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Thursday, June 5, 2014

So You Want to Adopt a Deaf Child? Part 3 of...

"No one told me...
an ASL Intruder Interpreter would become regularly attached to my family, when we adopted a deaf child, and sometimes in the most private of circumstances AND that sometimes I would have to seek them out, schedule them, and pay them for their services."

This is a comment I hear from hearing parents when they are thrust into the world of deafness with their deaf child, born to them or adopted.

In general, an ASL Interpreter facilitates communication between those in the hearing world and those in the Deaf World, especially in settings of "consultation". Consultative settings include, medical appointments and procedures of all kinds, school and educational meetings, legal meetings and the like, the most personal, of course. 

If your hearing family adopts a deaf child, even if dad and mom become fluent in ASL, an ASL Interpreter will most likely become a required by law (Americans with Disabilities Act)
facilitator of communication for your deaf child and the hearing person(s) they are involved in communication with, in many situations.  Do not misunderstand me, just because this is required by law does not mean the hearing person(s) meeting with your family and your deaf son or daughter will eagerly provide a qualified interpreter for them. Some will gladly provide this service while others will do everything possible to get out of providing this service.

It is possible you will be the one on the receiving end of an ASL Interpreter, someday, if your deaf son or daughter has the great opportunity to meet with Deaf individuals in the many settings listed above.  You will be thankful to have clear and accurate access to his or her conversations with your deaf child(ren).

You also need to know that not all ASL interpreters, even if they are RID Certified, state licensed, and/or "the best in the world", are created equal.  In my opinion, until you see how an ASL interpreter performs you will not truly know their receptive skills (ability to understand ASL clearly and accurately speak it to others) and expressive skills (ability to sign clearly and accurately what is being spoken to the Deaf consumers preferences).  Just because they have a specific credential does not always mean they are highly skilled in the facilitation of spoken English into ASL and/or ASL to spoken English.  Sadly, you will also meet credentialed ASL interpreters, with much experience, who are unprofessional in their actions.

These experiences will help you to better identify with those in the Deaf World as they must endure this each and every time they have an appointment or meeting of any kind with someone in the hearing world. This is probably at least 90 - 95% of the time.

Not all ASL Interpreters are this "easy on the eyes"!
Family members of a deaf child will often become their interpreter for more casual settings. These settings could be for extended family members who do not know and do not learn ASL (this will be covered more in another blog post in this series), for hearing neighbors, for the hearing people at church, on the playground, for shopping and going out to eat, for birthday parties, for sports, etc. Pretty much every time communication is taking place, the need for interpreting for the deaf child will present itself.  

This must also be considered for some family vacations where entertainment of various kinds might be involved, as well as, any field trips your family takes where any kind of informative presentations are given.  If the family members decide to be their child's ASL interpreter for these kinds of settings, mom and dad will find it beneficial to do some preparation in advance for any technical presentations that might require some additional learning of ASL vocabulary before the event takes place.  

If your family is involved in a church that does not already have a Deaf Ministry, it may prove to be very difficult to find a skilled interpreter for this setting. Finding, scheduling and often paying for an interpreter in the religious setting can be overwhelming for the parents of an adopted deaf child.  You may want to seek out a church in your area that has a Deaf Ministry or at least an interpreted service, if you can find one.  Interpreters for additional activities, beyond the worship service, will many times be limited for your deaf child.  It is not uncommon for deaf children to be embarrassed by being the only deaf person in a church service and especially if a family member becomes their interpreter. There are creative ways to avoid this additional attention being drawn to them, but this can often be an additional challenge for the family, parents and siblings, when adopting a deaf child.   This is a very important aspect in the life of a family and can be one of the most frustrating and heart breaking, especially if the family decides they feel they must change churches to meet the needs of their deaf son or daughter.

If you discover you live in a area with few Deaf people more than likely the pool of skillful ASL interpreters to pull from will probably be small.  It may be no ASL interpreter in your area matches the communication needs for your deaf son or daughter, hence the need to do your research prior to proceeding with a deaf adoption. 

ASL interpreters in the educational setting will be covered in a separate post in this series.

Sometimes, moms and dads wait until their adopted deaf child is older and their child's own ASL skills have improved before they begin requesting an ASL interpreter for an appointment or meeting.  This will be something you will decide for your family, as long as those initiating the meeting will allow you the freedom to do so. 

