It is so exciting to read about people with hearing loss in the news accomplishing great things. Academic award winners, artists, actors, athletes — their stories raise public awareness about hearing loss and dispel stereotypes about people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Conversely, there are those people with hearing loss who struggle mightily — never achieving age-appropriate language abilities, falling behind in school, or failing to find employment. With such a broad spectrum of outcomes for people with hearing loss, how do we make sense of it all?
The truth is, there are “stars” who come from all communication methods. These people are exceptionally talented and likely would have succeeded regardless of how their parents chose to teach them to communicate. They have innate intelligence, drive, and motivation. The same goes for those at the other end of the spectrum, the people who are deaf or hard of hearing who never gain sufficient language skills or grade-level reading abilities, whose communication abilities are quite poor. If they struggle in one mode of communication, in all likelihood, they would have struggled in any mode of communication, due to innate factors like a language disorder (independent of hearing loss), additional learning disabilities or cognitive delays, or extrinsic factors like poor family support.
It’s easy — and tempting! — to hold up the “stars” as proof that your chosen method of communication works, or even is the “best” for all deaf children. It’s equally easy to decry “failures” of a communication mode and to put them forward as “proof” that that philosophy is flawed. But anecdotes are not evidence. Neither is the case.
In any population, in this case, the population of people with hearing loss, you will have what are called your outliers — people who perform either exceptionally well or exceptionally poorly compared to the norm. While it’s fun to read about the high-performing outliers and sad to read about the low-performing ones, neither really gives us the information we need to make accurate assessments about communication modes and manners of instruction. Where we really need to focus is somewhere not nearly as flashy and dramatic and exciting… the boring, beautiful, average middle. What is the average reading level at your signing state school for the Deaf? What are the mean expressive language scores for children raised with auditory verbal therapy? How do well do most children with cochlear implants perceive speech? Consider the middle — and don’t rely on hearsay — look for what the research says.