A Hearing Parent’s Perspective on Bi-Bi and Why I Support It

Wow! It has been a long time since we have posted anything here. I hope to change that now. There is a lot happening in the Deaf community here where we live in northeast Florida and around the world.

One amazing thing that has been happening is a growing awareness of American Sign Language and Language deprivation in deaf children. Organizations like the Nyle Dimarco Foundation and LEAD-K (Language Equality & Acquisition for Deaf Kids) are doing some amazing work in this area.

I want to do my part to help continue this effort in my own local community as well. Recently, the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind began a change in its operations toward an ASL-English Bilingual-Bicultural educational approach for the deaf children they serve. While we still face many challenges in implementing this more fully for our kids, our local Deaf community views this as a great success. At the very least, it is a huge step in the right direction.

I will be posting more about the ASL-English Bilingual-Bicultural (Bi-Bi) educational approach soon. I want to share more general information, research in this area, information about government and school policy, as well as some of the positive results we are experiencing right here at FSDB. However, here is a vlog that I recently posted on Facebook where I shared some of my personal experience with the Bi-Bi program. The transcript is posted below the video.

My name is Brent Hunter. I am the father of a Deaf son in 3rd grade. I want to share some of my personal experience with the ASL-English bilingual-bicultural (bi-bi) program that is now being implemented at Florida School for the Deaf (FSDB).

In our home, we use American Sign Language (ASL) for my son and my wife and I use spoken English. I wanted to share this story in spoken and written English so that my message will be clear. I hope that other hearing parents will be inspired to become more involved with this program as well.

When our family came to Saint Augustine for FSDB 4 years ago, we were happy to hear about the total communication program. It seemed that would be a great approach for education. I think it is a great theory; however, in practice, I have seen it fail miserably for my own son. His language acquisition – ASL and English – has been delayed, in part, I believe because of the use of total communication. I have noticed that when both languages are used together (at the same time), both languages lose a lot. As a result, profoundly deaf children like my son, struggle to gain a solid language foundation.

When FSDB decided to implement the bi-bi approach, I listened to opinions on both sides. I also did plenty of my own research. I learned about natural language development. I learned about how Deaf children process sign language as well as written language. I also looked into the many other schools for the deaf that have been using the bi-bi approach for many years and saw the success that they have had with this approach. As a result, I became very supportive of the bi-bi approach. However, I remained cautiously optimistic. I was excited about its potential but I did not yet have any personal experience with it.

Now, after seeing my son’s progress in the third grade, I fully support this approach and look forward to its full implementation. Michael has a Deaf teacher and a Deaf IA. So, he is naturally exposed to the bilingual method. However, I know that this is not the case for all Deaf and HH kids at FSDB. I look forward to the day when all of the deaf and HH kids can have this same exposure to both languages – ASL and English.

As a result of consistently being exposed to ASL, Michael’s language skills have leaped forward and his communication has improved greatly. He is now also improving his skills in reading and writing English. I believe his stronger foundation in his first language – ASL – has given him the skills he needs to feel more comfortable with his second language – English.

Last year, he struggled with many basic language concepts. Most often, he did not understand when he was being asked a question and did not know how to respond appropriately. When you asked him “how are you?” you usually got a blank stare, or at best, a smile and a nod. However, he now understands questions and he knows how to respond appropriately. He knows how to better express his emotions. He knows when he has missed something in a conversation. My son’s language has flourished due to this bilingual-bicultural approach.

Michael realizes that he has a greater understanding when ASL is used. When I talk and sign at the same time, he often does not understand. He has physically closed my mouth before and said, “Dad, just sign!” That was kind of funny when it happened, yet it was a bit of an epiphany for me as well.When I turn off my voice and try my best to express myself in ASL, he definitely understands more clearly. I am far from fluent in ASL but I do the best I can to give him what he needs.

When I am reading a story to him, I am used to pointing to the words on the page as I read and then signing. Michael has moved my hand away from the page and said, “No, just sign it”. When I do that, he understands and can enjoy the story. What I also noticed is that he can then go back and recognize more of the English words on the page as well.

So, now I support the bi-bi approach not only because of the great things I have learned about it from my research but also from my own personal experience. But there is still more that needs to be done to fully implement and support this approach. The teachers and our students need our support. So, parents, do your research, seek to understand and please lend your support.