All About ASL at Home – Book Club! Episode 52 with Dr. Leah Zarchy and Razi Zarchy
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This week on All About Audiology, I’m joined by two very special guests – Razi and Dr. Leah Zarchy who are the creators of American Sign Language at Home. The innovative curriculum breaks down learning ASL into small, simple steps that are designed to relieve some of the overwhelm that parents of new babies might be feeling after a hearing loss diagnosis.
The story of how American Sign Language at home came about is truly awe inspiring. Razi and Leah have made it their mission to educate parents on the importance of giving children an accessible language as early as possible.
This week on All About Audiology:
- 12:43 – After creating a class to support families in learning ASL, Razi realized that the available resources didn’t meet the need of parents who were learning to communicate with very young children during everyday situations.
- 15:15 – While stuck in an airport for 6 hours after their flight was cancelled, Razi and Leah began to have a conversation about what a curriculum for parents might include. They began brainstorming and writing down notes that would end up becoming an outline for their book.
- 20:22 – The book is broken down into four chapters, based on things that Razi was already teaching families. Chapter one teaches basic food vocabulary, chapter two introduces bathtime vocabulary, chapter three is for vocabulary related to diaper changes, and the last chapter is dedicated to teaching parents how to share books with their children. There are videos related to each chapter with vocabulary lessons that help to practice different phrases.
- 25:57 – Digital copies of the book are free! Depending on your preference, you can either download it as a PDF or ebook.
- 29:00 – There have been requests for the book to be translated into other languages and Razi and Leah would love to collaborate with someone to produce videos in other sign languages. The text and learning resources of the book are currently being translated into Spanish due to so many Spanish speaking families requesting this.
- Download the Spanish version of the 5 Step Guide to Navigating Your Child’s Hearing Loss for free : allaboutaudiology.com/guia
- English version: allaboutaudiology.com/guide
- 32:08 – To help keep the book free, there is a patreon account where people can subscribe to pay an amount of their choosing per month, to help with translation costs.
- 34:05 – Advice for listeners – Don’t miss opportunities to connect with your baby. Provide an accessible language that will help you bond with your child. Deaf people with implants can still sign and know more than one language, but please don’t wait until you know how well your child can hear with an implant. Start now and let your baby lead you.
- 41:30 – One of the major goals of the curriculum was for parents/family members who are unsure if they can learn ASL on their own, to be able to go through bite sized lessons to prevent overwhelm and get the ball rolling so that they can communicate with their child.
For more resources and research, please visit:
- All About Audiology Website
- All About Audiology Facebook group
- AllAbout Audiology Instagram
- American Sign Language at home website:
Americansignlanguageathome.com (This is where you can fill out the order form for your digital or printed copy of the book)
- American Sign Language at home Facebook
- American Sign Language at home Instagram
Mentioned in this episode:
- Gallaudet University
- Kimberly Sanzo
Listen Next/Related Episodes
- Episode 15 – All About Sign Language – with guest Kimberly Sanzo
Next time on All About Audiology:
Episode 53 – All About Mindfulness – with guest Margo Helman
Welcome back to the All About Audiology podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Lilach Saperstein, and on today’s episode of the podcast, I have two very special guests. We are going to be talking with Razi and Leah Zarchy, who have created this amazing curriculum of American Sign Language at home, which has both video and lots of PDFs. It’s a really easy, step by step way to learn early ASL, American Sign Language.
They are going to be telling us about their process and how they came up with this and also just about themselves. So, I’m very excited to welcome Razi and Leah to the show.
Razi: “Hi, thank you so much for having us.”
Leah: “Thank you so much for having us.”
Dr. Saperstein: “Awesome. Before we totally jump in and get all the details of this amazing story of how this came about, I do want to let our listeners know that while we are recording this, we are on Zoom, the setup is like this. We’ve got Razi in one little box of our Zoom, and we’ve got Dr. Leah over there in the corner and we have two interpreters, sign language interpreters. One is signing everything that I say and the other is going to be speaking for Leah as she signs.
Did I get that all right?”
Leah: “Yeah, perfect explanation.”
