Mom says school officials discouraged son’s use of sign language

Barb Sweet
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Problem rectified late Friday after the issue was brought to the media

Jarod Blake.

The mother of a Beachy Cove Elementary student who uses American sign language says education officials pushed her son to instead use an electronic device she feels won’t help him improve his speech skills.

“Why would you take away from a child with special needs, like Jarod, something that is so important and would enrich his education? By taking away (sign language) from my son it seems (Eastern School District) is going backwards instead of forwards with my child,” Fawn Hedderson said in an impassioned email to school board officials and a number of politicians.

But late Friday, Hedderson called The Telegram to say the decision had been reversed and credited The Telegram for that. Her son, Jarod Blake, 10, now has his schedule restored with staff who have sign language.

Jarod is in Grade 5 at the Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s school. He has Down syndrome and while he can hear, he has speech difficulties.

Hedderson told The Telegram that she was informed by a school board official that sign language will eventually be a thing of the past.

“This year they have decided to start taking sign language away from him,” she said earlier Friday.

She said the school acquired the device last year, but this fall it told her it was reducing his time with staff who have sign language skills to just a total of two hours in a seven-day school period. She said the school switched him away from a special needs teacher who has sign language skills to one who doesn’t.

Hedderson was informed by email Friday that his schedule would be changed to give him access to staff with sign language.

She has no problem with Jarod using the electronic technology, but opposes sole reliance on it.

Through the use of sign language, he is improving his verbal skills as his family works to encourage him to make sounds.

The electronic device has Jarod pushing buttons which announce requests like “I want to use the washroom.”

Hedderson said it won’t help him develop his own speech patterns.

“Why is it he can’t have sign language if it is already there in school? Our argument is he is so comfortable with (sign language). He’s used to it, so why not go both ways? … I don’t want him dependent on technology,” Hedderson said.

While the school is saying Jarod needs to get used to change, Hedderson said there is plenty of change in his life.

“They said they are the professionals who knows what is best for him. Well, I am his mother and I know what is best for him,” Hedderson said.

Inclusion, she said, is supposed to keep all options open for children, but yet the system was shutting down sign language for Jarod prior to reversing the schedule restrictions.

Eastern School District can’t discuss specific cases.

But a spokesman said it’s not abandoning support of American sign language.

The board said speech language pathologists provide assessments and recommendations for students with communication difficulties.

Trying to reach the best strategy is a “ongoing problem-solving process,” the spokesman said. This includes regular meetings to review a student’s progress and revamp the strategy based on what works and what doesn’t.

St. John’s North MHA Dale Kirby, the NDP critic for education as well as critic for the status of people with disabilities, said he doesn’t blame the school.

Rather he said, while the provincial government has embraced the inclusion of children with various special needs in the classroom, it hasn’t backed it up with resources.

“You can include people in the classroom all you want, but until students get the services they need to learn, the rest of it is really just rhetoric, however well meaning it may be,” Kirby said.

He said one of the top three things he hears regularly is the lack of supports for students with special needs.

“It’s one of the biggest problems we face in education in Newfoundland and Labrador today,” he said.

“This is the case that is getting attention now. There are many, many more parents who are similarly frustrated.”

Kirby said the province has failed to adopt a 2007 recommendation by an expert to provide mediation, which would likely have eased Hedderson’s struggle with the system from the beginning.

Organizations: NDP

Geographic location: Portugal Cove, Newfoundland and Labrador

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Recent comments

  • w.carter
    September 30, 2012 - 13:39

    This child should have every asset to his improvemt in life and not just school.The principal is not the God some people like to think so and also the professionals at the board office.Don't know it all even though they may think they do.Fawn you know your child because you put the time and energy into his qualith of life since he's been born.No one can tell you about your son until they walk the walk nand talk the talk.This is an awful way to cut back on resources for this type that the child needs and not encourage both methods into play.If Fwan's son came into the school system as an abousive child with no parent to care just as along as its a place to send them also abusive to the other children in the class they would have full time support put into place for this abusive child. Thats the difference with a child with a disability.They say the most precious thing in the world is your children and grandchildren don't let any one deter you from acheiving the maxium for your son.Too many precious children have been pushed under the rug don't let it happen to your son.God knew who he sent this child to.He knew he would be looked after.Keep up the good fight and don't settle for anything less for your son.

    • Jude's Buddy
      October 01, 2012 - 21:27

      I don't think that Jude was saying that the Principal was the 'be all - end all' to addressing his daughters problems. I do think, though, that in this case, the fact that the Principal was very proactive with regards to getting action for this little girl was a very important thing. I say "POOL YOUR RESOURCES" and don't stop knocking on doors until you get the assistance and resources that your child needs.

