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For A Deaf Son

57 minutes

For a Deaf Son is made possible in part by Acordia, a network of companies providing insurance brokerage, administration, and selected financial services across America; American Airlines, providing daily flights to Europe and offering the American Airlines Advantage travel awards program since 1981; the Southwestern Bell Foundation. Funding also is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Southern Educational Communications Association.

(Describer) A little boy with curly blonde hair and glasses presses buttons on a toy shaped like a rock guitar.


Thomas, it was two years ago when your mom called me on the phone. She was crying, and all I could think

(Describer) Thomas, the boy, wears hearing aids and smiles.

about was the music you would never hear. We didn't know a thing about what it really means to be deaf. Thomas!

(Describer) Title: For a Deaf Son. The title is shown in sign language and a close-up of lips.


(Describer) Thomas’ eyes are shown above the title. People wave different color flags over a banner saying “deaf president now”. Women chant in sign language.

In March of 1988, students at Gallaudet University

(Describer) Hundreds rally with the National Mall in the background.

for the Deaf in Washington, DC, shut the school down. They were demanding that, for the first time ever, the board choose a deaf person to lead the university as president. When the students won, it was hailed as a great victory for deaf people everywhere.

(Describer) In a yard, a woman holds a plant for another boy to water.

The world can't stop us.


My family and I were living in Dallas, Texas,

(Describer) The woman and boy sit in bed with a man, talking.

when all that was going on. And frankly, we had other things on our mind. Laurie and I were expecting our second child, and our son Matthew couldn't wait to meet what he hoped would be his new baby brother.

(Describer) Laurie holds the baby.

In September of 1988, Thomas Shy Tranchin was born.

(Describer) He lies naked in a bathtub with Laurie washing him, the camera zooming in on his face.

Isn't he wonderful?


(Describer) Later, Laurie holds him.

Oh, Mr. Perfect. Do you see Daddy? Thomas. Where's Daddy? After that came first steps and first birthdays, all the usual family stuff. Thomas. I have to get closer. Thomas.

[SNAPS] Thomas.

Life was pretty normal until Laurie began to suspect that something was wrong. Oh Thomas. Oh hi. Don't you remember those little gurgling sounds he made? But it was about when he was a year old that I started thinking, hmm, something's wrong. There's something different. And we crept into his room. And we both whispered, Thomas. And he quickly turned around and you walked out going, see,

(Describer) Just able to walk, he heads down a hallway.

there's not a thing wrong with Thomas. But I continued to have suspicions. And he went and was examined. And the lady came out of the booth and said, honey, he wouldn't hear a train go by. And that was just so devastating for me. I thought I was just stabbed with a knife. But I held it together until I got in the car.

(Describer) Matthew:

And then got the kids buckled up and cried all the way home. When my mom came out, she was crying. And I asked her what's wrong. She said, Tommy's deaf. I think that was one of the saddest experiences of my life. After Thomas was diagnosed, we went to Boston and had a whole battery of tests done on him. It lasted a week. And finally at the end of all these tests, there was a little ray of hope. We found out that he had high frequency hearing. And that meant that we'd be able to put hearing aids on him and that he could--

(Describer) He wears hearing aids.

with therapy-- acquire speech. And that seemed great. That's what we thought we wanted. Turn it up, make it louder. And so we focused on hearing aids and speech therapy. We learned that there are about 23 million Americans with some kind of hearing loss. Thomas was classified as profoundly deaf. But deaf was a word we never used. Nobody could ever tell us why Thomas had lost his hearing. And it hurt not to know. But I often wonder if there was something I did or didn't do that could have been avoided to prevent this. And I'll never know. Tommy can't tell us when he stopped hearing or was he

(Describer) With a therapist...

always like that? I don't know. Drop it when you hear it. Listen again. Listen. As Thomas grew older, his audiologist helped us to understand the connection between hearing and speech. There it is. And slowly, we began to realize how hard we would have to struggle to communicate with our own child.

(Describer) Charles Berlin:

Children learn their language by overhearing it. They don't make a conscious effort. They overhear. They listen. They just absorb like auditory sponges. A deaf child is cut off from that. But let me show you what children hear like who have some small amounts of residual hearing.

(Describer) He plays a tape for the parents.

I'll approximate it for you. [TAPE PLAYING MUFFLED SPEECH] So you hear the voice and it's muffled and it's unclear. Well, children speak the way they hear. So first of all, it's hard to even recognize that there's a language going on. So they won't pick up language code. And if they do pick up some, and they have to have something to say, when they have something to say it will sound muffled. So if you'll excuse me for imitating deaf speech, when it comes out, it might sound something like this. This is the speech of somebody who hears very well in the low pitches, but not in the high speeches. So they speak like they hear and they speak very characteristic. Say baseball. Baseball. Baseball. Good. We didn't care what Thomas sounded like, we just wanted him to talk. Say cowboy. Ha-po. Say, cowboy. Cowboy. Yeah, airplane. Airplane. We didn't know then how complicated things would get. Say the word dinosaur. Dinosaur. Say turtle.