LS: “So, throughout the podcast that you’ll be listening to, I am going to cut out all of the pauses and try to make it more condensed in terms of audio and as always, there will be a full transcript at allaboutaudiology.com. So, my first question is going to be for Razi and I’d like you to introduce yourself, tell us a little bit about your background and how you came about for putting together this curriculum.”
Razi: “Sure. So, my name is Razi Zarchy. I am a speech language pathologist, starting my tenth year in the field. I’m a California native and I’ve lived here my whole life. As, I got started in my career, I knew that I was really passionate about working with deaf and hard of hearing children. So, as soon as I got the chance in my school, and I started taking ASL classes, and trying to improve my skills in that area. I also got involved in the local deaf community which helped a lot.”
LS: “What was your exposure to the deaf and hard of hearing world?”
Razi: “Well, as a kid, the first deaf person that I met was my basketball teammate. I played on a YMCA basketball team. There was a local child, fairly close to my age, who was on my team and was deaf and went to the closest school for the deaf to where I lived. We sort of became friends as teammates but we really couldn’t communicate very well. So, I got a book and tried to teach myself a couple of signs, because I realized that my teammate didn’t have access to what the coach was saying. If you’re in the middle of the basketball game and the ball goes out of bounds, the referee blows a whistle and calls out a color, the uniform color for whose ball it is. So, my teammate would wonder whose ball is it? And so, I learned the colors really fast, just to be able to say who had the ball so we could move on with the game. But I realized, hey you are a really cool kid and I want to be able to communicate with you. So, I decided I was going to learn ASL.
At the time, from my little book, that now looking back, it wasn’t a very good one. I really didn’t learn very much but it kind of got that interest started. And also, I realized that when there isn’t full access for deaf people to communicate, others miss out on getting to know who they are and what they have to say. Because I could tell that my teammate was a really cool person and that I was missing out on knowing what they had to say and vice versa. There could have been a real friendship there but there wasn’t because we didn’t know the same language.”
LS: “Part of the reason that I love that story is because it shows how important it was for that student, for that child to be involved in a basketball team that was outside of their deaf school, that was integrated into the community for you to be able to meet them and even have that exposure. So, it’s like a win-win for everybody when things like that happen and then that was like your first introduction to ASL. Thank you so much for introducing yourself and telling us a little bit about yourself and now we’ll move to Leah.
Welcome to the show, I’m so excited to meet you.”
Leah: “Yes, we finally get to meet after all this time of corresponding over Instagram. Now, we finally get to see each other face to face. Thank you for inviting us to come be on your podcast.
So, I was born and grew up in New Mexico. I lived there most of my life. I traveled around for different schooling opportunities. I got my undergraduate degree from New Mexico State University. I majored in kinesiology. Now, I thought I wanted to become a trainer, but as I went through my schooling, I realized that I had made the wrong decision. I decided that I wanted to pursue something that I was a little bit more interested in. I was interested in other things. At the same time, I was working at summer camp for deaf and hard of hearing children. That was run from the PE department, that was my department. And that’s where I first kind of got involved with languages of children and child language and language acquisition and that whole process.
I decided to go ahead and continue my major with kinesiology, however, after that experience at the summer camp, I decided that I wanted to do a graduate program related to linguistics. So, I applied and I did end up going to Gallaudet University. I was there for two years. I got my masters degree and at the end of that, I felt like I wanted more schooling. So, after Gallaudet University, I decided to get my PhD. I got that at the University of Texas in Austin. I focused on second language acquisition at that particular program. I graduated four years ago and I’m now here at the Sacramento State University where I teach.”
LS: “That’s wonderful. And I actually minored in linguistics in undergrad. That was part of what was going on for me, because I was coming in really interested in languages and linguistics because I came from a bilingual home and I just had this that languages were so interesting to me. Then, that’s kind of where I was introduced to communication disorders where I then moved to audiology. So, we kind of did a cris-cross the other way. Haha.”
Leah: “Yeah. That’s funny.”
LS: “I wanted to ask you about what was the language environment when you were growing up. What was your experience?”
