Open Letter to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)
We are writing in response to ASHA’s recent position statement opposing LEAD-K (Language Equality and Acquisition for Deaf Kids). As certified speech-language pathologists and members of your organization who work directly with the population of children who are deaf and hard of hearing, we felt it necessary to post this letter to express our extreme disapproval of ASHA’s stance on this issue.
The current crisis in deaf education is that hundreds of thousands of deaf and hard of hearing children are not obtaining anything close to the language foundation necessary not only for kindergarten readiness, but for lifelong learning and success. Research shows that the first five years of life are crucial for language learning and subsequent brain development, and that children who are deaf or hard of hearing often do not receive adequate language input during that critical time period. This phenomenon, language deprivation, causes permanent difficulties with cognition, language, and learning.
The LEAD-K legislation attempts to ameliorate this crisis by creating a systematic data tracking system to ensure that deaf and hard of hearing children are indeed on the same language development trajectory as their same-aged hearing peers. The organization clearly states that it “aims to end language deprivation through information to families about language milestones, assessments that measure language development, and data collection that holds our current education system accountable.” It proposes the creation of a parent resource that clearly outlines language developmental milestones for deaf and hard of hearing children aged birth to five. In section 1(c)(1), the LEAD-K model bill states that the parent resource shall “assist deaf and hard of hearing children in becoming linguistically ready for kindergarten using both or one of the languages of ASL and English.”
In the summary of its opposition, ASHA states that LEAD-K legislation “promotes the acquisition of American Sign Language (ASL) over other forms of language.” This is not only false, but it portrays an inaccurate depiction of biased legislation. It also states that ASHA believes no language should be promoted over another language when it is well known that spoken English is regularly promoted over American Sign Language. If the organization’s stance is indeed to promote all languages equally, then it must recognize that ASL is currently not being encouraged in an equal manner to English. In order for ASL to be considered a viable option for that deaf and hard of hearing children who need it, legislation of this kind is required to overcome decades of parent miseducation and professional recommendations that are heavily biased towards spoken English.
To that end, this legislation does not promote ASL over other languages. LEAD-K clearly states, “Our goal is language acquisition regardless of the language used, whether ASL or English or both.” Again, they state that their goal is “that all children who are deaf or hard of hearing, ages 0 to 5, achieve age-appropriate language” with a disclaimer in Section 1(j) of the model bill that “the term ‘language’ includes American Sign Language and English.”
Furthermore, LEAD-K promotes the creation of a linguistically diverse ad hoc advisory committee that will serve the purpose of providing expert input on language developmental milestones for children who are deaf or hard of hearing. In section 1(e)(2), the model bill recommends the committee have a “balance of members who personally, professionally or parentally use the dual languages of ASL and English and members who personally, professionally or parentally use only spoken English.” The bill lists examples of members that might make up the ad hoc committee, including but not limited to parents of D/HH children that utilize different languages, teachers of the deaf, researchers, speech-language pathologists, advocates, and early intervention specialists. It is evident by this list that LEAD-K intends for the advisory committee to be a diverse group with a variety of perspectives in order to quell potential bias. In fact, it explicitly states in section 1(e)(1)(b) that the committee will make recommendations on “what materials are unbiased and comprehensive to add to the parent resource.”
In ASHA’s issue brief, its states that “ASHA supports the family’s right to choose the appropriate language and/or communication system for their child who is D/HH.” This insinuates that the LEAD-K bill does not support the family’s right to choose. However, this claim is deceitful. In section 1(a)(6), LEAD-K’s proposed legislation states that the parent resource should “make clear that the parent(s) have the right to select which language (ASL, English, or both) for their child’s language(s) acquisition and developmental milestones.”
Additionally, ASHA states that the committee required by LEAD-K legislation would “duplicate the work of IFSP/IEP teams and undermine their decision-making authority.” In subdivision (8) of section 1(a), LEAD-K states that the parent resource should “make clear that a parent may bring the parent resource to an IFSP or IEP meeting for the purposes of sharing their observations about their child’s development.” The parent resource serves to empower parents to have clear information on how their child’s language is developing compared to same-aged peers. The assessments will inform parents if their child is not developing age-appropriate language skills and the team will be able to act accordingly. If anything, this will give the team, including parents, more authority in developing an appropriate program for the child. LEAD-K asserts that “language assessments measuring language acquisition and development will provide an early indicator if the child is not developing age-appropriate language and will improve accountability of the IFSP and IEP teams to ensure that the child is on track with developing language.”
