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Freedom to Communicate

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By Hend Ibrahim

I always assumed that deaf people communicated through sign language and thought it was a universal language. So, when my husband, Sanjar, and I first learned that our third child, Adam, had Usher Syndrome type 2C and was profoundly deaf in his left ear, I began to learn and use American Sign Language. Adam has a moderate-to-severe loss in the right ear.

Learning sign was fun and easy and most signs made sense. I wanted to communicate with Adam on the same level as I communicated with my other hearing children; soon it became too difficult. I had to pause, to search online how to sign specific words. As Adam grew, my lack of fluency would mean a lack of communication, which would be disastrous.

I attended a parent meeting in nearby Fairfax County at Camelot School. Parents at the meeting were sharing their experiences. Suhad Keblawi, one of the parents, began talking about Cued Speech, which I had never heard of as a communication option. Months later, I googled Cued Speech and saw videos on youtube. I decided to give it a shot and asked Suhad to teach me. I had nothing to lose!

After my first lesson, I could cue simple words and felt confident. It took my brain time to process the cues and put words together. Adam was 2.5 yrs old when I began cueing to him. Cued Speech is more mechanical and at the beginning he rejected it, which I found discouraging, much like an infant who is learning to use hearing aids. Adam has consistently worn hearing aids since he was three months old. He uses a Roger Pen remote microphone system in school.

I met a deaf young lady, who was cueing with Suhad. Suhad voiced for her and I was amazed by how they were communicating word to word with no hearing at all. I wanted that limitless communication, and freedom to say what I wanted without thinking. Cued Speech gave me the freedom to make silly sounds, sing silly songs and made up songs.

Soon it was time for Adam to age out of early intervention into preschool, which meant we needed an Individualized Education Plan. I learned quickly that I needed to be my Adam’s advocate and fight to obtain the services he needed. They didn’t want him to use Cued Speech; they wanted him to sign.

I knew I needed Cued Speech to communicate with my son, so I stood my ground. No one in our county used Cued Speech. I refused to sign an IEP that didn’t include Cued Speech as a mode of communication. To me, his right to communicate in English was a basic human right.

I reached out to organizations for help and the National Cued Speech Association was very responsive to my call and advised me of my rights. They offered to attend Adam’s IEP meeting. I received tremendous emotional support from the Cued Speech Facebook group. Adam was 3 1/2 when we signed our first IEP.

Our county assigned a special education teacher who knew Cued Speech. They hired a Cued Language Transliterator (CLT). In just a few months, Adam was cue reading, and watching the CLT for information.

I communicate freely with Adam and there are no barriers due to deafness. It doesn’t matter where we are, I can cue anything, and we can actually have a CONVERSATION!

Adam also uses his auditory skills to get information, but when the message is unclear, he depends on cueing to get the complete information. At 4 1/2 he was gaining language rapidly, and at the age of 5 Adam was cue reading and expressively cueing proficiently. As a result, our county decided to train more staff in Cued Speech. At the age of 6, the school has removed many of speech and language goals, while only adding self-advocacy goals, which is a skill that is already being developed in Kindergarten.

Adam is attending a mainstream school in the general setting. He is one of two deaf students in his class and he has a CLT in all school setting. In the last hearing evaluation, the audiologist tested his hearing on his profoundly deaf ear by reading a list of words that he was supposed to repeat it as he heard it. He speechread her and repeated every word perfectly. When she repeated the same words while covering her mouth, he got zero words right; Cued Speech increased Adam’s lip reading skills.

My child is amazing; he inspires me. I feel God has honored me with a special gift. Adam is the smartest, funniest, and the kindest seven-year-old boy I have ever known. At bedtime every night, I always read to him and point to the words. He began reading by himself at age three. No one taught him.

Investing in our children helps them be included so they will be productive citizens. If you believe in your child, your child will believe in himself and if he believes in himself, nothing is impossible. Adam showed me how one person can change the world.

Adam also is learning a second language, there are a few sounds or phonemes in that language that don’t exist in the English language, Cued Speech has given him visual to recognize those special sounds and produce them. So, we recently learned Cued Arabic. Also, Cued Speech introduced him to different accents. He was speaking with British accent since his teacher was British, so he would cue to me and say ‘Ca,’ or ‘tiga,’ the way British reduce the ‘r.’

I believe having a CLT and learning Cued Speech has helped Adam in picking up the language, helped him with articulation (for example differentiating between voiced and unvoiced sounds as in plurals endings as in ‘cars vs ships’ and past tense endings as in ‘walked vs moved’). It has also helped him prepare for school. Adam is doing much better than all his hearing peers in reading.

Adam has always been fascinating with books and loved to read since he was two years old. Cued speech has helped him recognize words that are irregular in pronunciation. For example, for the word ‘sleigh,’ Adam would read it ‘slig,’ but when I cue it he would say it correctly.

Adam has been exceeding our expectations, and I am so grateful for Dr. Cornett for providing such a great communication modality.

Hend is a CPA and currently a stay-at-home mom of eight children with husband, Sanjar Hakimi. (Adam is the third and only deaf child in the family.) Hend and Sanjar are happily married since spring of 2009. Hend loves spending quality time with her family, reading to her kids and loves the outdoors.

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