Signing with your deaf child and being their interpreter are two vastly different things.  I have met many ASL students and others whose ASL can almost be considered native-like, however, when they interpret that fluency does not remain the same.  Interpreting is a much more challenging task than signing casually with others and requires much practice, intense brain concentration and continued life-long training.  In addition, mom and dad will have to make the decision of when to interpret and when not to interpret.  Some find it challenging to know when to be the parent and when to be the interpreter. 
This is a large encompassing topic and I will not take the time to cover it exhaustively, but if you move forward with the plan to adopt a deaf child you will want to know as much as possible about the ASL Interpreter and understand how much they will become a part of your family's everyday life. One deaf adoptive mother admitted it has become a "love-hate" relationship for her.  She knows this is her deaf child's right and is what is best for them, but she often feels the interpreter is an intruder in her family's private and personal lives.  

Here are some additional links that should prove beneficial in helping you better understand this often overlooked aspect of adopting a deaf child:

The National Association of the Deaf
The above link is for all the NAD search results for: ADA Standards (Americans with Disabilities Act)

Gary, Plant, Mooty Law Firm
The above link is from a law firms website.


The above is from the Deaf Interpreter Services in Texas website.

How Great Thou Art in ASL by Pastor Ronaldo Feliciano

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

So You Want to Adopt a Deaf Child? Part 2 of...

What is the Best and Quickest way to learn

That is what families who have little to no experience with deafness and who are already in the process of adopting a deaf child ask me most often.  Actually, that is a pretty common question I get from many others, as well.

Obviously, the best practice for the adoption of a deaf child would be for the entire family to know ASL before starting the process to adopt.  This will provide an environment much more conducive to bonding with the deaf child more quickly, an ASL-rich environment.  This would also give the adopting family additional opportunities to set aside days and possibly even weeks where the entire hearing family only uses ASL to communicate with each other before the new deaf son or daughter comes home.  Yes, it will always be easier for your hearing family members to speak to each other and you will, but I urge you to include your deaf son or daughter in as much conversation (using ASL) as you possibly can to minimize their feeling ostracized more than they already will.  Ideally, your deaf son or daughter should be given access to any and all conversations that any hearing child or family member would have access to.  This is extremely challenging for an all hearing family who adopts a deaf child.  However, sad to say, this is a common experience even for biological deaf children who are raised in hearing homes. As adults the Deaf tell stories of hearing family members rarely including them in their conversations, IF they knew any sign language at all. Often they would see others laughing or crying while conversing in English. If they asked what was so funny or what was wrong, they were always told, "Oh, it was nothing. I'll tell you later."  But they never did. How can a deep meaningful parent-child relationship be developed in that kind of environment with that little communication?  However, if everyone is signing all the time it stands to reason the new deaf family member will learn much more quickly.  This will mimic the natural learning environment a hearing child is granted to learning how to speak English and hasten the deaf child's ability to becoming a functioning part of the family. This will also enable, much more quickly, the adopted deaf child to be able to express their feelings and experiences with language (sign language) instead of with unacceptable behaviors, typical of a child who has come from "the hard place."

Hanging out with Deaf people, multiple times weekly, is by far the BEST and fastest way to learn ASL and everything related to the Deaf World.  You should know if you are only spending minimal time conversing with the Deaf your ASL skills will only improve  accordingly.  Immersion has always been the best and quickest way to learn a foreign language. 

Can you learn ASL other ways?  Yes, of course, but it will take much longer and you will still have to hangout with Deaf people for you to become comfortable communicating with them in sign.  The goal is proficiency in ASL, since this will be the mode of communication you will have with your deaf son or daughter for the rest of your lives.  Proficiency for many of us learning ASL as adults, as our second language, will take our entire lifetime. 

Notice I am saying hanging out with Deaf people, and not just one Deaf person.  You will quickly find that each Deaf person is unique and their way of signing is also unique.  The only way I know how to describe it is the way they sign is uniquely related to how, where and when they learned to sign and their own unique personality.  Those who grew up in Deaf schools, for the most part, will be the most proficient in ASL.  Those who grew up mainstreamed in the public school system will have varying degrees of proficiency in ASL. Then there will be many who did not learn sign language, because they were not exposed to it, until they were in their twenties. Really a Deaf person's signing is a part of who they are, their personality.  You will find those who are fairly easy to understand and then you will find others who are very hard to understand.  It depends on how clear they are in their signing and how large or small they sign, as well as, the size and shape of their fingers.  Then add the speed at which they sign. For some Deaf people you will meet everything gets blurred together, as their signing speed is so quick, especially the fingerspelled words.  Learning ASL from interacting regularly with just one Deaf person will not be sufficient.

