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Review of  Making Sense in Sign

Reviewer: Christen M Pearson
Book Title: Making Sense in Sign
Book Author: Jenny Froude
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Language Acquisition
Language Family(ies): Sign Language
Issue Number: 14.2074

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Date: Mon, 04 Aug 2003 15:51:46 -0400
From: Christen Pearson
Subject: Making sense in sign: A lifeline for a deaf child.

Froude, Jenny (2003) Making Sense in Sign: A Lifeline for a Deaf Child,
Multilingual Matters, Parents' and Teachers' Guides Number 6.

Reviewed by Christen M. Pearson, Grand Valley State University.

This book is a mother's story of her son's development of meningitis in
infancy and resulting deafness, his growing years as a child with
hearing loss, and his ability to meet the associated challenges as he
begins adult life. Several appendices can be found at the back of the
book, including a list of resource addresses for information on
deafness, hearing loss, meningitis, educational issues, and support
groups, and a useful glossary of acronyms. Though not a textbook, this
volume might be useful at the undergraduate level for supplementary
reading in order to present a real-life case study, thereby making
course material more interesting and potentially relevant for those in
teacher training programs. For parents, it may provide support,
decreasing feelings of isolation and alienation. For teachers, the book
may help in understanding the daily life of and challenges faced by
children with significant hearing loss, outside of the classroom, from a
parental perspective.

Froude's text chronicles the first twenty-two years of her son's life
during the 1980's and 1990's, from the development of meningitis at five
months of age with resulting profound bilateral sensorineural loss to
early adulthood. As such, it is a testament to a mother's emotions and
psychological states during an initial crisis and throughout the ups and
downs of raising a special needs child. The attitude Froude has taken
is one of acceptance; that is, the situation is looked upon with the
view that her son survived a devastating illness at such a young age and
that "only" deafness was the residual complication. Her attitude to
communication issues could also be termed compassionate. The focus is
on what her son could do; parenting involved providing security and
anticipating needs, rather than feigning an inability to understand in
order to force/frustrate the child to more clearly articulate sounds and
possibly develop speech. Such attitudes led Froude and her family to
select a total communication approach to language acquisition,
encompassing facial expression, body language, eye contact, gesture, lip
patterns, signs, voice, and writing. Without discounting the benefits
of oralism for some children, Froude shares her reasoning for why they
chose the total communication approach, including the view that the
first two to three years of life are a critical period for cognitive
development and language learning, which may be problematic if only an
oral approach is the focus, especially with children such as her son who
have profound bilateral sensorineural loss.

Overall, the strengths of this book lie in its ability to involve the
reader with an actual child and his family and to provide an
introduction to understanding some of the issues facing parents of
children who are profoundly deaf, such as: oral vs. manual vs. total
communication; regular classroom vs. special classroom vs. residential
schooling; and the advantages vs. disadvantages of cochlear implants.
Weaknesses of the book, especially if adopted for use as a supplementary
textbook, include: 1) its non-technical and possibly offensive
terminology at times (e.g., "having fits" (pg.4) and "was fitting
dreadfully" (pg. 5) used instead of the term "seizures"); 2) a lack of
linguistic depth in chronicling the child's language development (e.g.,
there are few examples of phonemic, morphological, or syntactical
development, and no linguistic analyses of such data); 3) a lack of
linguistic accuracy (e.g., inaccurate comparisons are made to hearing
children's language development, in order to illustrate that Froude's
son was developing vocabulary and language at a similar pace, yet the
numbers given are not what is documented in the literature; see chapter
summaries below); and 4) no clear discussion of the difference between
sign vocabulary vs. sign language, an issue of importance, especially in
view of the various signed systems used by the child and family. A
further possible weakness, due to the international scope of the
publisher, is that no resources, information clearinghouses, or support
groups outside of the author's area are included in the appendices. In
the following paragraphs, a chapter by chapter summary will be given.

