted on the head while being told "Good girl, good girl." (Dupor, 1991).
The Deaf community prefers American Sign Language over Oralism. When I see this picture I see the many deaf children that I have worked with over the years. I see their suffering and their strong desire to be able to communicate. Sadly, I have noticed that many families are unwilling to learn sign language. They want their children to be normal, and think that if their child learns how to speak and learn how to lip read then they become normal, to the family’s own standard of normal.
Hearing parents that find out their child is deaf want to make the best choice for their deaf child, and naturally they go to a doctor and to experts in an effort to find out the best possible way to help their deaf child. Most people would think that an audiologist or experts in deaf related fields would know what deaf culture and the deaf community are. One would think these family’s would hear from these “experts” what the statics of successful communication are for kids who use ASL as their main form of communication versus kids that learn how to lipread and talk. But in reality, “Otologist and audiologist are often poorly informed about the deaf community and its language; that knowledge is not a required part of their training” (Lane, 1992) page 24. Otologist and audiologist usually recommend to parents the oral method of teaching their child. This method is the method that pays. If parents chose ASL for their child, then the money the parent spends on their child’s ability to communicate is less expensive.
Hearing people tend to think “a world without sound would be a world without meaning” (Lane, 1992) page 11. But in reality, there is a strong Deaf Community. In the Deaf Community there is a lot of meaning, and Deaf people live happy and productive lives using ASL.
“The medicalization of the deaf community is marked by a long history of struggle between deaf people and the hearing people who profess to serve them” (Lane, 1992) page 25. Hearing people think that the Oral method is best for deaf children. For years and years hearing people have pushed the Oral method, which has been devastating to deaf children. Most deaf children do not understand how to lip read or speak. Most of the deaf children that are successful with the Oral method became deaf at an older age. They already learned English before they became deaf, so they are able to pick up on it a lot faster, or it just comes to them naturally. There are a few deaf children that become deaf at an earlier age who are able to pick up on lip reading, but the majority of deaf children are not successful at lip reading or at speech.
Going back to the picture, imagine you are a child who is unable to understand his or her parents or siblings. Your family does not know sign language, and you do not know sign language, because a part of using the Oral method is not teaching your child sign language. As a child, you do not understand anything that is going on, you feel like you are lower than the rest of your family. How hard and sad would that be?
Then imagine not having a language and not understand much of what is going on. Everyone is moving their mouths, and everyone else seems to know what is going on, but you are clueless. Your parents put you in a school. The school does not teach you sign language; they focus more on your learning to speak, then on math, reading and writing. I know this from personal viewing it.
“Many studies have shown that deaf children cannot understand their teachers’ language on their lips or speak it intelligibly. Nevertheless, it is the teachers’ language that is used in class, and so education fails miserably” (Lane, 1992) page 47. Knowing this, you think that education would change, and start teaching deaf children how to sign, but instead we prohibit sign language in the classrooms. I have seen kids start to sign when doing math or something, and the teachers stop them from signing. A lot of teachers themselves do not know sign language, let alone American Sign Language. But when the Oral method started coming out “ASL was prohibited, even outside the classrooms. Children’s hands were tied, to prevent signing” (Neisser, 1996) page 30. How can a child not feel like the family dog, if their hands were tied when they began to use their natural language? The language that makes sense to them!
“If the child is the object of extensive oral drills, which are painful and frustrating, the concept emerges: Something is wrong with me. When he goes off to school or program for deaf children, where the urgency of understanding lip movement is greater than ever, what is wrong becomes localized” (Lane, 1992) page 93.
Naturally a deaf child would think something was wrong with them. All around the deaf child are hearing parents, hearing children, hearing people. They are all talking with one another. They start laughing about a joke someone told, they are having a great time, and meanwhile, the deaf child is sitting there not knowing what is going on. So they think if they master how to lipread and speak, then they will be able to converse like other people around them. The problem is lip-reading is a skill that either you have or do not have. The child may start to think they are not smart enough to learn how to lipread and speak. They think something is wrong with them. They feel like they are just like the family dog.