Leah: “Yeah, loaded question. So, growing up, I identified as hard of hearing and lost my hearing more as I became older. But, I was able to acquire spoken language and be able to have some of that hearing to help with that. I was exposed to ASL at a young age, I’m not really sure what the story is and how I was exposed to ASL the first time, but I remember I went and had a hearing test when I was nine. Someone came to the school and my class was kind of in line to go to a particular place to go and get this hearing test. I went and sat down in the booth and the technician, I don’t think it was an audiologist, it was just kind of someone else just giving a basic hearing test at the school. The technician explained that once I put the headphones on, I would hear a beep and then I would have to raise my hand depending on which side I heard it on.
So, I did the test and by the end, the technician told me to push the headphones into my ears. And she was like, “don’t forget to raise your hand if you hear a noise” and I was like, okay. Pushing the headphones into my ears and the technician urged me to continue to do it even harder and said, “hey, just remember to raise your hand when you hear something.” So, I’m sitting there squeezing the headphones to my ear, sort of cautiously raising my hand. I was kind of on the border of this experience where she wanted me to leave, she didn’t want to all the paperwork. She kind of was not sure what to do with me, but she just kind of excused me and let me leave without sort of coming up with a diagnosis.
As I got older and I lost more of my hearing, I look back in my life and I see things that happened, like that hearing test and it makes more sense, right? So, my language environment growing up was both English and Spanish and somehow I was exposed to ASL at some point. And I kind of got more and more involved in the ASL community. I felt more attracted to it. I think back at this point, I didn’t realize that I was just kind of really feeling like I was at home. I wasn’t sure if it was the stress in which I was trying to hear things as I lost more of my hearing, or the stress of trying to lip read everything, I’m not sure. But as my hearing level changed, I sort of shifted communities and became more involved in the deaf community and much more of a prevalent ASL user.”
LS: “Was anyone at home using ASL or only outside with other people in the community?”
Leah: “I was the only ASL user in the house and my exposure to ASL was only from that community.”
LS: “Wow. I think that sounds like a very stressful way to try and communicate with people that are closest to you. Wow!
Okay, so we heard a little bit about Razi, we heard a little bit about Leah. I’d like to hear from whoever wants to tell us, how did it come about? How did you guys meet?”
Razi: “Well, we met because of linguistics actually. Speaking of linguistics, I actually did my undergrad degree in linguistics and anthropology and then moved over to speech pathology for grad school. I hadn’t mentioned it before but Leah is actually better at telling the story of how we met. So, I’ll let you do that.”
LS: “Wait, was that at Gallaudet?”
Razi: “No, I went to UCLA for undergrad and here to Sacramento, at Sacramento State for grad school. We met here in Sacramento.”
LS: “Okay, got it. Okay Leah, I think that means that you’re on.”
Leah: “Sure. The way that Razi and I met… I was still relatively new. I had just completed my first year here in Sacramento. Someone who is from the area in Sacramento was visiting and another mutual friend had invited lots of people to come and see this friend who was returning back home. Sacramento, as you may know, is very hot in the summer. And this other friend, her name is Mayla, she decided to host an ASL day at the lake. People all swarmed to the lake and we were kayaking, paddle boarding, there’s a variety of different sports there at the lake, but really just hanging out, chatting and catching up on the beach. Mayla had met Razi through some other events and people and Mayla is also a professor at Sac State. So, she introduced the two of us. She had asked if we had met before but she knew that we both had an interest in linguistics and she thought that we should chat.
So, of course I took the opportunity to chat Razi up and we just never stopped.”
LS: “I love asking how people met because I just think it’s so fun. It’s one of those miracle things that one person knows another person who knows six other people and then, tada! You just meet the person. It’s exciting.
So, anyway, you guys have this adorable puppy I see on Instagram all the time. Leah is always busy with tons of videos and work.”
Leah: “Tons. Tons.”
LS: “So, I wanted to hear how it came about that with all the things you two are so, so busy with and all of your responsibilities plus corona fell on everyone’s head. Where did this idea and not only the idea, but doing all the action into fruition, for putting out this curriculum. How did that come about? When did that start?”
