Date: Mon, 04 Aug 2003 15:51:46 -0400 From: Christen Pearson Subject: Making sense in sign: A lifeline for a deaf child.
Froude, Jenny (2003) Making Sense in Sign: A Lifeline for a Deaf Child, Multilingual Matters, Parents' and Teachers' Guides Number 6.
Reviewed by Christen M. Pearson, Grand Valley State University.
This book is a mother's story of her son's development of meningitis in infancy and resulting deafness, his growing years as a child with hearing loss, and his ability to meet the associated challenges as he begins adult life. Several appendices can be found at the back of the book, including a list of resource addresses for information on deafness, hearing loss, meningitis, educational issues, and support groups, and a useful glossary of acronyms. Though not a textbook, this volume might be useful at the undergraduate level for supplementary reading in order to present a real-life case study, thereby making course material more interesting and potentially relevant for those in teacher training programs. For parents, it may provide support, decreasing feelings of isolation and alienation. For teachers, the book may help in understanding the daily life of and challenges faced by children with significant hearing loss, outside of the classroom, from a parental perspective.
Froude's text chronicles the first twenty-two years of her son's life during the 1980's and 1990's, from the development of meningitis at five months of age with resulting profound bilateral sensorineural loss to early adulthood. As such, it is a testament to a mother's emotions and psychological states during an initial crisis and throughout the ups and downs of raising a special needs child. The attitude Froude has taken is one of acceptance; that is, the situation is looked upon with the view that her son survived a devastating illness at such a young age and that "only" deafness was the residual complication. Her attitude to communication issues could also be termed compassionate. The focus is on what her son could do; parenting involved providing security and anticipating needs, rather than feigning an inability to understand in order to force/frustrate the child to more clearly articulate sounds and possibly develop speech. Such attitudes led Froude and her family to select a total communication approach to language acquisition, encompassing facial expression, body language, eye contact, gesture, lip patterns, signs, voice, and writing. Without discounting the benefits of oralism for some children, Froude shares her reasoning for why they chose the total communication approach, including the view that the first two to three years of life are a critical period for cognitive development and language learning, which may be problematic if only an oral approach is the focus, especially with children such as her son who have profound bilateral sensorineural loss.
Overall, the strengths of this book lie in its ability to involve the reader with an actual child and his family and to provide an introduction to understanding some of the issues facing parents of children who are profoundly deaf, such as: oral vs. manual vs. total communication; regular classroom vs. special classroom vs. residential schooling; and the advantages vs. disadvantages of cochlear implants. Weaknesses of the book, especially if adopted for use as a supplementary textbook, include: 1) its non-technical and possibly offensive terminology at times (e.g., "having fits" (pg.4) and "was fitting dreadfully" (pg. 5) used instead of the term "seizures"); 2) a lack of linguistic depth in chronicling the child's language development (e.g., there are few examples of phonemic, morphological, or syntactical development, and no linguistic analyses of such data); 3) a lack of linguistic accuracy (e.g., inaccurate comparisons are made to hearing children's language development, in order to illustrate that Froude's son was developing vocabulary and language at a similar pace, yet the numbers given are not what is documented in the literature; see chapter summaries below); and 4) no clear discussion of the difference between sign vocabulary vs. sign language, an issue of importance, especially in view of the various signed systems used by the child and family. A further possible weakness, due to the international scope of the publisher, is that no resources, information clearinghouses, or support groups outside of the author's area are included in the appendices. In the following paragraphs, a chapter by chapter summary will be given.
Chapters 1 and 2 provide a story-like background of Froude's child's initial illness and resulting deafness as a framework for the rest of the book. In Chapter 3, more details on language issues emerge, though as noted above, this is done in a non-technical manner, with little depth, and with some inaccuracies. Froude states that at age 2 years her son had a vocabulary of 36 signs and at 2 1/2 years was using 86 signs, in comparison to a hearing child's productive vocabulary of 50 words at 2 years (p.29). This is at odds with Clark (1993) offering figures of 50-200 words in productive use at age 1 1/2 years and 500-600 words at 2 years; Barrett (1995) with up to 500 or more productive words between 2 and 2 1/2 years; and Moskowitz (1998) giving approximately 250 words at age 2 years and 450 words by age 2 1/2. Perhaps Lenneberg's (1998) figure of 50+ words at age 24 months was used, yet his figure of 1000 words by age 36 months seems to have been unacknowledged. Therefore, the size of the lexicon for Froude's son does not appear to be comparable with a hearing child's vocabulary development, unless one entertains the possibility that there is a differential acquisition rate between British and American English. This chapter does make some important points, however, as Froude advocates that parents need to make informed choices regarding their child's methods of communication. It is here that she discusses their transition from the Paget Gorman Signed Speech (a system of 37 basic signs using English grammar) to a system of signed English based on British Sign Language but with English grammar and word order. This section could have been more informative and strengthened by a fuller discussion of signed gestural systems vs. sign languages (see Van Cleve, 1987). The preschool years are addressed in Chapter 4, including many 'firsts', such as preschool and riding the bus. It is in this chapter that Froude talks about her son's ability to produce a 9 word "sentence" at the age of 3 1/2 years (p. 45), though upon examination it appears that this might more accurately be described as a T-unit or discourse turn.