I have two dogs myself. They do not understand what is going on; expect for key things that a deaf child who does not know American Sign Language might know. They just sit around and stare at us as my family talks. They do not join in the conversation with us, they are the family dogs. A deaf child unable to communicate with their family would naturally feel like they are the family dog. If the child’s family does not know American Sign Language, but the deaf child knows American Sign Language, then they may feel like they are not important enough for their family to learn their language. The child feels like they are not important enough to learn how to communicate with.
I knew of a deaf student years ago, whose family barely knew any sign language, and he naturally acted out. He throws fits all the time. His mother one day asked me how to sign “sit” so she could get him to calm down. Of course he was acting out! If a mother only knows the basic signs to tell the child, the child would feel like he is no more important than the family dog. I tell my dogs “sit”, “stay”, “go potty”. Those are the few things my dogs understand, and they communicate back to me by wagging there tail or running to the door, etc. If a family can only communicate on the same level as I do with my own dogs with basics like “sit”, “stay”, and “bathroom”, then how would they expect their child to feel?
“Deaf children in America, starting in the late 1970’s, were increasingly placed in local hearing schools. Having cut off the deaf child from his deaf world, having his communication with parents, peers, and teachers, the experts have disabled the deaf child as never before in American history” (Lane, 1992) page 26. Before this, deaf children were able to go to schools for the deaf with other deaf children. With recent laws such as the IDEA Act of 1990, deaf child are being placed in hearing schools with an interpreter. Before the deaf children had each other to play with, they had each other to depend on, and to understand each other. In a way, they had their own support group. Now we are isolating these children. They cannot easily communicate with a hearing child the way they could another deaf child. A lot of deaf children are still unable to communicate with their hearing families, and now they do not have the support they once had from other deaf children. They are alone in a “hearing world”, unable to communicate with most everyone. If they are lucky enough to know sign language, then they may have a few people here and there that they can talk to, but it is not the same as a deaf school.
People may say that hearing aids help them or that some other kind of device does, but studies show “that neither “totally” nor “profoundly” no “severely” deaf children can understand normal speech, even with powerful hearing aids” (Lane, 1992) page 25. Children that are deaf need Sign Language. Studies have also shown that “deaf children of deaf parents score reliably above the mean on nonverbal IQ test” (Lane, 1992) page 61. Deaf children of Deaf adults usually know American Sign Language. These children knowing American Sign Language gives them a language at birth, just the same as hearing kids. Kids that grow up with hearing parents, especially those using the Oral method, tend to have lower test scores. I think this is because you cannot teach a child until they have a language.
A deaf child needs their natural language, not a language that is forced upon them by a society that thinks they know what normal is. I have personally seen kids do better in school with American Sign Language. They are better readers and writers because their families signed with them, instead of using the oral method. Children who are able to communicate with American Sign Language do not feel like the family dog, he or she feels like they are actually an important member of the family, just like everyone else.
“We knew there were oppressed language minorities; we did not know the deaf community was one” (Lane, 1992) page 99. There are a lot of people in this world that are trying to stop deaf children from learning American Sign Language. As a result, these children do not understand what is happening around them, they do not have a language, and they do not do well in school. They feel like they are the family dog. We need to stop this oppression, and stand up for what is right for them. We need to listen to the Deaf community and act upon its advice. The deaf community is the people who have gone through these experiences. They are the ones trying to stop it, because they know it does not work. How many other children are going to go throughout life feeling like they are the family dog? When is this going to stop? When will the community at large accept the truth and just allow a deaf child their natural language, which is American Sign Language?

Works Cited
Dupor, S. (1991). Selected Touring Works. Retrieved 09 29, 2010, from
Lane, H. (1992). The Mask of Benevolence. New York: Vintage Books.
Neisser, A. (1996). The Other Side of Silence. Washington DC: Gallaudet University Press.