Leah: “I’m going to go ahead and let Razi talk because I think it’s kind of more of his brainchild so go ahead.”
Razi: “Okay. As part of my job, I work with deaf and hard of hearing infants and toddlers and their parents. I also work with older kids but a large part of my job is working closely with parents who are still very much adjusting to learning how to communicate with their child. Learning what all of this means. Making decisions about communication opportunities and listening devices and all of these things. So, a lot of it is counseling and providing resources. A lot of it is also helping them learn techniques to enrich their child’s language at home.
Some of it is also helping them learn ASL. I’ve also started a family class at our program that’s for parents or family members of children of any age in the whole district program, but it tends to be the parents of very young children who come, partially because I usually host it at the preschool.
I don’t have training in teaching ASL and I am not always, necessarily in favor of hearing people to be the ones to teach ASL in the first place. But the purpose of the family class is to provide a place for these families to come and learn together. I’ve done what I can to bring in deaf adults to help teach the class whenever I’m able to do that and also to try and use resources that have deaf adults as language models, even when I’m not able to have someone in there live with me who is also deaf. The problem that I ran into is that the resources for learning ASL that are out there, many of them don’t really meet the needs of parents who have the immediate need of knowing what to say to their child in ASL during everyday routines with a very young child. I’ve done a lot of searching and there are some fantastic resources out there. They just don’t meet that very particular need.
So, as Leah said earlier, since we first started talking, we’ve never stopped. So, we’ve always been talking about, “I wish this existed. I wish this existed…” One day, we were stuck in an airport for something like six hours because of a canceled flight.”
LS: “When was this?”
Razi: “This was, Leah you are better with dates than I am. November?”
Leah: “That was October 31st.”
Razi: “She’s sort of a savant with dates.”
LS: “Maybe because you were in the airport, that’s why you remember what day it was.”
Razi: “Right, we were stuck in an airport on our way to, right? Not from, on our way to a conference for speech language pathologists who use ASL and others in related fields who wanted to learn about language development and language deprivation.”
LS: “With Kimberly?”
Razi: “Yes, with Kimberly. Right, it was put on by Kimberly Sanzo.”
LS: “We have to shout her out. I love Kimberly. Kimberly Sanzo came on the podcast, way when it was early, early episodes and I learned a lot from her. Everyone should go listen to that episode, I’m going to link it in the show notes. It was about language deprivation and the need for ASL. Sorry, I didn’t mean to cut you off. Please continue. We love you Kimberly, haha.”
Razi: “We do, we really do. So, we were on our way to her conference and got talking because our flight was cancelled and we were stuck in, I think we were in St. Louis at the time. And we started talking about, okay, what if a parent curriculum did actually exist. What would it look like? What would it include? Let’s just dream for a minute. And I think I pulled out my phone and created a Google doc on my phone and started taking notes. We were talking, talking, talking, coming up with ideas, writing out just kind of a brainstorm outline of what something like this might look like.
It kind of just sat in my Google Drive for another several months. And then Corona hit, and we started going out for long walks every day because it was our only way to get exercise. We started talking about, what if we actually wrote this thing? The outline got fleshed out a lot more, mostly through discussion, but occasionally I would take my phone out and write down a note or two. Leah started calling this “The Book” and so I started saying, is this an actual book? You think this could actually become a book? And she said, “we have enough material for a book here, why not?”
So, we finally sat down one day, you could probably tell me the exact date. I don’t remember the exact date, sometime in March maybe.”
Leah: “No, it was June.”
Razi: “See? I don’t know. Haha.”
Leah: “The exact date, I can’t tell you but I do know it was the month of June.”
LS: “Wow, that turn around was even quicker than I could imagine because if you just started seriously in June, wow my gosh. We are recording this in the middle of August, 2020 for those listening at home.”
Leah: “It went quickly.”
Razi: “Yeah. So, the discussions and brainstorming and organization, discussions of how this would be organized all happened mostly on walks and occasional evening conversations from March to June, I would say. So, that sounds about right. Then one day in June, we just made a date. We put it on the calendar that this is a day we are going to sit down and do this. And so, we just sat down and took our outline and started flushing it out. We both were working in one Google doc, each of us on our own laptops. I started writing which language enrichment techniques that I thought were really important and Leah started writing more of the ASL instruction side of things. And we both just kind of came at it from our own unique perspectives.
