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While recording the first episode for the Olipop’s Journey podcast, a lot came up for me that I wasn’t expecting. I wasn’t expecting to lose my words and not be able to express myself. I wasn’t expecting to feel so cautious about what I said in case I offend someone. I wasn’t expecting to doubt myself so much. Why did I feel like this? It is after all our journey that I am sharing and our experience, there is no right or wrong, each journey is unique. But I suppose this is what social media does?!?! I have seen such incredible families share their journey’s and just be torn apart by some keyboard warrior, am I ready to put myself in the firing line?

The topic that creates the most anxiety for me is sign language. Rationally, I am completely baffled by this. How can the subject of language cause so much anxiety?! Simply put, because it seems to be a highly controversial topic, with passionate arguments from both sides.

I have always been interested in sign language. I remember when I attended the University of Oregon, one of my sorority sisters was taking sign language as an elective and I was so intrigued. I even investigated doing it myself, but as a science major there wasn’t much room in my schedule to add that. I did learn the ASL alphabet from her and a few conversational signs. Then when my brother had his first baby they used ‘baby sign’ (yes, I now know that it’s not baby sign, its sign language) and I did some research into it. There were so many benefits associated with teaching your child sign language.

Then came Oli’s diagnosis, severe to profound hearing loss and suddenly there was a sign language debate that we became aware of:

  • ‘If you’re going to implant, you don’t need to learn sign language.’
  • ‘If you implant him, he will never be accepted by people of his kind.’ – yes this was said to us!
  • ‘Signing will prevent him from learning spoken language you have to choose one or the other.’
  • ‘Total communication is the best of both worlds.’
  • ‘But we don’t know how to sign, will we be enough?’
  • ‘What is the right thing to do?’

The right thing to do is different for every family. What works for one doesn’t mean it will work for ours or yours.

We did ‘baby sign’ when Oli was little and I stand firmly behind the fact that for Oli it significantly helped and the more signs we taught him, the more he also started using spoken language. We always signed a word while saying a word. Was it coincidence? Was it that he is a kinesthetic learner? Was it because he is deaf and so therefore is more likely to be a visual learner? I am sure all the above played a role plus so much more. So the research started. I read papers published about the importance signing with deaf children using cochlear implants. I started following people on social media that were teaching their children sign and using cochlear implants. But more importantly I saw it was working for us!

Just before Oli was two, we immigrated to the US and there we met our lovely teacher of the deaf through the county. She introduced us to the concept of total communication, which encompasses both spoken and signed language. She showed us how to seamlessly integrate both forms of communication, and rather both languages into our lives. We even got to participate in online ASL classes with other parents, learning alongside them and expanding our understanding of sign language.

Once back in South Africa, we didn’t have a teacher of the deaf, we didn’t have the same resources or at least not as readily available. As we are living here now, we decided to start focusing on South African Sign Language (SASL). Last year, South Africa officially recognized SASL as the 12th official language, it strangely felt like a validation of our decision. We have since embraced the opportunity to not just learn more SASL but also learn more about the South African deaf culture and community. This has proven to be trickier than anticipated but that’s a conversation for another day.

We as a family are so grateful for the amazing technology of cochlear implants. It has given Oli access to spoken language which has allowed him to develop spoken language. Oli loves living in a hearing world, he wants his cochlear implants the moment he wakes up and we take them off right before he goes to sleep. We do however want him to have all the tools he needs and or wants to communicate, be that sign language, spoken language or both. While his interest in sign language fluctuates, we remain committed to exposing him and meeting him wherever he is at.

Sharing this blog has made it even more clear what my intention for the podcast, Olipop’s Journey is. I want to create a space where we can share each unique deaf and hard of hearing family’s journey. Plus, from time to time we will hear from experts and professionals. I want the podcast to be a resource and place for us to come together and connect with one another without judgement.