(Describer) Matthew:

Say cowboy. Each word Thomas spoke gave us hope, but the pain was never far away.


The first time someone said-- made fun of my brother being deaf was-- it really hurt me a lot. And then people found out that it did hurt me. So, other people started trying it and then denied it. What kind of stuff did they say? Like, at least I don't have a deaf brother and like, when we're playing a game, and someone yells, come on, Matthew.

(Describer) In school...

Come on, follow me. And you don't hear him and they yell out, you're deaf just like your brother. My brother, Thomas is deaf, but the good things about him

(Describer) Thomas sits on his mom’s lap.

are-- you can sneak into his room when he's not looking and he won't hear you. You can whisper bad things to him and he won't know what you're saying. But the bad things are-- he yells a lot, because he can't hear himself yell. So he yells louder. He needs more attention, which I don't think he needs. Matthew! And you learn stuff about what you should do to a deaf person

(Describer) She sets him down.

like-- Mom, put Thomas on the ground.

(Describer) ...touching his shoulders.

OK, Tommy come sit on the ground.

(Describer) Matthew kneels.

Go talk him into it. If you go like this-- Thomas, Thomas. He has to look up. But if you go like this, he doesn't have to look up, that'll--


(Describer) Matthew stands as Thomas moves his fingers together.

He's gonna do something bad. I just know it's going to be something bad. Is that Itsy, Bitsy Spider? Are you doing the spider?


Thomas, Thomas. The Itsy, Bitsy Spider went up-- the waterspout


Cross your hands.


OK, this way. Do you want this way? See, it's very tough for Thomas to express himself

(Describer) Thomas nods.

because he doesn't have a whole lot of words. What me to do this? How did you feel when you found out Thomas is deaf? I felt very sad.

(Describer) At home, Laurie reads to Thomas.

I cried for about three days. It was very hard. Little pig, little pig. Let me come in, said the wolf. And the second little pig said, no, no, no! No, no, no! Not by the hair of my chinny, chin, chin. Then I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house in! And he [DEEP BREATHING] huffed... and he [DEEP BREATHING] puffed... then he [DEEP BREATHING] blew the house down!

(Describer) Outside, Thomas spins on a swing.


(Describer) He sits in the tub, then drops underwater, and sits back up.

(Describer) Wearing pajamas, he picks up a sheet of paper and starts running through the house. The camera follows him down a hall and up stairs.

(Describer) He joins Laurie sitting on the stairs.

Little pig, little pig-- let me come in. Little pig, little pig, let me come in.

(Describer) At a school, a teacher speaks and signs.

What would you like me to do? Thomas, use your words. And what happens to spider's shoe? It broke. It broke? When it was time for Thomas to go to preschool, we had a choice.

(Describer) With Thomas, a boy talks to another teacher.

We could put Thomas in a class where teachers use speech supported by signs, or we could choose a speech only classroom. We chose the speech only class.

(Describer) Laurie:

It seemed to be obvious that that's what we wanted. We wanted our child to be like us. Well, also, too, a lot of people said, if your child is signing, they will prefer sign over speaking-- because it's so much easier for a child to sign. And for a deaf child, they have to really work hard at listening. And so if they have to work hard at doing something, versus doing something naturally--

(Describer) Three adults show a puzzle to a boy.

or whatever comes more easily to them-- of course, the kid's going to choose the easier route. Out. Yeah, Thomas say it. Take it out. Kenny Orihuela is one of Thomas' classmates. Kenny used to sign, but his parents decided to have him fitted with a cochlear implant-- a surgically implanted device that imitates the way the inner ear works. Boy, he really hears with that, doesn't he? With the implant in place, the family has now switched to a method that requires Kenny to develop his listening skills.

(Describer) Mother Myrna:

He can be deaf. If he wants to sign when he gets older, that's fine with me. I can live with that.

(Describer) Father Luis:

I just wanted to give him choices. And the other way, I don't think he would have had the choice. I think to me, it's really rewarding to see Kenny. Sometimes we are playing and a truck goes by and blows a horn and Kenny will turn his head to me and smile and go like this-- like he hears something. That he heard that thing, whatever it is. And to me, that's very rewarding, before Kenny couldn't hear anything.