I do more of the language therapy side and Leah has years of experience teaching ASL. Together, we came up with what vocabulary would be relevant with these routines. We each sort of did our own part but came back and discussed and supported each other as well. We wrote most of the book in, I would say a couple days worth of time. And then a lot of the other time was devoted to Leah recording videos, making the little images that go with the vocabulary videos, creating some sorts of, I guess what we’re calling our branding. What we want the pages to look like and have a consistent look all the way through. The really fun part was taking it from a Google doc and plugging it into the document that became the book itself, because that made it all real.”
LS: “Wow, true collaboration. You each had your own expertise and you came at it. I’d love to hear from you about the four chapters of the book, the different routines and just what I love about it, is how functional it is. It’s really from the morning to the evening and bedtime and all the things you do in a day. Instead of, sometimes you see all these early things which are like, the five questions, the “WH” questions. Who? What? Where? When? Why? That’s a good place to start if you are in high school or if you are a hearing person learning ASL, but it’s not a great place to start with an infant.
Can you tell us about the different chapters in the book?”
Leah: “Sure. Razi really was the one that helped me think about the different vocabulary or to really kind of hone in on the different routines that we would use, especially when you think about post Covid-19. We have more parent coaches because there are kids who used to be in therapy that cannot be in that office anymore interacting with that SLP (speech language pathologist). Instead they are interacting with their parents on a more regular basis. So, we picked those four chapters based on the things that Razi was already teaching families before Covid hit.
So, we were focusing on mealtime, you know all kids are there, eating many times throughout the day and we decided that this book would be focusing on a younger population, kids under the age of one. We do want to develop curriculum for older children but one thing that’s really cool about mealtime, is that all the children of any age, typically eat. Right? So, those families who perhaps have older children in the home still can be talking about food with their children. So, we have basic food vocabulary: eat, drink, more, all done, basic terms that come up at mealtimes.
We have vocabulary related to bath time. Bath time is something that’s such a rich opportunity for interaction with that child and to expose the baby to language. It’s a great time to use what the baby is already interested in, so they are looking around and they show that interest. You could kind of follow that interest to help with that language exposure.”
LS: “Bath time I think is very interesting for all children, even children that are successfully using hearing aids or cochlear implants because that’s a time when they can’t necessarily be using that, unless they have all this other extra covers and all these things, which you’re not going to use every day or every time your kid gets wet. It’s more like when you go to the water park or the beach or whatever. So, even for children whose primary modality is in auditory verbal environment and they are using their devices consistently, bath time is often an opportunity missed for increased language.”
Leah: “Absolutely. So, that’s another reason why bath time is really important to include in the vocabulary.
The third chapter is on diaper changes and that one is something for older kids who, it doesn’t fit for some kids who don’t use diapers but there is some overlap with some basic potty time routines. So, we’re going to be developing that a little bit more later in the future. But, it’s still something that happens and I assure you, you remember right? How many times a day do you change a diaper for a child, right? That’s a lot of time inn which you can be interacting with the baby about different things related to that.
The last chapter, which I think is my favorite, is on book sharing. And I was always bookish as a kid. I wanted all kids to enjoy books as much as I did as a child. That starts at a really early age and an early connection in that experience to books. But many parents, especially if you don’t know ASL, might not really know how to read to their deaf baby, right? So, it’s the idea of translating a book that is very overwhelming to parents. So, there are ways in which you can engage with your baby and a book without having to read all the words, especially for young children. It’s not about the words on the page, it’s about sharing that moment, looking together at the pictures, looking at each other using facial expressions to communicate and basically bond over looking at a book.
So, those are the four chapters in our curriculum. We already have many ideas for expanding that in the future but here we are. One day soon!”
LS: “It’s amazing. I think one of the really valuable things that you have done with the book, which is a physical copy but also digital, is all of the videos that are attached that you can get access to outside of the book as well. Yes or no, actually?”