Chapters 5, 6, and 7 encompass the elementary, middle, and high school years. By age 5, Froude's son was developing question formation and beginning to read. Then, during the early elementary years, the school phased in Signed English. At age 9, a further complication of the early meningitis appeared, that of epilepsy, and Froude details how her son and the family grappled with this new challenge. The continuing problems with epilepsy, with the confounding problem of migraines, concurrent with frustrations of obtaining appropriate school and transportation services, are the foci of Chapter 6. It is also in this chapter that Froude discusses her son's development of complex sentences, new vocabulary, idiomatic phrases, question forms, and more complex grammatical structures, as evidenced in his writing. Again, though, there is a lack of depth in the material which would be needed for a supplementary linguistics text. Froude also discusses her son's personality development here, describing him as relaxed, pleasant, and getting along well with peers and adults, which she attributes to good communication development during his early years. This then leads to Chapter 7, where the feelings and experiences of the teen years are explored, including identity issues and the challenges of learning to drive a car.
Chapters 8 through 10 address the option of cochlear implants and Froude's son's desire to receive one at an older age, even though he had become deaf prelingually. In Chapter 8, Froude discusses the advantages and disadvantages of the implant for her son, while in Chapter 9 she offers a very good description of the actual device, using a piano analogy, for the lay person with a limited understanding of deafness. In this chapter Froude also shares the pain and frustration of her son needing two surgeries for the implantation, due to misplacement of the device in the first surgery. The process of becoming "switched on", that is, having the implant activated and learning to discriminate sounds, is the topic of Chapter 10. This chapter also offers a realistic view of what an implant can and cannot do when received at an older age by someone who became profoundly deaf prelingually. Because of this, total communication continued to be the approach of choice, with the implant used as a supplement and for greater awareness of environmental sounds. (See Sound & Fury: The Communication Wars of the Deaf (2000), an 80 minute video which also addresses some of the same issues that Froude discusses.)
Chapter 11 provides an overview of Froude's son's language development as he neared adulthood. There is a brief comparison of vocabulary development to a hearing child's (see, again, above notes on inaccuracies) and confusing statements where Froude appears to use the ability to hold a pen with perfect control as argument for language development. One is left wondering if it is the fine motor control being discussed, which does not necessarily equate with oral or language skills, or whether this statement is being used idiomatically to mean written language skills. The chapter also discusses in passing the residual problems with verb tenses and function words. To further exemplify language development, an interesting collection of her son's letters is included, which show acquisition of different discourse genres, such as explaining, cajoling, and negotiating. Froude also provides a rather novel and interesting view on possible differences between children born deaf and children who become deaf prelingually, and poses the question of what should be considered the first language of each group. The idea is offered that perhaps those born deaf should learn British Sign Language, whereas those who become deaf prelingually should learn Signed English: first, as they may already have some comprehension of English, and second, because of its similarity to spoken and written English, and the ease of transfer to literacy skills which are important for independent survival. One of the more linguistically "rich" chapters, a brief discussion of other books about deaf children is offered, as well as passing references to works by Karmilof-Smith, Chomsky, and Marschark. Again, if these references, as well as the language development material, had been more in-depth, it would have added value to the book being used as a supplementary text (again, for a real-life case study) rather than simply a "good read."
The remaining chapters note the challenges of early adulthood and bring the book to its conclusion. Chapter 12 chronicles the increasing independence of Froude's son, as he prepares for and participates in the "Trans-Borneo Cycle Challenge 2000 for Sense" of The National Deafblind and Rubella Association. It is in this chapter that Froude also discusses the further expansion of her son's independence, evidenced by his seeking employment outside of the family business. In Chapter 13, Froude uses the term "invisible handicap" and pulls the last 22 years of their life together by noting that deafness is not simply a lack of hearing, but a way of life. Finally, in Chapter 14, after having shared her family's story and choices, Froude states that while total communication worked best for them (see also Jacobs, 1989), each situation is different, thus leaving open the possibility that other methods might work better for other families. This brings back an earlier point in the book, where Froude emphasizes the need for parents to make informed choices. This, then, may be the primary purpose of the book - to offer one family's story so that other parents, teachers, and students can experience one view as they investigate still others on the road to making informed decisions concerning the individual children in their care.
Barrett, M. (1995). Early lexical development. In P. Fletcher & B. MacWhinney (Eds.), The Handbook of Child Language, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd.
Clark, E. V. (1993). The lexicon in acquisition, Cambridge Studies in Linguistics, 65. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Jacobs, L. M. (1989). A deaf adult speaks out (3rd ed.). Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press.
Lenneberg, E. H. (1998). Developmental milestones in motor and language development. In V. P. Clark, P. A. Eschholz, & A. F. Rosa (Eds.), Language: Readings in Language and Culture (6th ed.). Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's.
Moskowitz, B. A. (1998). The acquisition of language. In V. P. Clark, P. A. Eschholz, & A. F. Rosa (Eds.), Language: Readings in Language and Culture (6th ed.). Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's.
Sound & fury: Communication wars of the deaf [film] (2000). A Production of Aronson Film Associates and Public Policy Productions, New York: Filmakers Library.
Van Cleve, J. V. (Ed.) (1987). Gallaudet Encyclopedia of Deaf People and Deafness, Vol. 3. New York: McGraw-Hill.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Christen M. Pearson, PhD, is an assistant professor teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in introductory linguistics, applied linguistics, methods of TESOL, second language acquisition theory, and language disorders. Her research interests include phonological working memory in ESL learners, the interface of ESL and language disorders in children, and language and literacy development in the special population of older internationally adopted children.