So how do you find Deaf people in your area?  Do a Google search for your area and add "deaf services".  For example: "Asheville Deaf Services".  Do another Google search for your area and add "deaf church".  Example:  "Deaf Church Asheville".  To be honest, Deaf Churches are rare and will mostly be found in much larger metropolitan areas. If you live in a small town you will probably have to broaden your search to include a larger city or maybe even your state to start out.  You should be able to make a few phone calls once you locate an organization in your state or area to determine if there is a concentration of Deaf people in your area.  

If you cannot locate the Deaf population in your area, let us know at Signs for Hope and we will help. 

If you live in an area that does not have a concentration of Deaf people you will want to rethink the adoption of a deaf child.  Raising a deaf child with minimal skill in ASL and WITHOUT the influence of native ASL signers and successful members of the Deaf community as role models will greatly limit the ability for your adopted son or daughter to thrive and reach their greatest potential. 

To help you better understand, this would be similar to your trying to raise your adopted child (who possibly knows no spoken language when they come home) to speak Spanish at the same time you are learning it, assuming you have never known Spanish before, then never giving them the opportunity to hear a native-Spanish speaker or associate with Hispanic people, even though you want your child's spoken Spanish to be the best.  You should be able to imagine how much longer it would take for you and your adopted child to be able to communicate well enough to begin to bond using Spanish (not your native spoken English) and what precious time would be lost in that long process to attain that level of language needed for comprehending what each other are saying. And the limitations caused by never allowing interaction with those whom your child most identify with and will eventually become associated with.   

Other ways to supplement your new involvement with your local Deaf community is by taking ASL classes, preferably with a Deaf or native-signer instructor.  You need to be aware that all ASL classes are not equal.  ASL is a true language with it's own syntax, morphology and structure. There are sign-systems based on English including SEE (Seeing Essential English or Signed Exact English), PSE (Pidgin Signed English), and MCE (Manually Coded English), however they are not a true language.  Why do I make these distinctions?  You will want to focus your efforts on the learning of ASL first and foremost.  If you do not and decide to focus on any of the sign systems mentioned, your ability to switch to ASL later on will be much more challenging.  I have watched numerous students over 8 years time struggle to gain skill in ASL after having learned the others previously. It is not easy and some are unable to make the transition well.  However, once you have learned ASL it is much easier to learn a sign-system, if desired, and then be able to switch back and forth as you wish. 

Check in your community for a state Deaf school.  Check local community colleges and universities.  ASL classes are sometimes available at these educational institutions.  Having other students to practice with, in a live classroom setting is beneficial, more so than ASL classes on-line. 

Gallaudet University offers on-line ASL courses if you want to supplement your learning ASL that way, as well.

Finding a Deaf person to work with you in your home, as a mentor/tutor, can also be beneficial for improving your ASL skills.  Once you are connected in the Deaf community begin asking about the possibility of someone becoming a tutor for you and your family.  Make sure they understand you want to be challenged by learning ASL, not something they think would be simpler for you to understand and learn.

As you begin learning ASL, practice daily with each other and ask God to help you. He is the One who has created all languages, so who better to ask for help?


I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13

But this will require commitment, time and perseverance on your part and your entire family's part.

This applies to learning ASL and to the life-long journey of deaf adoption IF God has called you to it!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

So You Want to Adopt a Deaf Child? Part 1 of...


The title of this blog post series, "So You Want to Adopt a Deaf Child?" is also the title of one of the tabs on the Signs for Hope website. The word deaf will be used to reference a child with any degree of deafness, including those labeled Hard of Hearing.

The website is focused more on a general look at the adoption process and only gives some of the more obvious ways the adoption of a deaf child can impact an adopting family.  This blog post series, however, is more focused on the overall encompassing impact the adoption of a deaf child can have on a family, especially if that family is only minimally aware or even if they feel they are somewhat aware of all that surrounds deafness and those who live in the Deaf World. 

