thoughts on “is oralism child abuse?”

I found this question very interesting. Now, I am what would be considered an “oral success.” However, like John, I am very careful, and actually have been for years: even not being aware of deaf culture, etc, I knew my story wasn’t typical and should not be used to support oralism across the board.

Looking back, I have two observations to make. I was used a number of times as a child by adults to give false hope to parents of deaf children. I would be asked to speak at PTA meetings, for example, about how I did in school. I was a typical self-centered kid, and never thought about the implications, and was happy to show off. Sigh. Believe me at the time I had no idea about what was going on. I refused to do this later on, after graduating from high school.

The second observation I will make, though, is one that I’ve been realizing over the last few months. Sure, I did fine with oralism. Academically. In structured environments. But when I consider how lonely I was — never really having more than one friend at a time, and constantly bluffing my way through social situations… I think isolating children like that is borderline abuse. I have made that case several times in various posts over the last couple of months.

No, it was not physical abuse, not for me (some of you have stories to make my hair stand on end, and it makes me doubly angry in retrospect how I was used to probably make some other children’s lives worse: “I saw a deaf child just like you do wonderfully — there’s no reason YOU can’t!!!”) but not all abuse is physical.

Some abuse is emotional. I simply do not understand the mindset of educators and audiologists and so on who have had plenty of opportunity to learn about what the real issues are, who continue to promote this kind of isolation for deaf children.

At the Silent Weekend, where I was asked to share my story, the issue certainly came up although it came up indirectly. One of the questions I was asked was, did I think if I had been taught sign language as a child, would I have learned to speak like I did. I said “Absolutely,” with no hesitation at all. But the belief that sign language hampers the chance to learn to speak is so very ingrained. I could see the doubt in many people’s faces as I tried to explain. I said that I knew many kids whose parents spoke Spanish at home, but their English was native perfect. Kids just soak up languages. If they can do it, they will. I said the real problem is that the parents of deaf children are rarely native signers. They can NOT teach their children sign language. But the language acquisition has to start right away. If it doesn’t, then the child will have trouble with ALL languages later.

I hope that helped. Maybe these 100 people are a start at countering the ones I performed for so many years ago in the other direction, unknowingly. Of course they were all there to learn sign language so they’re not the ones pursuing a pipe dream for their child. However, perhaps they can discourage some other such hearing parent, having listened to what I had to say first hand. Who knows? I hope so.

Is Oralism Child Abuse? Original article (by Mishka Zena)
and, in no particular order:
“Is Oralism A Child Abuse?’ By Mishka Zena (by Aidan Mack)
MZ’s comment on “Child Abused” (by John Egbert)
Response to MZ on Child Abuse/Oralism (by Here I Am)
Response to “Is Oralism A Child Abuse?” (by Ginny)
My Response To Comments About “Is Oralism Child Abuse?” (by ME-DEAF-YES)

This entry was posted in ASL, audism, communication, education, personal. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to thoughts on “is oralism child abuse?”

  1. Janis says:

    Hm … I remember you talking about this a while back; I think repeating what you’ve saida bout how “if you can’t hear yourself talk, you can’t learn to talk” is probably the best way to address this. That’s what governs talking; the level of hearing present, not how much pressure you exert on the kid. Kids want to make contact with other humans; all humans do. If their ears permit it, it’ll happen. I mean, CODAs learn to talk fine, right?

    I would also like to remove the phrase “oral failure” from the entire English language, along with the n-word and the word “mankind” for all humanity. Hearing the phrase “oral failure” makes me see red. “Oral success” is little better. It’s repellant to label a child as success or failure based on things they have no say in, and whether or not your ears permit you to learn to speak clearly is one of those things. The more I’m reading about this topic, and the more I’m seeing the phrase “oral failure,” the more ticked off I’m getting over it — and I’m a hearie.

    There’s ways in which oralism as a belief system for education reminds me of ex-gay training camps. Your childhood comparison of your hearing aids to orthodontics was spot-on; people really do seem to think that unless you put constant pressure up against a deaf child, they will naturally drift off to assume an unwanted, unpreferred configuration. *grumble*

    Plenty of CODAs learn both languages just fine. That clinches it for me.

  2. Stanelle says:

    In the situations in which I worked and the conditions under which I worked,..Oralism was DEFINITELY a form of child abuse as it gave visually oriented deaf children no chance to learn a language,..ASL,..which is a visually oriented language.

    Signing Deaf are not even permitted in Oral classrooms. How can normal minded people do that to visually oriented deaf children and deny those children a chance to learn a language,..any language at all?

  3. egbertpress says:

    To the commentor, Janis

    Regarding about “Oral failure” and “Oral success”. I don’t understand enough about your concern hearing the word, oral failure that makes you see red? And prefer “Oral success is little better. Maybe I don’t realize that there are many oralist that are successful. I thought that with my perspective in the oral world, I am one of the 2 to 5% of the oralist that have success in oralism. A vast majority of the oralist that I have known in the last 59 years have failed to achieve the ability to speak enough in the society that public could understand them. It is sad that they try oral method for deaf children when the success rate is not even 20%. So I would guess that’s why many of the deaf people say “oral failure” which I agree and it needs to be emphasized that it is a failure method to teach deaf children oral in the being with.

