William Shakespeare’s guide to communication options for your deaf child

So you’ve discovered your infant or child doesn’t hear the way you do. Congratulations! You’re at the start of a journey that will take you places you have probably never been before. In the words of William Shakespeare,

We know what we are, but know not what we may be.

William Shakespeare portrait
The Bard’s advice: To thine own self be true.

One of the first big decisions you are probably faced with is how you will communicate with your child. You are probably getting a lot of advice from doctors, audiologists, speech therapists and other “experts.” But the real experts here are parents, and those are the people you must speak to about your options.

A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.

Parents of deaf and hard-of-hearing children are already traveling this road. They have tried out the “expert” advice, and gone on to find the right course for themselves, humbled by the immensity of their love for their child and their responsibility for his welfare.

Listen to many, speak to a few.

One of the resources I have found essential on this voyage is Hands & Voices. Its motto, “What works for your child is what makes the choice right,” makes it a place where families with many different communication approaches can meet, share and support each other. Each parent may be passionate about her choice, but I have found that H&V provides a forum where you can learn from parents who have adopted (and often adapted) an array of communication options for their families.

If you don’t have access to H&V, look for an in-person or online support group where parents with a broad range of views share their experience in a respectful and non-judgmental way.

This above all: to thine own self be true.

Decisions about communication and implants are very personal. While you investigate what approach is right for you, and what kind of amplification, if any, your child will use, you may have already found that temperatures can run high around these issues.

Some will say that using sign language is a crutch and your child will never learn to talk if they sign. Some say that if you do not sign with your child, you are depriving him of his true language and he’ll resent you for it as an adult. Some will say that if you go with cochlear implants you mustn’t sign, others that if you choose that route you are destroying the future of the Deaf community and its culture. All that is on you!

But really, all you have to do is decide what is right for your child as far as you can tell right now.

Go to your bosom: Knock there, and ask your heart what it doth know.

As in most heated debates, the truths of communication lie somewhere in the middle. By learning from other parents and Deaf adults, and trusting your heart to lead you right, you will find that truth for yourself.

Here’s a pro tip that few doctors, teachers or therapists will tell you: You don’t have to “marry” one approach. If you sincerely try ASL and just can’t get the hang of it, take a class in cued speech and see if that sticks. If you try a completely oral approach and don’t feel it’s working well, give a more visual method a try. Do what works for your child and your family. The only true long-term commitment is the choice of brand if your child gets cochlear implants.

The course of true love never did run smooth.

Along this road you will of course hit bumps, potholes and the occasional collapsed bridge. Between lost or broken hearing devices, frustrated toddler meltdowns, and interminable IEP meetings, you may shed more than a few tears along the way. That’s okay. Your support network of other parents will offer a hug or a good talk when you need it, and your love for your child will carry you through.

It is a wise father that knows his own child.

Just don’t let the difficulties get in the way of enjoying your child whenever possible and as much as possible. Find something you both enjoy and make sure you do it together regularly. Because no matter if you choose auditory/verbal, total communication, cued speech, bilingual/bi-cultural, hearing aids, cochlear implants or plain old shouting, this is the message we all want our kids to know:

I have not art to reckon my groans, but that I love thee best, oh, most best, believe it.

For a comprehensive online resource on communication options, click here.


4 thoughts on “William Shakespeare’s guide to communication options for your deaf child

  1. Thank you for this post, I could not have said it better myself! In the end, it is about what works best for the child and family – no decision is cast in stone, give it 110% commitment, if the first choice don’t work, then know that there are other options.


  2. we need to focus on the child , what works best for the child, not what’s easier for the parents. ASL can appear difficult and coed speech easier for parents but it doesn’t mean coed speech is better for the child.


    1. I agree that the child’s well-being is essential, but the parents’ needs and abilities come into play whether others feel they should or not.

      I have been reflecting on your comments here and on Facebook, Azeria, and I want to say this: Parents alone bear the tremendous responsibility of raising their children. This trust is rarely taken lightly. When I became a mom I realized a lot of things about how hard my parents tried to do the right thing for me and my siblings. They weren’t always right on the mark, but their effort and love mattered. So do mine, even though I know I’m not perfect. Only when you are the one caring for the child 24 hours a day, nursing that child when she’s sick, crying over her struggles and triumphs, when the buck stops with you and you are willing to put it all on the line for her do you get to decide what is best for her. Until then, you can only advise. And advice is always best taken with empathy.

      Liked by 1 person

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