Chapters 1 and 2 provide a story-like background of Froude's child's
initial illness and resulting deafness as a framework for the rest of
the book. In Chapter 3, more details on language issues emerge, though
as noted above, this is done in a non-technical manner, with little
depth, and with some inaccuracies. Froude states that at age 2 years her
son had a vocabulary of 36 signs and at 2 1/2 years was using 86 signs,
in comparison to a hearing child's productive vocabulary of 50 words at
2 years (p.29). This is at odds with Clark (1993) offering figures of
50-200 words in productive use at age 1 1/2 years and 500-600 words at 2
years; Barrett (1995) with up to 500 or more productive words between 2
and 2 1/2 years; and Moskowitz (1998) giving approximately 250 words at
age 2 years and 450 words by age 2 1/2. Perhaps Lenneberg's (1998)
figure of 50+ words at age 24 months was used, yet his figure of 1000
words by age 36 months seems to have been unacknowledged. Therefore,
the size of the lexicon for Froude's son does not appear to be
comparable with a hearing child's vocabulary development, unless one
entertains the possibility that there is a differential acquisition rate
between British and American English. This chapter does make some
important points, however, as Froude advocates that parents need to make
informed choices regarding their child's methods of communication. It
is here that she discusses their transition from the Paget Gorman Signed
Speech (a system of 37 basic signs using English grammar) to a system of
signed English based on British Sign Language but with English grammar
and word order. This section could have been more informative and
strengthened by a fuller discussion of signed gestural systems vs. sign
languages (see Van Cleve, 1987). The preschool years are addressed in
Chapter 4, including many 'firsts', such as preschool and riding the
bus. It is in this chapter that Froude talks about her son's ability to
produce a 9 word "sentence" at the age of 3 1/2 years (p. 45), though
upon examination it appears that this might more accurately be described
as a T-unit or discourse turn.

Chapters 5, 6, and 7 encompass the elementary, middle, and high school
years. By age 5, Froude's son was developing question formation and
beginning to read. Then, during the early elementary years, the school
phased in Signed English. At age 9, a further complication of the early
meningitis appeared, that of epilepsy, and Froude details how her son
and the family grappled with this new challenge. The continuing
problems with epilepsy, with the confounding problem of migraines,
concurrent with frustrations of obtaining appropriate school and
transportation services, are the foci of Chapter 6. It is also in this
chapter that Froude discusses her son's development of complex
sentences, new vocabulary, idiomatic phrases, question forms, and more
complex grammatical structures, as evidenced in his writing. Again,
though, there is a lack of depth in the material which would be needed
for a supplementary linguistics text. Froude also discusses her son's
personality development here, describing him as relaxed, pleasant, and
getting along well with peers and adults, which she attributes to good
communication development during his early years. This then leads to
Chapter 7, where the feelings and experiences of the teen years are
explored, including identity issues and the challenges of learning to
drive a car.

Chapters 8 through 10 address the option of cochlear implants and
Froude's son's desire to receive one at an older age, even though he had
become deaf prelingually. In Chapter 8, Froude discusses the advantages
and disadvantages of the implant for her son, while in Chapter 9 she
offers a very good description of the actual device, using a piano
analogy, for the lay person with a limited understanding of deafness.
In this chapter Froude also shares the pain and frustration of her son
needing two surgeries for the implantation, due to misplacement of the
device in the first surgery. The process of becoming "switched on",
that is, having the implant activated and learning to discriminate
sounds, is the topic of Chapter 10. This chapter also offers a
realistic view of what an implant can and cannot do when received at an
older age by someone who became profoundly deaf prelingually. Because
of this, total communication continued to be the approach of choice,
with the implant used as a supplement and for greater awareness of
environmental sounds. (See Sound & Fury: The Communication Wars of the
Deaf (2000), an 80 minute video which also addresses some of the same
issues that Froude discusses.)