  • JJ
    September 30, 2012 - 10:23

    @PARENTS OF A CHILD WITH 'SPECIAL NEEDS - I actually have a great deal of knowledge in the area of children with Down Syndrome. As with any other child with communication difficulties, not specific to or excluding children with Down Syndrome, TOTAL COMMUNICATION is the best approach. This means signing, electronic devices and speaking. RESEARCH shows that using Alternate means of communication DOES NOT impeded a child's ability to learn spoken language... it actually enhances it! My point was that an iPad or any other device which provides verbal output in the English language would provided better feedback to enhance Jarod's verbal skills than ASL because it follows the rules of the English language!!! ASL does not. I do not dispute either that he should continue using sign, as I highly doubt the school Speech-Language Pathologist did either. As I said above, TOTAL COMMUNICATION is the way to go. I am just saying that given that such technology is now readily available, why not use it to let children become more independent? ASL would limit who and where he can communicate with but a communication device is universal!!!

  • Lisa
    September 30, 2012 - 10:03

    Jarod is a lucky boy to have a mom who will advocate for him. My youngest son also has down syndrome. I hope you will get the support you both deserve from his educators.

  • Fawn
    September 29, 2012 - 18:38

    I would like to set some people straight. Jarod is not Deaf or hard of hearing. He is a very intelligent little boy who can not speak. Please read the whole story first and try not skimming it. This is how we miss facts. I did not say he should not have a technological device. If the people are already in the school with ASL I asked why could he not make use of both technology and ASL. Also, while Jarod is signing we encourage him to try sounding what he is expressing. If he uses a device to speak for him he will no longer try to speak and all hope is then gone. I would like to say that if Jarod didn't qualify for ASL why did he have to go to CHOIR? A mother knows best. I know my son and what he needs. It seems that people who are not directly connected to a disability can't try to understand.

  • Jude
    September 29, 2012 - 16:56

    I think a lot of what goes on (or doesn't go on) in the schools depends on the Principal. When our young daughter started to struggle in 1st grade, the (then) Principal drew together professionals from the school and from the district office and had a round table discussion with my wife and I about my daughter's challenges. Wham, bam, boom! A plan was put in place, various testing was done and medical issues ruled out, pathways were rearranged, and our daughter THRIVED! A few years later and she's still doing really well. But the Principal retired. His replacement was hopeless, he was downright rude to the children, and had no people skills. I pity any parents who had to deal with the new Principal. All I can say to Jared folks is "BRAVO FOR YOU" for standing up for (while standing beside) your little man. Bravo for not letting red tape and ignorance deter you. And THANK YOU for making your story public. It will empower other parents, I'm sure!!!

  • Parents of a child with 'Special Needs"
    September 29, 2012 - 16:56

    Hey Dan, with regard to your comment this boy has Down Syndrome, and he can hear, he is non verbal, and sign language is something this boy is comfortable with and gives him confidence and self esteem to help him communicate. A learning device will help with his communication, with sign language added to this it will all together only enhance his communication skills in his environment. Also J.J I believe you have it backwards! You may have knowledge as you think in sign Language area, but most important it seems you dont have knowledge in the area of children with "Down Syndrome" as Jarods mother do, and what will benefit his speech and communication for her child.

  • can't believe some of the things i have read
    September 29, 2012 - 13:06

    The child's mother is not rejecting the use of the electronic device, but , to the fact that they did not want him to use sign lanquage, just the device immediately, without having the option of getting used to it. And, you people who wonder how a deaf child with Down's sydrome could be in grade 5. I sincerely pity anyone who comes into contact with you. Anyone can learn, if taught by the right people. Apparently, you were not. Look at the picture of that little boy, he deserves to have every advantage of education that every other child has.. Way to go Mom, and you show them Jared.

  • JJ
    September 29, 2012 - 12:16

    @Derek - Do we send kids with cerebral palsy to segregated schools? Do we send kids with Autism to segregated schools? Why then would we send a child with Down Syndrome to a segregated school? As for the School for the Deaf, #1, it says Jarod CAN hear, and #2 why segregate him even if he did have a hearing loss? Why isolate children who have hearing difficulties for the first 18 years of their lives and then throw them into the real world and expect them to function? INTEGRATION is the way to go from the beginning! PLUS the School for the Deaf had less than 10 kids registered when it closed as most babies now get a cochlear implant if necessary and are quite capable of going to an inclusive school as their hearing is normal or near normal. So for those of you, pro-segregation, you may way to consider what benefit that has to a child in the long run!! You would be up in arms with the school system for discrimination!!