(Describer) Linda Daniel:

I, personally, think it's important to be able to speak to whomever you want, as opposed to signing-- where very few people in the public sign. And in my opinion, that when an individual signs and really doesn't have functional speech-- or clear enough speech to function independently in the world-- in that event, the deafness determines

(Describer) Myrna:

what they can do in their life. We had to quit going to church when he lost his hearing because in the nursery they didn't know what he wanted. And he would leave the nursery crying. They had to come get us out of church. I started calling different churches and out of 100 churches in the area, we had a choice of one that provided an interpreter. And that's when I realized how limited his life would be if he couldn't talk. I would at least like him to have that choice. Signing is very quick. And it gets language and it gets expression very early. But, in my opinion, it-- in many children-- inhibits their ability to speak later on, especially the children that are more profoundly hearing impaired. This method may take a little longer to get going,

(Describer) Thomas and two women are viewed through a window.

but the long term effects are an adult that can speak. Is this hand mine?


Since Thomas had some hearing in the higher frequencies, we were told that a cochlear implant wouldn't be appropriate for him. Still, Laurie and I wanted him to talk and that meant hours of speech therapy. Thomas, listen. Up, up, up, up. Daddy, Daddy. Yes, Tommy. Daddy, bup, bup, no. Oh, you heard it, Thomas! You were listening. You heard it. Daddy, Daddy, bup, bup, no don't want it. Does the bell say woof, woof? No. No, it doesn't? What does the bell say?

[speaking indistinctly]

Shh.. Shh.. Shock... shock. But after more than two years of therapy, Thomas's language development was still poor. Ooohh... Thomas can imitate most of the speech sounds of English, and he could respond to simple questions,

(Describer) At home, he talks on a phone.

but he couldn't really communicate. Often, what he said was just gibberish.

[speaking indistinctly]

(Describer) He turns the receiver upside-down.

We had read that children's language development blossoms between the ages of 3 and 6.

(Describer) Laurie:

Thomas was 4 and we felt that time was running out. OK, Thomas, please do not hit. Do not-- wait a second, OK? Because-- Laurie was especially frustrated. It's hard to say this now, but I had let her take most of the responsibility for dealing with Thomas's deafness. She was stronger and it made it easier for me.

(Describer) Thomas gives her one.

All right, can I have a kiss? Kiss? Can I have a kiss? Can I have a hug? When I was given a chance to make

(Describer) She and Thomas hug. Later, people sign in a large conference room.

a documentary about Thomas, Laurie knew it was a way for me to get more involved.


I began my research by attending a conference of deaf people. I learned that their language, American Sign Language, is not simply a manual substitute for English, but a true language with its own grammar and structure. ASL is a visual language that uses

(Describer) A signing woman is interpreted.

not only the hands, but the body and the face grammatically. We deaf people have a culture, right? Hearing people-- they look at us and they're not satisfied with the deaf, because we don't talk.

(Describer) Harlan Lane:

And I discovered a sense of community among the deaf that I never knew existed. And we've learned that the deaf community is not a loosely knit community, as one might say the community of television people or the community even of blind people, but a true community as you might say the community of American Navajos, let's say. With their own language, their own special mores, values,

(Describer) Carol Erting:

history, heroes, all that goes with having a culture. And what we found through our research and through our experience with the deaf community is that living in a world as a visual person is very different from living in the world as a hearing person. Of course, underlying it all is the same humanity that we all share. But how we process the world, how we process language, what we need as hearing persons and as deaf persons is very, very different in order to achieve our potential, which is of course the same for everyone as a human being. Gallaudet University has been called the "cultural capital of the deaf world." Deaf is normal here and hearing people are the ones who need interpreters. I wanted to learn more about deafness and about the issues affecting our family. 93% of all deaf children have two hearing parents. That means that the parents, themselves, when they discover that they have a deaf child have probably never encountered deaf people before. So, not only is it a shock-- and they go through a grieving process because their child isn't what they expected, a normal hearing child-- but they also don't really know what deafness means.

(Describer) In a classroom, a teacher signs and uses a hand puppet with a book.

They don't know what it means to be a deaf person. Ate this one, ate this one, and ate that one. Ate them all up. He was full?

(Describer) A boy signs.

No, not yet, he wanted more. But how much? In the house, how much did he eat? I visited a class at Kendall Elementary School on the Gallaudet campus. The school's mission is to find ways to improve an educational system-- that almost everyone agrees-- has

(Describer) Erting:

failed deaf children for years. One of the figures you hear of when you begin to look into this is that deaf children on average achieve a fourth grade reading level upon graduation

(Describer) In the classroom, the kids sign.

from high school. He waited and waited and let him sleep, sleep, and sleep. When he wakes up, he should be a butterfly. Often parents, when they realize that their child is not achieving their potential, they're made to feel that it didn't work because they didn't work hard enough, or their child didn't work hard enough. When the whole premise of what they were told in the beginning, I believe, is flawed. And the basic flaw, I believe, lies in the fact that our school system has not really accepted the fact that deaf children are deaf. And have tried, throughout the years, to make deaf children as much like hearing

(Describer) Teachers and kids sign at a table.

children as possible. That's been the underlying goal. Where's the juice? Charlene wants more. Where is it? In the classroom at Kendall, speech was used very little, but there was plenty of communication.