Most alarming, however, is ASHA’s statement that LEAD-K would “require additional funding to support the committee, development of a parent/family resource, and implement the committee’s recommendations.” This declaration implies that ASHA places financial interests over the interests of deaf and hard of hearing children. Not only is it offensive, but it is arguably not the place of a professional organization to determine or influence states’ individual fiscal capability and decision-making. It is the prerogative of each state to determine, if they should decide to enact this bill, whether the financial cost of developing such a vital parent resource, expert committee, and data-tracking system is economically viable.
Language deprivation is an epidemic among deaf and hard of hearing children and it is fully preventable. Deaf and hard of hearing children who receive limited or little benefit from hearing technology are at significant risk for language deprivation and the resultant permanent cognitive impacts if they do not have early access to a visual language. LEAD-K is the only national effort that promotes educating families on both signed and spoken languages. ASHA’s opposition to LEAD-K demonstrates a desire to sweep current crises in language deprivation under the rug in a claim that “the policies are already in place through federal laws that address the health and education needs of infants and children identified with hearing loss.” If this were in fact the case, we would not see that approximately 70% of deaf children have not achieved an age-appropriate language foundation by kindergarten (preliminary data results of SB210, California’s LEAD-K bill). ASHA’s blatant and willful ignorance of the language deprivation crisis among children that are deaf and hard of hearing suggests that ensuring language development and subsequent brain development in this population is not a priority of the organization.
Furthermore, ASHA’s opposition statement endorses the continued practice of promoting English over ASL and ignores the alarming and overwhelming evidence that deaf and hard of hearing children benefit greatly from visual language. By opposing this vital legislation, ASHA is declaring financial interests a priority over ensuring adequate language development in children who are deaf and hard of hearing.
For the reasons stated above, we, certified speech-language pathologists who work with the population of children that are deaf and hard of hearing and are members of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, do not agree with the official position of ASHA, our governing organization. We hold language development to be a top priority, regardless of the language. We recognize the current biases in the system that encourage English over ASL, and assert that ASL should be promoted equally. We implore our national organization, ASHA, to consider the impact this opposition statement has on our profession in the field of deaf education and within the deaf community. We encourage fellow ASHA members and fellow speech-language pathologists to read the model bill proposed by LEAD-K, as well as LEAD-K’s Mythbusters, prior to making a decision. We support the message and the campaign put forth by the LEAD-K organization and encourage ASHA members to support the legislation in their state.
Kimberly Sanzo, MS, CCC-SLP Liliana Diaz-Vazquez MS, CCC-SLP/L
Razi M. Zarchy, MS, CCC-SLP Sharon E. Graney, MS, CCC-SLP
Kelsey Ernste, MS, CCC-SLP Abigail Bradley, MA, CCC-SLP
Jessica Holman, MEd, CCC-SLP Mariel Knauss, MS, CCC-SLP
Nicole Chow, MS, CCC-SLP Kim Abts, MS, CCC-SLP
Rachel Jordan, MS, CCC-SLP Mary Grace Hamme, MS, CCC-SLP
Thea Beaney, MS, CCC-SLP Amy Esplund, MA, CCC-SLP
Caryssa McCool, MS, CCC-SLP Holly Geeslin, CCC-A/SLP
Jacqueline K. Grant, MA, CCC-SLP Leslie Caldwell, MA, CCC-SLP
Claire A. Lombardo-Miller, MA, CCC-SLP, SSP Pam Fish, AuD CCC-SLP/A
Jenna Frink, MS, CF-SLP Casey Spelman, MS, CCC-SLP
Lindsey Pfledderer, MA, CCC-SLP Debbi Praml, MS, CCC-SLP
Austin Christensen, MS, CCC-SLP