    And if they (Deaf babies) start using ASL as a cognitive language, no doubt that majority of the deaf children can learn to speak orally more successfully,….that is if they wish to give up on other education for the time lost in learning more important subject such as English.

    Teaching oral method(English language) is like yourself in a glass cube room with your teacher outside of it the teaching you Japanese language….do you think you can accomplish successful speech by doing this in a glass cube room?

    It is amazing that these college-educated people think that a deaf child can learn speech!!!

    John F. Egbert

  4. Janis says:

    It’s also worth noting that every singloe abuse story I’ve heard is something that I can believe entirely — not shocking at all. I went to a “normal” catholic school.

    Kids stuck in closets. Kids who had their glasses pulled off their faces and broken in half. Kids who had their heads knocked into walls. Hell, entire classes who were forced to line up and wait while the nun would take each child’s head and whack it into a wall. Not being allowed bathroom breaks repeatedly with the inevitable smelly and shameful results. Smacks, fists, kids lifted out of their chairs by their ears, kids with handsfuls of hair pulled out, kids with hot water poured on them, soap in the mouths. The whole nine years.

    That was in an unremarkable hearing school, starting at age 5. I can believe that teachers can do things like that to children, particularly in catholic schools, particularly by St. Joe nuns, more easily as a hearie than I think any Deaf adult abused as a child could imagine. I still resent nuns with a boiling rage; the fact that the catholic church was a cesspit of viciousness and cruelty was never lost on me for a minute. I have trouble believing people arond me when they say that their elementary school experiences were not like this. I can’t fathom it.

    I do not doubt for one split second that deaf kids could have soap stuck in their mouths and be forced to swallow it, have hot water poured on them, be locked in a closet, have their mouths taped shut, have their hands burned, any of a variety of things. There’s some very, very old women who, if they are alive in convents on the east coast, I fervently hope they are dying a miserable, painful, lonely, slow death — because they deserve it. And if they believe in God, well they are gonna roast.

    I guess I just had to say that. Some of those stories made me boil, and there isn’t much space for my input as a hearie — but I sympathize so totally, and I believe every single story they’ve related. I don’t doubt what they’ve said for a minute.

  5. Janis says:

    Nine yards …

  6. It’s funny you commented on the “oral success” and “oral failure” labels. I was working up a head of steam myself on the drive home tonight going over this very same thing.

    What pisses me off about those terms is that they pin the “blame” for the “results” ON THE CHILD by using those labels!

    The failure is NOT in the child who does not benefit from speech therapy. The FAILURE is on the supposedly educated and knowledgeable IDIOTS who INSIST on forcing it down these kids’ throats and are such blithering MORONS that they REFUSE to recognize their OWN failures and pin it on the child instead. No. No. Absolutely NOT. The failure here is the THERAPIST.


  7. Janis says:

    YES! That’s why I hate the words — they call the child a success or a failure instead of the damned educational system.

    If it’s blatantly clear even to an idiot that the kid can’t hear enough to talk, then you STOP TRYING TO TEACH THEM ORALLY. What, this is rocket science? How stupid does a teacher have to be to not realize this?

    That’s why I detest those words — they call the child a failure. “I was an oral failure.” No, your schoolteachers were oral failures. You were an ASL success (rhetorical you here).

    And I agree completely about it being child abuse to withhold language period from a child. We all have hear stories about kids who were caged and whatnot and prevented from learning language at all — they’re heartbreaking. That most certainly is abuse.

  8. John Egbert says:


    Now I follow what you are getting at about the wording, “oral failure”. It should not be used to label a deaf child for failing to have good speech.

    Yes, we should label the speech therapist or oral teachers “oral educator failure”

    My heart goes for your concern about labeling an innocent deaf child, “oral failure”.

    Yours Sincerely, John

  9. Ella Lentz says:

    Want to jump in and pick up on the discussion on “failure” and “success” usage.
    Ever thought about labelling the thousands (perhaps millions) of so-called professionals in “deafness” as being ASL / Deaf culture failures?
    Yet they earn thousands of dollars (and the hearing aid and CI industry make millions of dollars profit) being ASL/Deaf culture failures.
    They got away, continues to get away, and will be utterly victorious IF we all do not join together and HOLLER loud enough to shatter their eardrums AND their status quo.

  10. Janis says:

    Ella, that’s the thing that drives me crazy about this mad avoidance of ASL. There is essentially no such thing as an ASL failure.

    ALL children can learn ASL fluently. Unlike speech,all children can acquire it perfectly. Deaf, hearing, blind, deafblind — everyone can learn it.

    Speaking is the one thing that deaf children are at a disadvantage to learn, and it’s the one thing they are forced. The one method that is guaranteed to work, for them and for all children, is the one that is avoided. It’s insanity.

    The perfect solution to the whole issue of How To Teach Deaf Kids is sitting right there in the middle of the room with a big pink bow on it, and people are turning themselves into knots to avoid using it. It’s just insane.

    The whole history of deaf education seems to be heading west to chase the dawn. People want deaf kids to appear less deaf, so they discourage them from learning ASL, the one type of language that makes deafness literally vanish. People want deaf kids to acquire (spoken) language, so they teach them in a manner that risks leaving them entirely languageless.

    Heading west to chase the dawn. It’s insanity, utter insanity.