(Describer) Principal Nancy Shook, who signs and is interpreted.

And watching these children made me feel even more frustrated about Thomas. He's saying what? Mommy, daddy, milk. He says juice, sit down right now, I don't want it. But that's all, he can't say this is a lovely day. Or thank you for being nice to me. Well, that's because he's been taught all the speech sounds as possible, but he hasn't been taught the concept, the vocabulary, with which to work. I think you've seen a class that we have here at Kendall. You see the kids just bursting with language.

(Describer) A man signs on stage and is interpreted.

(Describer) An audience of kids replies in sign.

They have the concept. Do you want any more? For sure? Really? Do you want another story? Fine. OK, the title is "The Eagle and the Squirrel", OK?

(Describer) The storyteller acts as the eagle perched, then flying with arms out and with them crossed. The eagle soars.

At storytelling time, I saw how deaf children respond to visual communication.

(Describer) A girl in the audience smiles, and other kids watch intently.


(Describer) As the eagle flies, he spots something below. The storyteller becomes the squirrel with a small mouth and little front paws feeding himself nuts.

(Describer) As the eagle, he smiles and mimes flying lower.

(Describer) As the squirrel, he looks around, puts a hand to his ear, and starts running, shown with his hands. He switches back and forth between eagle and squirrel to evoke a chase.

(Describer) The eagle reaches out with claws, which grab onto the squirrel’s shoulders. The squirrel begins to lift into the air as the eagle rises.

(Describer) The kids keep watching.

(Describer) As the squirrel, he takes a nut from his mouth and offers it upward.

(Describer) Looking down, the eagle points at himself, saying “me?” He takes the nut and eats it, releasing the squirrel, who brushes off his shoulder and runs away. The eagle looks down and snaps his fingers with disappointment. The storyteller crosses his hands as he waves them to indicate wings, then switches to waving fingers to evoke the eagle flying into the distance.

(Describer) He waves goodbye, then holds his arms out to the audience, who applaud by holding their hands up and shaking them. The storyteller, Bernard Bragg, signs and is interpreted.


I would love to see more hearing parents do some more type of this communication with their children-- acting out stories, acting out ideas and thoughts. And trying to express themselves in any way that they know how, rather than locking themselves into using words all the time,

(Describer) Jack Gannon. Subtitles: If I had a deaf child like Thomas, I would want him to have both. I would want to encourage his English as much as possible, because I know the world he lives in relies heavily on English, and the better his writing and reading capability, the farther he will go....

which might mean very little to deaf children. I had a deaf child like Thomas I would want to have both. I would want to encourage his English as much as possible, because I know that the world he lives in relies heavily on English and the better writing, reading capability

(Describer) But at the same time, ASL is his language. And I would encourage that. I would want him to have both. And if I were a hearing parent, I would try very hard to learn as much as I could so that he would understand that I’m not looking down at his deafness. I feel good about him as a person. His deafness doesn’t bother me.

that farther he will go. But at the same time, ASL is his language. I would encourage that. I would want him to have both. If I were a hearing parent I would try very hard to learn as much as I could so that he would understand that I'm not looking down at his deafness. I feel good about him as a person. His deafness doesn't bother me. I learned that the sign language I saw being used on the Gallaudet campus had once flourished in American schools for the deaf. But around 100 years ago, advocates of speech training fought a successful battle against sign language in the classroom. Until the early 1970s, sign language was forbidden in many schools.

(Describer) Gannon: Lots of those angry adults feel they’ve been cheated. They’ve been cheated out of a good education. They’ve been cheated out of a good relationship with their own families. They feel they’ve been cheated out of so many things because they were restricted only to one method: oralism.

And there are deaf adults who remember those days with anger and resentment. Lots of those angry adults feel they were being cheated out of a good education. Being cheated out of a good relationship with our own families.

(Describer) Now they’re angry about that. And to be honest with you, I think they have a right to be angry.

They're being cheated out of so many things because they were restricted only to one method, oralism. Now they're angry about that.

(Describer) Bragg:

And to be honest with you, I think they have a right to be angry. I can remember when I was 13 years old, I had a teacher-- a hearing teacher-- who was so high strung, very anxious, she couldn't tolerate any type of noise that the deaf children made. And worst of all, she couldn't tolerate the sounds we made when we laughed. And she said, "you sound like animals in a zoo!" And she picked on one boy, by the name of Sam, and says, oh, "Your laughter sounds like chalk on a blackboard." So she made us stand and put our hands on our stomachs to let the air out and inhale and exhale. She made us do this. We all practiced inhaling and exhaling with our hands on our stomach. Then she said, "Now we will add the voice. "Add the voice like this, from the stomach-- "not from the head, "but from the chest. Let it all come out, OK?" And then she kept picking up Sam, popping him on the head and saying, "You're not doing it right." And so we practice and practice. And finally, we practice with our hands on our chest, then we added the voice, and, as you hear, that's how we laugh. Ha, ha, ha, ha. And she said, "Oh, you sound so nice. "So pleasant. So pleasant-- that hearing people would never guess that you were deaf." Intolerance is the subject of Clayton Valli's American Sign Language poem "Dandelion".

