When a Pediatrician Told Me Not to Sign With My Daughter

My daughter, Coral, is learning two languages at the same time: English and American Sign Language (ASL). Lately, she preferred to communicate via ASL instead of using her voice to speak. When we were out and about, people would speak to her, and she would reply in ASL.

I decided to meet with Coral’s pediatrician during her wellness check-up about her speech regression. Going in, I knew I would probably need to do research on my own because the pediatrician might not know the best way to help a child of deaf adults (CODA). I was concerned just like any typical mom and wanted to make sure my daughter wasn’t delayed in any way.

While we were in the waiting room, I asked my interpreter for her opinion since she was around deaf people and CODAs all the time. She chuckled and said, “Nah, it is just a phase. She’s storing the spoken words in her brain and will start talking in no time.”

The nurse came out to the waiting room and called Coral’s name. We went in the room, and the nurse did her regular wellness check. Then the pediatrician came in, and we talked through the interpreter about my concerns about her speech regression. I thought she was going to say it wasn’t a big deal, but we could get Coral evaluated to see. Boy, was I wrong. She took a couple of minutes to gather her thoughts and then said Coral needed to sign less and talk more.

My fiancé, Mr. Tropical, and I don’t speak by choice, and we rely on ASL to communicate, so I told the pediatrician it was impractical for us to sign less with Coral. The pediatrician nodded and replied, “She needs to be around hearing people more. Speaking English is crucial and signing will interfere with that.”

Can you imagine a doctor advising you to stop communicating with your child in your own native language? I was silent and didn’t know what to say. Did she realize she was talking about me? About my fiancé? About my friends? About a lot of people in the deaf community?

Spoken languages shouldn’t be considered superior to signed languages. All of us have our own ways of communicating, whether it’s a spoken language or a signed language.

At that moment, I realized the pediatrician was more stressed out about Coral’s future, while I was only concerned about her speech regression. I wasn’t worried about Coral’s future just because she had deaf parents. In fact, I thought having deaf parents gave her an advantage in life and nothing less. But the pediatrician made me feel like I wasn’t doing a good job with Coral. For the first time in her entire life, I felt inferior.

Unfortunately, I didn’t defend myself during the visit. I was silent the entire time. Why? At the time, I felt it was pointless for me to argue when she was already set in her own beliefs. I would have wasted my breath because her closed-minded opinions weren’t going to change the way I raise my daughter.

I simply requested a referral to get Coral evaluated for speech therapy. After the visit, I notified the interpreter it was time to find a new pediatrician.

I shouldn’t feel like I’m a bad mom for not knowing how to speak and being unable to hear. I shouldn’t feel like I’m impacting Coral’s life negatively.

She’s thriving in all the other skills and is even above average in some. She already has a language in place. She knows how to communicate.

In the end, the interpreter was right, the speech regression was just a phase.

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