“Far From the Tree”: The Deaf Chapter

Andrew Solomon wrote a book called “Far From the Tree” that was all the rage a couple of years ago. In it, he explores identity through analyzing multiple disabilities, along with homosexuality, children of rape, prodigies and transgendered people.

It has taken me literally all this time to work my way through the deaf chapter. Whenever I’ve started to read that chapter, it’s as if the waterworks are turned on behind my eyes and Just. Don’t. Stop.

Without getting overly dramatic about it, I think my emotions regarding the chapter are more to do with triggers in the chapter on my own experiences growing up deaf in oral communities, schools and family, and less to do with Solomon’s writing.

But there was one thing that stood out for me enough to want to write this post.

The future of ASL

Solomon concluded his chapter by saying that since parents are choosing cochlear implants more and more, the number of the deaf is decreasing, and it seems likely that ASL is a dying language.

But he doesn’t seem to understand – as many parents of deaf children apparently also don’t understand – that being deaf isn’t something that you turn on or off with your technology. My hearing aids help me to hear, just as cochlear implants help people who have them. But at the end of the day, we take these devices off and we are deaf.

So if parents or people choose to utilize technology like hearing aids or implants, I would love for them to think about what happens when the devices come off?

What happens when you take the hearing aids or implants off?

You don’t wear the external device that is attached to the cochlear implant 24/7, nor does one wear hearing aids 24/7. What happens then? If you don’t teach your kid sign language and give them a way to become fluent in it, you are making your child completely reliant on machines to hear and communicate, and without language when not wearing them.

Even if I could, I don’t want to wear my hearing aids all the time. My dear friend Katherine originally had two cochlear implants. One implant had to be removed due to infections and she is having issues with her remaining CI. She was raised completely oral – so if she had not made the independent decision to learn ASL as an adult, where would she be now?

I am not sure I can emphasize how horrible it is to be without a means to communicate.

Want to tell your lover you want some coffee? No hearing aids or implant in; oh, write it on paper or struggle to lipread or have her shout at you. The effort of it is more than exhausting; it is spiritually numbing and disempowering.

I think it is absolutely critical that parents be educated in the importance of ASL and to make sure their deaf kids can become fluent in it so that they won’t be lost without their devices. I think parents need to realize that their child can be fluent in ASL and still wear their device – and that helping their child to learn and utilize sign language will actually empower their child, give them greater options and opportunities, and leave them feeling safer for when they are not wearing their device.

I don’t agree with Solomon’s take on the ‘one or the other’ – I don’t think that ASL is or needs to be a dying language because of the emerging popularity of cochlear implants or more sophisticated technology in hearing aids.

 

Meriah
is a deaf blogger, global nomad, tech-junkie, cat-lover, Trekkie, Celto-Teutonic-peasant-handed mom of 3 (one with Down syndrome and one gifted 2E).
She likes her coffee black and hot.
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6 Comments

  • Hi Meriah, I have to comment on this one. As I have mentioned to you before I have two little daughters with a hearing loss. My girls are my world just like Moxie is to you. Since you are Deaf you can attest about this from your life experiences. Everyone in our family is hearing and our girls are not. We have opted to use hearing aids and cochlear devices as well, but the one thing I will never stop using for them is ASL. I agree with your post 100% in my opinion the technology is a blessing but my girls are Deaf first and to not teach them their native language is an act of being selfish on our part. I believe Deaf children and people should use ALL the forms of communication available and sign language is one of them. I know it is not so easy to learn a second language so I don’t want to judge the parents that choose not to learn or can’t for whatever reason but if it is possible for your children it is so worth it.
    I am not Deaf maybe in past life I was who knows but I can tell you that what you are saying makes complete sense to me. I appreciate you sharing this so candidly from your point of view I can’t stress how important your message is today.
    All the best,
    Elisheba

  • And that is exactly why we have chosen to learn Swedish Sign Language (SSL). Not because Henry needs it ALL the time but SOMETIMES he does need it. Why should he be without a language when he’s not wearing his technology?

  • Thanks for this – you’ve clarified for me one of my big critiques of the book: Solomon’s focus on how the family deals with differences they don’t understand means that he often doesn’t really understand the community he’s writing about. His chapter on transgender children is particularly bad – very outdated and full of offensive terminology.

    It’s a shame, because the ways families adapt to their children’s differences is a fascinating topic, but I think it can be problematic to privilege the parents’ reactions to the child’s reality.

    • It is an absolutely fascinating topic. I haven’t gotten to the transgender chapter yet (- on prodigies now) – thanks for the warning. I’ll read with care.

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