Chapter 11 provides an overview of Froude's son's language development
as he neared adulthood. There is a brief comparison of vocabulary
development to a hearing child's (see, again, above notes on
inaccuracies) and confusing statements where Froude appears to use the
ability to hold a pen with perfect control as argument for language
development. One is left wondering if it is the fine motor control being
discussed, which does not necessarily equate with oral or language
skills, or whether this statement is being used idiomatically to mean
written language skills. The chapter also discusses in passing the
residual problems with verb tenses and function words. To further
exemplify language development, an interesting collection of her son's
letters is included, which show acquisition of different discourse
genres, such as explaining, cajoling, and negotiating. Froude also
provides a rather novel and interesting view on possible differences
between children born deaf and children who become deaf prelingually,
and poses the question of what should be considered the first language
of each group. The idea is offered that perhaps those born deaf should
learn British Sign Language, whereas those who become deaf prelingually
should learn Signed English: first, as they may already have some
comprehension of English, and second, because of its similarity to
spoken and written English, and the ease of transfer to literacy skills
which are important for independent survival. One of the more
linguistically "rich" chapters, a brief discussion of other books about
deaf children is offered, as well as passing references to works by
Karmilof-Smith, Chomsky, and Marschark. Again, if these references, as
well as the language development material, had been more in-depth, it
would have added value to the book being used as a supplementary text
(again, for a real-life case study) rather than simply a "good read."

The remaining chapters note the challenges of early adulthood and bring
the book to its conclusion. Chapter 12 chronicles the increasing
independence of Froude's son, as he prepares for and participates in the
"Trans-Borneo Cycle Challenge 2000 for Sense" of The National Deafblind
and Rubella Association. It is in this chapter that Froude also
discusses the further expansion of her son's independence, evidenced by
his seeking employment outside of the family business. In Chapter 13,
Froude uses the term "invisible handicap" and pulls the last 22 years of
their life together by noting that deafness is not simply a lack of
hearing, but a way of life. Finally, in Chapter 14, after having shared
her family's story and choices, Froude states that while total
communication worked best for them (see also Jacobs, 1989), each
situation is different, thus leaving open the possibility that other
methods might work better for other families. This brings back an
earlier point in the book, where Froude emphasizes the need for parents
to make informed choices. This, then, may be the primary purpose of the
book - to offer one family's story so that other parents, teachers, and
students can experience one view as they investigate still others on the
road to making informed decisions concerning the individual children in
their care.


Barrett, M. (1995). Early lexical development. In P. Fletcher & B.
MacWhinney (Eds.), The Handbook of Child Language, Oxford: Blackwell
Publishers Ltd.

Clark, E. V. (1993). The lexicon in acquisition, Cambridge Studies in
Linguistics, 65. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jacobs, L. M. (1989). A deaf adult speaks out (3rd ed.). Washington,
D.C.: Gallaudet University Press.

Lenneberg, E. H. (1998). Developmental milestones in motor and language
development. In V. P. Clark, P. A. Eschholz, & A. F. Rosa (Eds.),
Language: Readings in Language and Culture (6th ed.). Boston:
Bedford/St. Martin's.

Moskowitz, B. A. (1998). The acquisition of language. In V. P. Clark,
P. A. Eschholz, & A. F. Rosa (Eds.), Language: Readings in Language and
Culture (6th ed.). Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's.

Sound & fury: Communication wars of the deaf [film] (2000). A
Production of Aronson Film Associates and Public Policy Productions, New
York: Filmakers Library.

Van Cleve, J. V. (Ed.) (1987). Gallaudet Encyclopedia of Deaf People
and Deafness, Vol. 3. New York: McGraw-Hill.


ABOUT THE REVIEWER Christen M. Pearson, PhD, is an assistant professor teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in introductory linguistics, applied linguistics, methods of TESOL, second language acquisition theory, and language disorders. Her research interests include phonological working memory in ESL learners, the interface of ESL and language disorders in children, and language and literacy development in the special population of older internationally adopted children.

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