On Cue Deaf Children Learn the English Language through a System That Combines Gestures and Lip Reading

Article excerpt

Byline: Susan Stevens Daily Herald Health Writer

Sandy Mosetick made excuses for her baby girl's habit of ignoring her call. Maybe Rachel was just absorbed in her play, she thought.

"I'd say, 'Hi Rachel,' and she'd act like she didn't hear me," Mosetick said. "Then I'd go around to her face, and she'd jump up and down and be excited. All of a sudden it kind of clicked."

Mosetick of Riverwoods insisted her pediatrician test Rachel's hearing. It turned out the 12-month-old had profound hearing loss; the quietest sound Rachel could hear was 95 decibels - about as loud as a garbage disposal.

Even with hearing aids, Rachel could hear only 35 percent of spoken language. An audiologist told Rachel's parents she probably would never learn to speak and likely would fare poorly in school.

"It was doom and gloom," Mosetick remembers.

Rachel's parents considered sign language. But then they heard of a little-known alternative called Cued Speech.

Hand gestures, combined with the shape of the mouth, are used to convey consonant and vowel sounds syllable by syllable. The system enables deaf children to learn the syntax and vocabulary of the English language at a natural developmental pace.

Mosetick and her husband attended a seminar and went home with a pink worksheet that explained the system. Within a few weeks, they had memorized it and began cueing sounds to Rachel. She was 18 months old and just beginning to access language, when other toddlers her age had already begun speaking.

"By the time she was 3 years old, when she was tested, she was totally caught up in language," Mosetick said. "We never looked back."

Learning language

Cued Speech is nowhere near as well-known as American Sign Language, but it's not exactly the new kid on the block, either. Cued Speech advocates are celebrating their 40th anniversary this year.

The system was created by a physicist, Orin Cornett, who became a vice president at Gallaudet University, a Washington, D.C., school for the deaf and hard of hearing. Cornett was appalled when he learned it was common for deaf students to graduate college with a fifth-grade reading level.

"He realized the students were using American Sign Language, which is a language in its own right. It doesn't have any relation to English in its grammatical form," said Amy Ruberl, director of programs for the National Cued Speech Association.

Another method of teaching deaf students called the oral/aural approach, in which they learn to pronounce words and read lips, didn't fare much better in terms of literacy. The problem is a lot of sounds look identical on the mouth; lip readers could understand 30 percent to 70 percent of what was said.

Cued Speech makes the sounds of spoken language visually distinct. Cornett designed eight hand shapes to be placed in four spots around the face. When combined with the mouth movements of speech, the cues show the English language down to individual sounds.

Students helped by Cued Speech translators (called transliterators) are sprinkled in mainstream classrooms throughout the Chicago suburbs. But at one school in Mount Prospect, every teacher cues.

Twenty years ago, parents of several deaf children joined to create a school that would focus on Cued Speech. At Alexander Graham Bell Montessori School in Mount Prospect, all the teachers use Cued Speech in classes for both hearing and deaf students.

Mosetick's daughter Rachel went there; now she is in a mainstream high school with a transliterator, where she earns A's in honors classes. One of the first students of the school, Benjamin Lachman, 24, went on to earn an English degree from California Polytechnic State University.

"He's bright, there's no question, but without Cued Speech he wouldn't have been able to access English the way he does," said his mother, Mary Ann Lachman. …