(Describer) Among other signs, Valli grimaces and indicates pulling things from the ground, then pushing material over that ground.

Because it is a visual work, Valli told me the poem can't be translated.

(Describer) The ground is covered more smoothly, and he indicates movement in the sky.

(Describer) Holding fingers over fingers horizontally, he pokes one finger up, then tents the fingers and opens them into a flower, that waves.

(Describer) Small pieces of it fly off. He repeatedly does the blooming motion. He holds his hands further apart to indicate more movement, and puts his left index finger on the back of his right hand. He repeats those two actions a couple times.

(Describer) He grimaces again and does the two actions again.

(Describer) He makes a fist and hits the back of his left hand, pulls back, then wiggles all his fingers to indicate many small things falling at once, spreading over the ground.

(Describer) Shook interpreted:

Your son is profoundly deaf. There's no way on earth that he could hear. Understand-- develop language based on what he hears. He needs everything visual. He needs you to introduce life, introduce love, introduce happiness through signs. Because that's what he sees. He needs that. I was moved by the pride and independence of the deaf community and I was grateful for the way they had reached out to us. But our family wasn't deaf, we didn't sign.

(Describer) In another classroom, teachers and kids sign at tables.

And when I left Gallaudet, the distance between us and Thomas seemed even greater. Back in Dallas, I spent some time with the speech and sign class at Thomas' school. One day, I saw a little boy named Christopher kidding around with his teacher about purple potatoes.

(Describer) He and a man sign to each other.

I was impressed because Thomas hardly ever made word jokes like that. Purple potatoes?

(Describer) The parents:

I wondered what Christopher's parents would say about their choice for him. There's going to be instances when he's going to be around people that use sign language, there's going to be instances that he's going to need the communication with the oral, so we thought, at the time, I said, that would be the best way. So whatever situation he was put in, he would be able to handle it. We go to sign language class on Tuesday evenings and after working, sometimes, I really don't want to go. That's the last place I want to be. But I make myself go for Christopher.

(Describer) The mother looks up and away.

Because I know that I have to be able to talk to him. And I keep thinking in the back of my mind, I'm really not going to need know these signs, because one day he's going to wake up and he's going to have his hearing and he's just going to start talking. He's going to have all these words saved up from four years and he's going to just rattle off a whole bunch of sentences.

(Describer) Thomas’ father tries signing.

I really know that's not true. But, I guess, I hope for that.

(Describer) Laurie tries signing with a man.

Laurie and I took a beginning sign language class

(Describer) She draws circles with her index fingers and holds her hands out with palms up.

to see what it was like. It wasn't easy.

(Describer) At home, Laurie holds Thomas as he cries.

We finished the course, but didn't register for the second session.




(Describer) He shoves at her chest.

At home, Thomas was losing his temper a lot. No hitting.


(Describer) Thomas lies in bed.

We both wanted desperately to communicate with him. I love you. I love you.

(Describer) She tries to sign. Thomas does too and kisses his fingers.

I thought we should work harder on sign language. Laurie wanted to stick with speech. We have a child who is different from us. And we've got to totally reevaluate our relationship to him and consider other relationships to the world that don't include hearing. You know what I'm thinking of? I'm thinking of-- OK, it's like having a child not born with legs, but with fins. And all of a sudden you're going, "Oh my gosh, "we've got to go live in water. This child doesn't belong here on land." this child needs to go someplace--" Is that what you're saying? I mean, because to me that's as dramatic a change-- what we have to do is go find him a deaf home? Put him in a deaf community? We don't live in a deaf community, Robbie. We live in a hearing one. That's our family. We are Tommy's family. He came to us. Yeah, but we can come to him. Well, I'm not saying we can't, but I think that we need to determine when.

(Describer) Thomas passes Christmas lights to Laurie, who stands on a chair by a tree.

He needs to be in a position to be able to say, "This is what I want."

(Describer) She starts putting them on.

Thank you. OK. Thomas-- Thomas--

(Describer) He bends down to under the tree.

Uh, Mommy, Mommy. Mommy! Mommy!

(Describer) He mimes picking things up.

