My name is Aidan Mack, a survivor of harmful advice given by an audiologist. I know that I do not have a say in the matter of AB 2072, since I am not a California citizen, but I feel it is important for you to be educated about the horrible price that many Deaf people like me had to pay due to an audiologist's bad advice in early childhood--advice which harmed our potential of becoming fully successful and productive human beings. Many of us are still struggling in adulthood with the consequences of an overemphasis on speech training and the consequences of being prohibited from using visual language as children. It was visual language that we needed the most, in order to have full and equal access to the information needed for an effective education, yet we were barred from having access to it.
When my mom found out that I was deaf, she took me to an audiologist who was referred to her by a physician. My mom told the audiologist that she remembered as a little girl how her uncle was Deaf and used sign language. The audiologist immediately told my mom, "No, it is bad idea for Aidan to learn sign. She needs to learn to listen and to speak or she will not function in the world."
The audiologist introduced a deaf woman who speaks very well and is able to listen well with hearing aids to my mom. The deaf woman told my mom how bad (supposedly) sign language was and how important it was for my mom to train me to speak and to listen and that I should be put me in an oral school. My mom believed her.
I was enrolled in an oral school and was subjected to intense amounts of speech and listening training all day. After a full day of speech training, then there was even more training in the evening every day, lasting until bedtime--constant and continuing speech and listening training. I had to use a soft, toy ball made of patches of fabric which I was supposed to throw at the radio every time I heard a certain word or when I heard that the radio is on. I couldn’t, since I am profoundly deaf.
As I grew, I watched my own mom’s frustration and disappointment grow, because I didn’t speak and hear. I would try and try to communicate and to understand what people were trying to tell me. I was very much aware of this process of not being able to express my voice. It was painful for me not to be able communicate. I didn’t have a right kind of language that I could use to communicate with. Audiologists and teachers literally tried to force me to use a language that I would never learn, unless I had a proper linguistic foundation using American Sign Language, which would enable me to acquire English as a second language. I would probably speak very well now if I had access to ASL when I was born. But I ended up being language deprived and speaking with an uncontrolled voice with no clear words coming out of my mouth.
The last straw for my mom happened when I was six years old. I was crying and my mom tried to find out what was wrong, but we couldn’t communicate with each other. My crying and my temper tantrums were getting worse, because I couldn’t communicate. She took time out, left the house and went to the park to cool down. At the park, she happened to bump into the same deaf woman who told her originally that signing is a bad thing and it was best for me to be taught with the oral method, even if that meant being overworked with speech and listening training. My mom asked her, “How did you do all that and learn to speak and listen so well?” with an exasperated look on her face. The deaf woman felt really bad and admitted that the reason she had good speaking skills was because she grew up as a hearing person and only became deaf when she was 15 years old. My mom thought to herself, "Oh my God, my daughter was deaf since birth!" She fell to the ground and cried, feeling horribly guilty. She immediately searched for her Deaf uncle who signed and found him and asked for his help.
To this day I remember how, when my mom put me in a residential-school program where sign language was used to communicate, I felt re-born. I actually was born again, mentally and emotionally. I will never forget how, when I was a little girl, I saw all the children who were the same age as me, letting their hands fly free. Their hands flying free helped to enlighten my brain and get it to work properly again to be able to absorb everything going on in the environment by using visual language. My eyes opened wide and I felt so alive for the first time ever…. It was visual language which opened the world to me and opened thousands and thousands doors of opportunity. My brain was craving information, everything from A to Z,but it was being blocked by a barrier due to the lack of access to visual language, American Sign Language. Now I can communicate. I can learn. I still remember what it is like not being able to communicate, just like it was yesterday. It was a horrifying and painful experience, not being able to express my thoughts or receive people’s thoughts. It was torment. Thank God for my Deaf great-uncle and for American Sign Language!
In spite of my later success, with sign language, there was a costly price I had to pay for my rest of my life due to the consequences of the biased and false information the audiologist gave my mother:
- My psychological development as a child was thrown off track, and I wasn't able to grow psychologically in a natural and normal way. Imagine what it is like, not being heard or understood for six years, for example, when you get hurt or when you don't feel well, or there is something troubling you and you need help. Or imagine if you had exciting news to share, but couldn't share it. Imagine experiencing this through a child's eyes. It was because of this trauma of not being able to communicate up to a certain age, and being barred from having access to visual language that I will always, in a sense, be an outsider in society, always feeling in some way that I am having to "swim upstream," when I should been allowed to develop normally instead of having to overcome near-insurmountable obstacles in life.
- I am always having to struggle with written English, due to having been barred from having access to a natural first language, American Sign Language. If I had been allowed to have access to American Sign Language and bilingual-bicultural education as a young child, I guarantee you that I would write English very fluently today, instead of having to ask friends to edit my writing (including this letter). I was fortunate enough to be able to learn to write somewhat decently, though with flawed grammar, because I was allowed to have access to ASL at a later age.
- My self-esteem and my self-confidence were severely damaged, and it took me many years to overcome this. My education was delayed. My teachers at the residential school had to re-discipline me and teach me how to behave appropriately at school and how to express my thoughts and my feelings in a correct way. I had to learn all over again how to communicate. I was a survivor of the oral method, a failed method to which I was subjected for six very long years, during a critical time in childhood, and this had a huge impact on me. After I was allowed to sign, I had to learn many things all over again – but this time it was different, I was able to progress upward and achieve in a signing environment.
I beg you not to vote for the AB 2072 bill. I beg you to take the time to get know the Deaf community and to learn about issues going on in the Deaf community. Please do not put Deaf children through experiences like they did to so many Deaf people like me. The practice of using Deaf children as experimental subjects must stop. The practice of gambling on Deaf children’s lives and their futures by subjecting them to exceedingly risky (non-visual) methods that rarely work -- based on the audiologists' biased and invalid assessments -- must stop. It is important to include Deaf experts when drafting new legislation. Any new bills being proposed should first be vetted by checking with people in the Deaf community. We, as Deaf people, know better and many Deaf people are well educated and knowledgeable on topics of education and are especially able to offer wise and proper advice due to having first-hand experience as Deaf people.
Aidan Mack -- Survivor of Harmful Advice Given by an Audiologist