Leah: “You can. You can get, we have a page with different links on our website so if you click on that, you will see a list of different videos related to each chapter which you can then watch independently. But some of the videos may be out of context and not make a lot of sense if you just watch them. But if you use them in conjunction with the book, obviously it’s very intuitive. For example, we have a vocabulary lesson and then we have practice with different phrases, so that parents and people who are using this can see the connection between the book and the video. But you can watch all the videos without requesting a copy of the book if you’d like. But, keep in mind, the book is free so please request a copy anyways.”
LS: “I couldn’t believe that when you started posting on Instagram and right away, of course, I shared about it. And then it took me a couple posts to realize, ‘Wait a minute. Are you giving these out for free?’ Haha. I wrote “$0.00 people. Go download this.” “
Leah: “I remember that post. Yeah.”
Razi: “And even just to clarify just a little bit more on your question to links to videos to everything, the primary modality that we are distributing the book is digitally. You can get it as a PDF or as an EBook file, depending on your preferred method of looking at it. Every link in those digital versions of the book is a live link. So, if we have, let’s say the phrases for chapter two, we have some sample phrases, and then right there in the book is the link to the video with the sample phrases. So, everything is all seamless. It’s all in one place in the book itself. The spreadsheet that Leah was describing is if you want to find a specific video or if you only have a print copy of the book, you can still find everything all in one place, but the goal is for everything to just be seamless as you are working through it, that the links are all right there, right where you are in the book.”
LS: “Okay. So, I have a question. Many of our listeners are international from all over the world, with lots of different languages, spoken and signed. I’m starting to wonder that they are going to listen and some people are going to be jealous that this is not available in their local sign language, you know, what’s being used there. So, linguistically, are some of these signs similar because they are more gestural like drink and things like that or am I totally off about that?”
Leah: “Well some of the signs like eat, obviously, food, eat, that sign can be translated in many languages, not all but some. I do know that some other languages do have similar signs. But there was one commenter on the request form for our book that said, “Hey, what do you wish for…” Maybe Razi, you can phrase the question better than I?”
Razi: “On the order form where people can order a copy of the book, there were some questions of what do you say as the potential pros of a curriculum like this? What do you see as potential cons of a curriculum like this? That question was asked to providers and professionals who are requesting a copy and then also for I think, both providers and families. We have two separate forms, and it says, what do you wish were out there?”
Leah: “Right. Right. So, one comment that we received from that question, someone put down, “Hey, how about you put this out in Auslan, which is Australian Sign Language?” So, it would be wonderful to be able to translate the materials and the curriculum to other signed languages. We want to translate the text into different languages as well, especially for Australia because the English is the same. We would just need to replace some of the videos, most of the videos actually, to reflect Australian Sign Language, but the text would not have to be changed as much. So, we could just say Auslan every word that ASL is written in the text.
It would pretty much be pretty easy. But if we are able to coordinate this with someone to produce videos in other sign languages, we would love to have that happen, because we know that this is not a unique situation. This is something that parents around the world with deaf babies experience. They want to provide language that they don’t know. So, that’s a hard thing to grapple with and that’s something we want to seriously pursue, especially as we continue to develop materials and grow this and grow the knowledge about this curriculum. We want the curriculum to reach out to as many people in those communities as possible.”
LS: “Well, you heard it here people. That’s what this podcast is about. So, if you are interested in collaborating with Razi and Leah on this project internationally, you best get in touch with them and tell them you found them from the podcast. I want points, hahaha, for this, providing so much language opportunity for children around the world. That is why I am here.”
Razi: “Can I add something about that really quick? We do have someone who has been translating the text of the activities and learning resources so far, not the whole book itself just yet, into Spanish because we have gotten a lot of requests from Spanish speaking families who are learning ASL to get access that way. That’s been very much in progress and I believe all of our learning materials have been translated into Spanish. We are almost there with getting the captions on the videos as well into Spanish.
So, as you mentioned, we are currently giving away the book for free in its’ digital copy. The cost of the printed copy just covers printing and shipping, basically. In the future, we may charge for the book, but only to professionals who are requesting it. We’ll still keep it very affordable. We want to keep it absolutely free and accessible to families for as long as we are able to do so, hopefully forever. That’s our goal.