Dinosaur... Truck... Crane. That's what Tommy wants for Christmas? Tommy wants a dinosaur? Right, a dinosaur? Yes? Dinosaur. A dinosaur. And what else do you want-- a truck? Truck. And one more thing-- a crane? Yes. Well, you tell daddy. Thomas, you tell daddy what you want. You say I want. I want-- a truck. truck. a dinosaur. Mommy, Mommy, this Mommy. You have to be realistic. I don't want him to live in a world where he's going to need an interpreter all the time. I want to be able to give him that freedom to be able to travel and do what he wants to do, whenever he wants to do it, without that restriction. If he lives the first seven years of his life unable to express himself, what kind of freedom is that? What are you giving him? That's, maybe, in Thomas's case, the price of his freedom.

(Describer) Thomas cries.

I'm not happy with that Robbie.



Tommy, Tommy, it's OK. No, [SPEAKING INDISTINCTLY]. Daddy... Mommy... Sweetie pie, I don't know what you're saying.


Tommy, I'm sorry.


(Describer) In a backyard...

(Describer) Not looking at the boy, Thomas walks off. Two other kids talk.

Hey, want to watch? He's going to eat that little dinosaur. He ate it.

(Describer) The girl swings by her feet.

And how old you? Four. I'm four, too. See, you're not older than me. I'm four and a half.

(Describer) The boy yells at Thomas holding a toy gun.

I'm four and a half, too. It's not yours! Give him it!


It was hard not to compare Thomas to other children his age. The world seems so full of language. Did Thomas know how old he was? Or what a year is? Or what tomorrow means?

(Describer) People gather outside a school.

We knew he was happy with us, but we didn't want him to grow up alone. I wanted to do more research. And so I visited the Central institute for the Deaf in St. Louis, one of the oldest oral schools for the deaf in the country. The colors were hot. Children at CID are instructed entirely in spoken and written English. Sign language is not used. I like peanut butter and bananas. I like peanut butter and bananas. On my sandwich. On my hamburg! On your what? Listen, on your hamburger. On my hamburger. Oh I think you are very silly.

(Describer) Principal Jean Moog:

Parents need to know the consequences of the choices. Because if you want a child to learn to talk, you must start that very, very young-- under age 5-- and you must educate that child

(Describer) At a podium...

in a system that focuses just on talking. I am glad that I had the opportunity to come to CID and to learn how to talk. Now I can communicate with anyone. I met Scott Campbell on the day he was practicing his graduation speech.

(Describer) His mother:

...cut the crass. I wanted him to learn how to talk. I wanted him to be able to communicate with the hearing world. I wanted him to be able to go into McDonald's when he was six, seven years old and order his own food. And he's been doing that. And have people understand him and for him to understand them.

(Describer) He folds up his speech and goes to Moog.

Thank you Mom and Dad. OK, that was good.

(Describer) They look over the speech.

Look, I want to talk-- come here, I want to talk to you about a couple parts. On the part where you say "Cut the grass." OK. It's cut-- Cut the crass. Not crass, grass. Crass. G, g-- Grass. Good! Cut the grass. Cut the grass. Perfect! Say that again. The deaf children in this school feel very good about themselves. They walk with a great sense of pride and their pride is not in being deaf, their pride is in being able to do so much in spite of the fact

(Describer) Robbie talks with Scott.

that they are deaf. Thomas doesn't know he's deaf right now. He doesn't. I think maybe he might know he can't hear very well,

(Describer) Subtitles: Well, does he have hearing aids? Oh, he does. Does it help?

but he doesn't know-- "I'm a deaf kid and these kids are hearing and I'm deaf." When did you first know that you were deaf? Does he have hearing aids? Yeah. Oh, he does. Does it help? Yeah it does help him. Yeah. And sometimes he asks for them.

(Describer) Well, sometimes…well at the beginning when I was a little boy. I wasn't too sure what I'm doing. I'm deaf, and I do not understand.

But I don't think he thinks of himself as a deaf person. Do you think of yourself as a deaf person? Well, sometimes... well at the beginning when I was a little boy. I wasn't too sure what I'm doing, I'm deaf

(Describer) …and I do not understand what I'm doing. I thought, "I'm with hearing… hearing group or deaf group. I was so confused. And sometimes that makes me mad that I could not communicate with the hearing friends.

and I do not understand and I do not understand what I'm doing. I thought "I'm with a hearing... hearing group of deaf group." I was so confused. And sometimes that makes me mad that I cannot communicate

(Describer) Because the hearing friends had more fun that deaf, because deaf cannot communicate.

with a hearing friend. Because the hearing friend had more fun than deaf, because deaf cannot communicate. I think that being born deaf does not-- in and of itself-- make you a member of a different culture unless you so choose to be a member of that culture. I understand that there is another language, American Sign Language, and that if you choose to learn American Sign Language, and to only communicate in American Sign Language, you are part of that deaf culture. However, if you choose to learn spoken English, then you can be part of the American culture.

