Signing or spoken language?

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Callie who has hearing loss with her mum Jordanna and her RIDBC consultant, Katie

The parents of children who are deaf or hard of hearing can often feel like they need to make a choice whether to pursue spoken language or Australian Sign Language (Auslan) for their child, but as Callie’s family have shown, it doesn’t have to be either or.

As a newborn, Callie was diagnosed with profound sensorineural bilateral hearing loss, meaning she has permanent hearing loss in both ears.  While it can be challenging for new parents to understand their next steps, Callie’s parents felt more prepared than most. Both of Callie’s parents are deaf, and so were able to call on their own experiences, as well as those of their own parents, to make decisions.

Callie’s mum, Jordanna, grew up using sign language, and immediately knew that a combination of Australian Sign Language (Auslan) and spoken language were important goals for Callie’s future.  RIDBC Early Learning Program for hearing impaired children can incorporate both spoken English and Auslan in an integrated program – a feature that, Jordanna says, made her choice easy.

“I met with RIDBC Early Learning Program Consultant, Katie, and I liked the fact that I could see she used both speech and Auslan – they were used interchangeably, and I knew that would really give Callie access to both worlds,” she said.

Giving Callie the World

Not all the decisions Callie’s parents would make were as easy as this one. The decision to get a cochlear implant was one of the hardest.  Jordanna doesn’t have a cochlear implant herself and is a proud member of the Deaf community.  “I don’t feel like I need to hear,” she explained. “I am proud of who I am and being deaf is part of that.”
In considering their options, Callie’s parents realised that a cochlear implant didn’t mean forgoing Auslan – Callie could, and would, have both.  “There is a mistaken belief that people have to choose sign language or a cochlear implant.  But that’s simply not the case – I want to give Callie every opportunity – I want to give her the whole world. A combination of speech and signing with a cochlear implant was, for us, the right way to go.
“It wasn’t an instant decision, it was a process. I did a lot of research before coming to a conclusion – and it’s a decision I don’t regret.”

Supported by RIDBC

RIDBC’s early learning program team work with each family to set goals and create individualised plans to achieve the outcomes that are important to them.
Callie began seeing the team at RIDBC as a young baby, when it was all about supporting her family to help her develop through play.  “Callie had amazing eye contact and I remember Jordanna signing ‘Incy Wincy Spider’ to her – there was a lot of really beautiful communication happening very naturally in the family,” said Katie.
Katie worked with the family as Callie grew, identifying whether cochlear implants were an option, and then supporting the family in their decision.  Once the decision had been made, Katie and the team worked with Callie to develop both her Auslan and English skills.
“It’s a unique situation as we are essentially supporting Callie to develop two languages. We work very closely with the family to do this.  For example, sometimes I will read a book to Callie and then Jordanna will talk to her about it in Auslan,” she explains.

Excelling in Two Languages

Jordanna with CallieAt just three years of age, Callie is now bilingual, fluent in Auslan and English, in which she has reached equivalency with her hearing peers.
Callie is attending RIDBC Rockie Woofit Preschool, where the RIDBC early learning program team will continue to work with her to prepare her for the transition to school where Callie will be ready to take on the next challenge.
For more information on the services available to children and their families, download our family handbook.

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