If people want to support this endeavor and help us keep it free or very affordable, we do have a patreon account, where people can become a patron. What that means is, that you’re basically subscribing to pay a certain amount per month. And if you choose the amount to help us afford, really what it’s going towards is translation, paying translators to translate the materials into as many languages as possible. We started with Spanish because that’s where we got the biggest demand but we want to keep going and expanding it outward. Because, I work with mostly multi-lingual families and I know that a lot of other folks do as well. We are getting requests for other sign languages like Leah said, also other spoken languages. We do want to keep up that work. So, that’s one way we can keep the translation going. “
LS: “Yes. I so much believe in the way that you’ve made something so complicated and I just hear a lot from people who have a new diagnosis as an audiologist. They say, ‘this news fell into my life, like a meteor from the sky.’ Lots of times, parents have a child who is deaf and no one else in the family is deaf and they’ve never met a deaf person before. And now, they are getting all this information about how they must do this implant, or you must teach ASL or you must do this or that. They are just kind of like, I need to change a diaper today, that’s what I need. I don’t know what anyone else is talking about. Then especially, in the last few months, when everything has been disrupted, I think a lot more people have gone online, even more so than regular to get help. I’d love for both of you to give us some advice for the listeners and for the professionals and providers who work with them. Why should they pursue this kind of curriculum, as opposed to let me go this other route that lots of people are telling me about. Auditory oral and I have to go the medical audiology related model. But they are kind of confused with all the information that’s coming at them. What would you say to the listeners?”
Leah: “I think the first thing is that we love language as linguists. We love language and we love multi-lingualism. The more languages, the better. So, for that family out there with a baby that’s two months old and they are starting to sign with their baby, do it in functional ways. Maybe you are still trying to figure out, I just had a baby two months ago, I’m not sleeping that much. Obviously, you have a newborn infant but there’s also this also news that you are grappling with. But your baby is still healthy and looking around and seeking opportunities to connect with you as a parent and providing accessible language is a great way to start that bond and to start that journey with your child.
Maybe at some point you will give assistive listening devices to your child, a cochlear implant or a hearing aid, but maybe they don’t need that. I know many people out there who have a cochlear implant and still sign. It’s not an either/or type of situation so, I really want to emphasize that. Deaf people with cochlear implants can still sign, right. And they can know more than one language. Knowing more than one language is better than knowing just one.
So, there’s no need to decide right now what to do with your baby. But don’t wait until you know how much they can hear with a cochlear implant or hearing aid. Go ahead and start signing with them. They will be your best guide. They will tell you what they want, what they like, what they understand and the more language exposure that they have, the better that they will be able to tell you what it is that they prefer. So, start now. And after that just follow their lead.”
LS: “I’m obsessed with the advice of listen to your child and follow them and they’ll show you. That is so, like you said about connecting and not being stuck in a dogma, but rather what’s the reality of this family and this child. In an earlier episode of the podcast, we had a mother Madeline from The Rare Life podcast. She spoke about her son, Kimball. Listeners can go and listen to her whole story, but she mentioned how hurt and how attacked she was in some of these Facebook groups, (and they told her) you’re a bad mother, you’re this and that. All of these messages because of various choices she was making about language, when what she was coming for was advice, support and guidance from people she thought would get it from. But unfortunately there is this divide and I would like to see more acceptance of the differences. Either/or is a very difficult place to live, black and white thinking of anything.
Razi, do you have anything to add?”
Razi: “Sure, I have two things. One is language is everything. Language is the vehicle to bonding with other people, to making friends, to education. You can’t learn about math and science and social studies and history and all the things we learn about in school, without a solid language foundation, because it’ll go over your head. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, if you don’t have language, you can’t learn. You can’t learn as well. Like Leah was saying, listening devices do all kinds of things and the technology is fascinating and very impressive. But every child is different and we don’t know how much any listening device is going to do for them until they start getting older and either acquiring spoken language and listening skills or not.