It is recommended to read this blog post first.  The Uniqueness of Deafness!

There are many things to seriously research and prayerfully consider before moving forward with the adoption of a deaf child, even if you are encouraged to do so by others and by your adoption agency.

The life-long journey of the adoption of a deaf child is anything, but easy, and it will be life-changing for all! 

Can you pick out the deaf child(ren) in this picture?
Because deafness cannot be detected with the eye (visually) some families are eager to adopt a child labeled "deaf" or "hearing impaired" more so than one who has obvious visually recognizable "imperfections".  Deafness is often only detected after a child fails to begin talking by the age of two or three and sometimes beyond.  Some of the misdiagnoses of deafness include autism, mental retardation and/or the inability or refusal to speak which is often referred to as "mute" or "non-verbal". 

Deaf children, in general, tend to be about 18 months to two years behind their hearing peers, emotionally and socially, given their communication gap and lack of language acquisition from birth.  If you do not already know, adopted hearing children who have been institutionalized then adopted are typically about 18 months or so behind (emotionally and socially) hearing children raised in loving homes from birth. This makes that emotional and social gap for the deaf adopted child to be as much as 4 years behind hearing biologically raised children.  This is important to keep in mind at all times!

In some countries the labels "dumb" or "deaf and dumb" are still used for those who cannot speak, some how relating the inability to speak with low-intelligence. These terms were coined and accepted here in the US by the hearing population many years ago.  Today, the term "dumb" is no longer accepted in this country, but the hearing population has once again promoted a new, politically correct, label for the Deaf population, "hearing impaired".  Deaf people who identify themselves with the Deaf culture, prefer to be called what they are "Deaf", a label that can encompass varying degrees of deafness and their precious Deaf culture since they do not believe they suffer from any impairment whatsoever. To learn more about how the Deaf population generally defines the above terms go to the
National Association of the Deaf website.  

Not until hearing testing/screening is performed is it discovered the child has deafness to some degree. T
his may be primitive-like testing in other countries, the use of a squeaky toy or clanging pot lids behind the child.  Even then many people do not make the connection the reason the child does not speak (mute) is because they have not heard people speaking to them nor heard themselves vocalizing as they progressed through the babbling stage of development for spoken language.  This is the natural way a child without deafness learns to speak a spoken language.  The deaf child's voice is usually intact, but it is untrained and useless for communication because the hearing aspect needed for acquiring and learning accurate spoken language is not.  The loud noises the deaf child will make with their voices and the sounds relating to other bodily functions, sounds they are oblivious to, will be the topic of another blog post in this series.

By the way, there is no known deaf child in the above picture.  It is simply a random photo off the Internet. You cannot tell by looking at a child if they are deaf or not.

If you think God is "calling" you to adopt a deaf child and you have little to no experience with deafness and you do not know anyone who lives in the Deaf World...STOP!
  Go back to your spouse and the two of you take whatever time is necessary to make sure God has "called" you to this, before moving forward.  Ask God to show you in unmistakable ways.  You can be assured if you move forward without knowing this is from God, somewhere down the road you will begin questioning, "Why did we ever do this?" If you KNOW for sure, God has "called" you to adopt a deaf child, that knowledge will give you the added strength you will need to persevere no matter the cost to you and any other hearing family members for the challenges ahead.  The affects the adoption of a deaf child has on hearing siblings (adopted and/or bio), as well as other extended hearing family members, is often challenging as well and this, too, will be covered in this series.  

Adoption agencies sometimes do a great job of preparing families to embrace the culture from which their soon to be adopted son or daughter are born, but rarely do adoption agencies give the same attention to the Deaf Culture. Most are clueless, when it comes to Deaf Culture and deafness. The adoption of a deaf child will automatically thrust you and your family into the Deaf Culture whether you like it or not. Bear in mind when you adopt a deaf child from a different ethnic background (a different country) the number of cultures your family will now be exposed to will be more than just one. It is only reasonable to ask that you research their Deaf culture well, with an open mind, before proceeding with a deaf adoption. This is the same experience for the hearing family who gives birth to a child with deafness.  95% of all deaf children are born to and/or raised by hearing parents. In this country, today, less than 10% of hearing parents learn to sign with their biologically born deaf children.   Deaf people often desire to give birth to deaf children just like them, but less than 5% of Deaf parents will have the coveted opportunity to do so. 