  • anonymous
    September 29, 2012 - 12:12

    Glad to hear that Jarod has been given back the support he deserves. ASL is a language and Jarod would require ASL in order to develop a language. When a child is non verbal, he needs to have a visual language so that he can have access to a language just as speaking children are constantly able to communicate using English. Using technology is a great way to aid the student in communicating with others, but does not allow a student to have full access to a language. Technology does not replace a language. ASL is a language and is an amazing way for non verbal children to communicate. All children deserve access to a language whether it be English, ASL, etc.

  • JJ
    September 29, 2012 - 12:09

    It says Jarod CAN hear! He uses an alternate means of communication because he can't talk. Not everybody who can't talk has hearing difficulties.

  • JJ
    September 29, 2012 - 11:06

    @CAROGERS - You actually have it backwards. A device is a lot more universal than ASL. A device can be understood by anybody who speaks English, however, ASL can only be understood by a select few. A device would allow him a lot more opportunities down the road. Please get your facts straight before commenting and talking about "illogical" decisions. People with knowledge in this field do not base their decisions on things to hurt a child... they base their decisions on facts and the fact is a communication device is more universal and practical than ASL!!!

  • derek
    September 29, 2012 - 11:03

    The problem with the system is that this child should be able to attend the old School for the Deaf, not in a regular program. I have to ask the question, if this child has Down's and can't hear, how did he make it to grade five?

  • JJ
    September 29, 2012 - 10:06

    I see the mom's point, however, having some knowledge in this area, I have to make a couple of comments. Sign language is only understood by a select group of people. Therefore using a device to communicate, that speaks English, would allow communication with everybody as it would not have to be translated. Also, American Sign Language (ASL) does not follow the English language, therefore, would have little impact on his language development, whereas, using a device that speaks the words in the same way as we do, would provide feedback in the English language. I don't think school officials were trying to do any harm here. Total communication is really the way to go... meaning a combination of all methods available to the child. And using a device would allow the child an easier means to communicate with his classmates who I'm sure do not understand sign language. It would also open up opportunities for him in the community such as going to a restaurant and ordering a meal. If he chooses to sign, he will always have to have an interpreter translate his messages. A device such as an iPad or an iPod with a communication App would give him a lot more independence.

  • dan
    September 29, 2012 - 09:54

    Downs Syndrome and can't hear but in grade 5. There's another story to this and by the sounds of his mother, its a lose, lose situation. I feel sorry for this child but he is in the wrong school.

  • Jennifer Gibson
    September 29, 2012 - 09:42

    Hi, I can't beleive the education officials tried to oppress this poor child. There are many down syndrome kids that use American Sign language to communicate as well kids who are austism that use American Sign Language. I would suggest that all people that are involve in the education field should update their knowledge in learning how American Sign Language benefits kids with disability as well kids who are deaf and hard of hearing. And they have no right to take that right away from these kids who are comfortable communicating by using signing. The Education Officals should be ashamed of themselves in trying to oppress these kids in doing this. And they are in violating Human Rights of these kids. I am hard of hearing and learned American Sign Language when I was five years old. I had no one tell me that I couldn't sign. And for your information I still use American Sign Language today and will continue to do so. So they are dead wrong when they tell parents that American Sign Language will be a thing of the past. It will always be here and is here to stay. There will always be deaf, hard of hearing, down syndrome, austism children which will be using Sign Language to communicate. So those people need to get their facts straight. It saddens me that these parents get these wrong information from these hearing people who are trying to force kids to become like a hearing person when they are comfortable with using signing to communicate. It just shows me that these so call hearing people are too lazy to learn another language that is so beautiful. It breaks my heart when I see kids have to go through this and I know how they feel because I been in their footsteps when I was their age.

  • Edward knox
    September 29, 2012 - 08:59

    I understand totally what jarod and his parents are, and have been going through. We experience daily the lack of resources within the school system as our son struggles with Autism. Intentions are good but without the availablility adequately trained personnel and supports our children with special needs will continue to be held back from their true potential and their right to a quality education. Regards Edward Knox

  • Edward knox
    September 29, 2012 - 08:57

    I understand totally what jarod and his parents are, and have been going through. We experience daily the lack of resources within the school system as our son struggles with Autism. Intentions are good but without the availablility adequately trained personnel and supports our children with special needs will continue to be held back from their true potential and their right to a quality education. Regards Edward Knox

  • carogers
    September 29, 2012 - 07:25

    I am so pleased for Jared. Who makes this illogical decisions that once media lights show how sensless it is the decision is immediately reversed. Take away sign language in a school ? How does the child develop a skill that will be needed outside school? He spends 9-3 with a a device he communicates with then at 17-18 can't get a parttime job just like all his friends because that device has left him without any standard means to communicate, the ASL (american sign language) ' This school simple tried to stunt the development of a disabled child's education. SHAME ON YOU. There should be a review board look at the administration policy on decision making for that school; if in fact there is a procedure in place??