And if they are not, then now that’s all lost time. Languages are all stored in the brain the same way and so the earlier we can give a child language that they can access without difficulty, the better they are going to be able to learn in the long term and that’s what we are learning more and more through research but also through personal stories who have had late exposure to their first language. So, it’s all about language.
The second thing that came to mind is, I have never met, there may be folks out there but I’m speaking from my own experience as a hearing person who is involved in the deaf community. But as a speech therapist, people talk to me about speech therapy a lot. I have never met a deaf adult who has told me, I wish I had more speech therapy.”
Razi: “I have met hundreds, possibly, I don’t know. Many, many, many who have said, I wish my parents had calmed down about speech and learned to sign. I would have a better relationship with my parents if they had made the effort to learn and sign when I was little. So, deaf children turn into deaf adults and I think we need to listen to what they are saying and it’s not either/or. It’s really not. More languages are better than none, which is what we are potentially contending with if we are not giving them early, early access to language.”
LS: “Yeah. Again, that message that parents have to remember what is the point of doing the hearing aids, the cochlear implants or the speech therapy. Why do you want to do that and the goal would be so you can connect with your child and so they can interact with other people and so they can learn. And all those other goals can be reached with this other simultaneous route of speaking and signing, or combinations. The same way that there are these old myths about that you shouldn’t speak two languages, two spoken languages because you’ll confuse the child. That’s not true at all in spoken bilingualism. So, and also, I think people need to hear that it doesn’t have to be that now you have to take ASL for twenty hours a week and go become a fluent person from zero to sixty. You can take this beautiful curriculum and learn how to make some phrases throughout the day. That’s a great place to start without saying, I will never learn this or it’s too hard, or how can I get to classes, I can’t even leave my house… Here’s your answer people. Hahaha.”
Razi: “That was one of the major goals of this curriculum, was that I am not a parent, I’m a professional who works with parents. I wanted something that I can use in my work with parents who I’m meeting with weekly or bi-weekly or whatever it is. So, if there are parents or other family members who are out there and are thinking, I want to learn some ASL and I’m looking through this and it looks cool but I’m not sure I can do it on my own. If you are getting early intervention services and you have a teacher of the deaf or a deaf mentor or deaf coach or a speech pathologist or someone who is working with you, even through zoom because that’s how we are doing it these days, our lessons are designed to be bite size. They are not expansive, extensive units like you would get in a college ASL course. They are meant to be a limited number of vocabulary words so that you don’t get overwhelmed. It’s a start to get the ball rolling.
I know parents who have started with our cute little family class or with little short classes offered by the local deaf organization, that kind of thing. When their child got older and was in school all day, they took a community college course in ASL. Those sorts of things. That’s fantastic. Our curriculum is just to get the ball rolling and get parents and other family members comfortable having their hands up when interacting with their child. That’s really our goal here. It’s just to get that comfort level going and then the rest can come from there.”
LS: “It’s amazing. I’m a big fan. I’m so grateful to both of you for coming on the show, for sharing this incredible resource. Is there anything else you would like to tell our listeners. We’ve added all the links, we’ve talked about all of it, the patreon and where they can get the book, anything else? Oh, where they should follow you on Instagram, that’s where we hang out. Haha.”
Leah: “Yes, we do. Yes, we do. Instagram is @asl.at.home. On Facebook, it’s all one word, aslathome. Please like and follow us and of course, if you have any questions, go ahead and send us a message. We mostly post about what the resources look like, the layout and how the book looks. And then short little snippets so that we can entice folks if this is something they are looking for, they can go ahead and request the resource. But if they aren’t, that’s fine too. The more that we can do to help make sure this is something you are looking for, then better. Please do contact us if we need to.”
LS: “Last words?”
Razi: “Our website is americansignlangaugeathome.com. That’s where you can fill out an order form for us to send you a digital or printed copy or both. So, there is more information about all of it as well on our website.”
LS: “Amazing. Thank you so very much for both of you. Thank you for our interpreters for facilitating this conversation.”
This is the All About Audiology podcast. I’m Dr. Lilach Saperstein and I’m so grateful you are a listener. As always you can read full transcripts of the episodes at allaboutaudiology.com.
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