By Kathy Loo
Our family decided to adopt in 2012 and brought home our son, Asen, in 2014. To our knowledge he has had some degree of hearing loss since birth. By the time we had access to his file, there was no question that he was profoundly deaf. We genuinely didn’t know what to expect. We knew he wasn’t learning to sign as his main source of language and we were told that he was being taught speech, but we didn’t know what that consisted of as a whole picture.
At the time, my husband, Ben, and I were what you might call “campers,” meaning to us, our language modality choice was the only right choice. We had a strong belief in American Sign Language (ASL) only. We didn’t believe in cochlear implants either. What we didn’t know is that this little boy was getting ready to change everything we thought we knew as “gospel.” He was 8 years old when we brought him home. His language skills were minimal. He had about 10 Chinese or home signs in rotation to express basic needs, and he could say a few words, but his hunger to learn was very apparent. Our first night with him he committed 65 ASL signs to memory.
I knew very little about Cued Language. Ben was also attending school and had been part of the Deaf Education program at Barton College. He had access to a more well-rounded grouping of information concerning language modalities used with deaf children, but even with that knowledge, the deeper workings of Cued Language seemed to elude him. No one could give us a level of understanding on how it worked, and the small amount of information we could find outside of his education tended to lean more towards the negative.
Our intention was to teach Asen at home like his siblings. We were home two weeks from China when we tried getting back into the swing of things and he loved it. He quickly picked up on learning the American alphabet and learning how to use numbers in ASL. Things were going well, but it didn’t take long for teaching reading to become a big struggle. Not because he wasn’t capable, but because ASL and English are two completely different languages and there were just some things about reading that didn’t seem to transition smoothly into sign, at least not for us. Although we used ASL in our home long before Asen became a part of our family, it was still our second language and we still had linguistic limitations, which became boldly apparent when adding in the component of reading.
Asen did well with learning sight words, which is wonderful, but I had serious concerns about how he was going to do once sight words were no longer sufficient enough. I continued to dig for the right answers and Cued Language stayed in the back of my mind, but I was still limited on access to information on how it truly would even work.
Asen had this uncanny ability of making everything I thought I knew become unraveled. This mother who didn’t believe in cochlear implants suddenly found herself researching implants, because her child quickly became aware that two different worlds were happening right in front of him: the world where his mother, father, and siblings could hear, and his world of silence. He constantly wanted to know what things did and didn’t make noise.
He didn’t just stop there. He experienced a family retreat where the majority of the deaf kids talked instead of signed, so he wanted a piece of that action too. It was at that point that Cued Language (CL) really made its debut into our lives.
We got connected to this amazing woman named Lauren Pruett, and she was the first person to explain CL in a way that made any kind of sense to me…but she didn’t stop there. She met up with me a few weeks later and let me sit with her as she worked with Asen on learning the fundamentals of the modality. Shortly after that we were blessed with a scholarship to Camp Cheerio in North Carolina, and the pieces began to really come together.
Lauren also introduced me to a mother-daughter duo that utilizes CL, and they put me in touch with a speech therapist in our area who is well versed in cueing. This speech therapist began to work with my son weekly and his language building skills began to take off. Speech was never our goal for him. It just didn’t seem like the type of thing we wanted to invest the time and energy into, but I am so glad that we did. It has really changed the game for him learning to read and cue.
We recently began using a reading curriculum with him to help boost his reading abilities while utilizing CL. It is proving to be a good choice for us. He is excited about the progress he is making and how quickly he is making it with both learning to read and cue.
His younger sister also has a hearing loss (Auditory Processing Disorder) and she hopes to learn to cue one day. We are using CL to bridge the reading gap, but I truly believe that it will also be an additional communication and inclusion tool for our family the more we get others on board.
Our journey is still really new. We have so much more to learn, but I couldn’t be happier about making this choice for our family. As parents we get caught up in making “the right choice” and often feel led to believe that no other option is right, or that we can’t change gears once a path has been chosen. Our family has proven that multiple paths can lead to some of the best outcomes. It opens your world to new ideas, people, and experiences that I would never trade for being married to one ideology. We love and proudly use American Sign Language, but Cued Speech brings a new dynamic to the table that we personally couldn’t have given our son with ASL alone.
Asen is 14 years old now. He is still learning to read and grasp even the foundational pieces of the English language, but I think he is only going to be limited by the challenges he fears facing. Anything he sets his mind to, he will achieve. Where he is now is simply the starting line of his race.
Kathy Loo is a wife, mother of five, and deaf ministry leader. She is a huge advocate for deafness, including how diverse deaf people are. There is no one size fits all in deafness. She has two deaf children, two hearing children, and she and her daughter both have auditory processing disorder. She was born and raised in the Chicagoland area, but she’s been a ‘true blue Carolina girl’ for most of her adult life.