(Describer) Kids arrive at a smaller school.

And I think that should be the choice of the families and the children. For a different point of view, I visited the learning center near Boston. Here American Sign Language is the primary language of instruction. Most other schools that use sign, use signed English, which re-arranges the signs of ASL into English word order. The method is supposed to help deaf children learn English. But some people think that deaf children can master English

(Describer) Lane:

more easily if they become fluent in a visual language first. We've got everything in the world to teach deaf children, except the one language that they understand naturally and fluently and that is totally given to them as a natural language-- namely, in our country, American Sign Language. Furthermore, many studies have shown that deaf children of deaf parents-- most of whom grow up with ASL-- typically do better in school than other deaf children. The conclusions from the research vary. But in 1984, The Learning Center began to hire deaf educators

(Describer) Marle Jean Phillip, signing:

and involve the local deaf community. And so there were a lot of questions in terms of what is the role of deaf people in language and culture within this school? And many deaf children of deaf parents had advanced English-- in spite of their education. How did that happen and how could we apply that to all deaf children, who did not have deaf parents,

(Describer) Lane:

not only that minority group. The educational system has put an unconscionable burden on parents like yourself. You're supposed to act as the language model for your child, but you can't. With all the goodwill in the world, no matter what you're ready to commit, you cannot be a language model for your child. So it's an absolute necessity if that child's to have one full natural language that he or she-- be where there are deaf adults and deaf kids

(Describer) Phillip and a woman sign with a toddler.

who have deaf parents and other deaf kids-- so that the child can learn that language. Parents at The Learning Center told me

(Describer) Eve Granick:

that the deaf adults at the school were role models who sent their children an important message. You're going to grow up and you're going to be deaf and you might be like me, or you might be like this person, but you can go to college. You can get married. You can have kids.

(Describer) A little girl signs in a classroom.

You can be satisfied with your life. That's enough, I think that's really enough. I don't expect Hannah to speak English fluently because I don't know that that's really within the realm of possibility since she can't hear it. But I do expect her to grow up and read and write English fluently because she'll have a base in a first language. If you start reading about deaf education and you read over and over the children don't reach anything beyond a fourth grade reading level. Well, I don't have a whole lot to lose because at least she'll have fluency and she can express herself in one language. And we can communicate in one language. And I can certainly learn-- I mean, my feeling is I can learn ASL a whole lot easier than she can learn English. When the parents at The Learning Center asked me what I was doing for Thomas,

(Describer) He’s interpreted into ASL.

I had to admit I didn't know. Thomas and I and his mom live in a virtual present. I mean, he's learned tomorrow. But tomorrow is a vague future for him. I don't know the extent to which we can, my wife and I, could leave the world that we have

(Describer) A parent signs and is interpreted.

and intersect with another world that we know nothing about. But Rob-- You don't have to. That is your world. You don't have to give up your world. But you also need to understand your son's world. You can keep your own world. Of course, you can. Just ask the parents who came here. Just like Mary Jane and Eve, you're not giving up your world, are you? I have a three-year-old, I can't give up my old world. This is his language time, too. I can't just stop communicating with him because we have a 19-month-old deaf baby. It's been hard and a long road, but now that we're here

(Describer) Holding her, she shrugs.

and I wouldn't want her-- I always want her, but I wouldn't want her any other way. She wouldn't be Courtney.

(Describer) Three people work in a dance studio.

You just have to follow your child's lead. One of the last people I met in my travels was Alina Engelmann of Brooklyn, New York. Although Alina is profoundly deaf, she is near the top of her class in a mainstream hearing school. Alina was brought up on cued speech--

(Describer) Her parents:

a lip reading method that uses hand shapes to help identify different sounds. It's a system that was invented about 25 years ago. It's used throughout the United States and throughout the world, but it has not gained significant recognition, in part because of the war between the oralist and the manualists and the fact that it falls somewhat in between.

(Describer) Subtitles: A lot of people don’t know much about cued speech yet, and the only way for me to really have a relationship with other deaf people like me is to learn sign language.

In talking with Alina and her brother Jan, I learned that Alina also signs. A lot of people don't know much about cued speech yet, And the only way for me to really have a relationship with other deaf people, have a relationship with other deaf people,

(Describer) And it’s also easier to communicate using sign language because...because when you speak, you have to sort of make an effort to speak, and with sign language you can just talk.

like me is to learn sign language. And it's also easier to communicate using sign language because... because when you speak you have to

(Describer) Her mother:

sort of make an effort to speak. And with sign language you can just talk. I want her to define herself as a deaf person, because if she defines herself as a hearing person,

(Describer) Her father:

she will always feel like she's lacking something and I wanted to feel like she's a full person. You need to not only expose yourself, but expose your child, to the world of the hearing, the world of the deaf. And if you do that, your child will tell you

(Describer) Alina, subtitles: Sometimes, like in school, sometimes the kids were teasing me a few years ago over my deafness, you know. It was a real pain.

where he or she wants to go. Sometimes, like in school sometimes the kids were teasing me a few years ago over my deafness, you know. It was a real pain. Yeah, I bet. What should I tell my son when he grows up about being able to handle that kind of pain? What should I tell my son, Tommy,

(Describer) Well, just say, "Live with it. That's life."

about helping him to handle that pain? Well, just say, "Live with it...