Here are a few links for increasing your knowledge surrounding the Deaf Culture here in America:

National Association of the Deaf
(A list of books about the Deaf are found at the bottom of this page)

Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language

In addition, to learning all you can about the culture of the Deaf, you and every member of your immediate family MUST be willing to commit to learning American Sign Language.  This should not be an option, but should be mandatory by your adoption agency. 
An entire post, in this series, will be devoted to this topic of Learning ASL. 

The vast majority of deaf children available for adoption are considered "older", above the age of 3, and that, in and of itself, will be challenging for most families.  Even if you start the adoption process when the deaf child is under 3, they will often turn 3 before you can bring your son/daughter home. 

In case no one has told you, there really is nothing magical about adopting a child under the age of 3.  Adopting a child under the age of 3 can also be just as challenging for bonding and connecting with their adoptive family as it can for a child over the age of 3.

With the vast brain development research, available now, it is readily understood the brain of a child who has been traumatized develops much differently from one that has not. What is meant by traumatized?  Examples of trauma include institutionalization (orphanage-life) where neglect and lack of nurture abound; abandonment also breeds trauma for the adopted child, even if they cannot remember when it happened.  The brain of a child is deeply affected by trauma experienced in utero, as well, and could be related to the mother's use of substances harmful to her unborn child and/or what she may be experiencing herself during the pregnancy.  Mom's stress levels, during pregnancy. also impacts the physical development of her unborn child and not just their brain.  Dr. Karyn Purvis, author of The Connected Child, sites cleft lip and palate abnormalities in Asian babies as being directly related to stress the mother experiences when she discovers she is pregnant.  The one-child policy evokes great emotional upheaval for Asian mothers and that occurs about the time the palate inside the mouth of her unborn baby is developing in utero.

The brain of a child cared for by a loving family from birth compared to the brain of a child who is born into uncertainty, lack of nurture and neglect is vastly different. Families adopting a child that has experienced neglect, lack of nurture, hunger, and possible mind-altering events that took place in utero or trauma during a stressful birth must receive appropriate training for how best to connect with them, appropriate for parenting a child from the "hard place". This kind of training will grant parents the ability to provide an environment geared toward increased brain function which will in turn grant the child the ability to respond in appropriate ways and not with unacceptable behaviors.

The Empowered to Connect Conferences, led by Dr. Karyn Purvis, are the best way to prepare for adoption.  They are also a wonderful place for learning more tools to help with parenting adopted children once they are home. Dr Purvis believes it is never too late to begin using the tools she equips parents with at these conferences and I agree.

Signs for Hope believes it is the right of the deaf child for their adoptive family to be fully aware of as many of the challenges they will face while raising them, yes, because of their deafness, but also because of their coming from the "hard places." *

Trying to prepare yourself and your family, as best you can, to bring home a child from the "hard places" and learn ASL adequately, at the same time, is next to impossible.  You will either prepare well for one, or be inadequately prepared for both.

One more thing to prepare yourself for when adopting a deaf child; it is very possible and highly likely your deaf son or daughter has been physically and/or sexually abused.  It is sad, but it is a common occurrence here in this country, so you can only imagine how much greater the possibility is for this to happen in other countries' institutions.

* A child from "hard places" is a phrase Dr. Purvis uses to describe children who have experienced trauma during institutionalization and/or foster care placement.


"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--His good, pleasing, and perfect will."  Romans 12:2

Update: December 6, 2014

There are now 12 blog posts in this series, So You Want to Adopt a Deaf Child?  Here are
links to each:

Part 2, What is the Quickest Way to Learn American Sign Language?

Part 3, No One Told Me...

Part 4, Deaf Children are Anything But Quiet

Part 5, Why is the Deaf Child So Far Behind the Hearing Child?

Part 6, The Adopted Deaf Child and the Cochlear Implant

Part 7, The Adopted Deaf Child and Your Church

Part 8, What is BEST for the Deaf Child and Beyond?

Part 9, Educating the Deaf Child 

Part 10,  Educating the Deaf Child, Homeschooling

Part 11, Don't Do It !

Part 12, IEPs - Individualized Education Programs  

Part 13, Deaf Adoption - REALITY CHECK!