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Parents of Deaf Children, Stuck in the Middle of an Argument

A long-simmering controversy erupted this spring over how deaf children should communicate.

It started when The Washington Post ran a story on Nyle DiMarco, the deaf “Dancing With the Stars contestant who is also an advocate for American Sign Language (ASL). When Meredith Sugar, president of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, retorted that ASL was becoming obsolete in light of better hearing aid and cochlear implant technology, the arguing went public. But that debate was really just the latest manifestation of a longstanding conflict among deaf people and parents of deaf children: Should children be fitted for hearing aids and taught to speak, or should they use sign language? Or a combination of both?

As the parent of a 2-year-old whose hearing loss was recently diagnosed, the arguments only heightened my anxiety about how to address my son Sam’s needs. After his diagnosis, Sam’s doctors assumed he would get hearing aids, which he would need for the rest of his life. ASL was not mentioned as an option. Because Sam has residual hearing — his loss is mild in one ear and moderate to severe in the other — I went along with their recommendation.


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