(Describer) Laurie watches a teacher work with Thomas.

that's life." Here comes the car and the fire truck. Uh oh! When I returned home from Brooklyn, it was time to evaluate Thomas's progress in school. What is this? Ambulance. Ambulance. That's right.

(Describer) At home...

Laurie and I had to decide whether we wanted to keep him in the oral class or expose him to sign language. Woo-woo! Did you bite Matthew? Let me see your arm.


Did you bite Matthew? It fall down.

(Describer) Matthew points at him and mimes biting. Laurie:

We were under a lot of pressure about Thomas and sometimes it made life around the house pretty tense. --bite, Thomas! You-- I'm the one that's caring for him and you've gone off and you've intellectualized about what's best for Thomas, when in fact, I think that's a decision that needs to be jointly made based on research, emotion, and practicality. And I don't think that you are giving the practical aspect of hearing parents raising a deaf child enough weight. Because there is a practical side. Integrating a deaf child into a hearing family.

(Describer) He wears a Batman logo.

(Describer) The parents meet with a woman.

Mommy, mommy. Hi, Batman! Time for school? Why don't we make this one of our goals, too, for next year is answering what and where questions. And who and why. Thomas's speech and language had improved, but not enough for either of us. And the evaluations at school were depressing. Does he know his last name? Yes. So, if you say, what's your name, he'll say, Thomas Tragen? No, he'll say Thomas. He really can't say his name. I mean, if you said, what's your name, little boy? He wouldn't say it. Yeah, he'd be helpless. I'm going to give him an emerging on this because he does have some kind of an awareness that he has a first and last name.

(Describer) She works with Thomas.

Although he can't state it if you say, what is your name? What is your whole name? Look at that? Carla was always trying to give us hope and she believed in Thomas. Happy mouth.

(Describer) At home, playing with blocks...

He has a happy mouth. We knew we had to do something, but we didn't know what. Thank you. What is this? Cow. A cow. We wanted Thomas's school to help us make a decision about whether or not to introduce Thomas to sign, but the school would not make a recommendation. They said the decision was ours. It's not a knife and it's not a spoon. It's a? Fork. Good job, Thomas! Hold on. We were between a rock and a hard place. And the rock is at Thomas's death. And the hard place is that he does have some speech capability. So to deny his speech capability, seems to me wrong. On the other hand, to deny the fact that his hearing ability is just this tiny little back alley, compared to this superhighway that's his eyes is also wrong. I don't think he'll have any difficulty accomplishing sign language. But I think his hardest task is to accomplish speech and oralism. That's because he doesn't hear. We're focus-- That's right! We're focusing on the least of his capabilities. I just want him to talk to me like any almost five-year-old kid. And I don't care whether it's sign language, whether it's Swahili. And at the meeting, at the school, you said you didn't know who your son was. That's right I don't really know who Thomas is. That's a drawback. It's a serious drawback. But I am not sure-- Listen to what you're saying. It's a drawback? It breaks my heart. However, if he doesn't have an oral facility as an adult, he won't have the choice and I will have failed as his mother, I feel, by not giving him that choice. That's all I want. And yeah it hurts. It hurts because-- yes, my little boy says I love you at night. Because I hug him and I kiss him and I tell him, I love you. And he whispers back, I love you. And I'm not sure he knows what it means, except that he cares. It feels good to be kissed and hugged. That's important to me. And that he's happy and that he's safe. And that one day soon we'll hear jokes by Thomas. Or we'll have Tommy read us a book report. And it's a pity. It's a pity that he's deaf. I do believe that. And maybe that's where we're different. Deaf people don't think there's anything wrong with being deaf,

(Describer) Laurie holds Thomas.

I'm not deaf. I'm not deaf, I hear. Too hard. You have to be more gentle. You have to be soft. Tommy, please don't think you only made us cry. You've made us so happy, just look at how much. We want you to be happy, but it's hard to know how.

(Describer) At a rally, a sign says, “We won’t give up until we have a deaf president.”

The world outside isn't kind sometimes. The student victory during a deaf president

(Describer) Lane:

now strike at Gallaudet five years ago means a lot more to me now. The Gallaudet Revolution was a tremendously important moment in American deaf culture. This was a civil rights movement. It's not just a hearing world. It's not a white world. It's not a man's world. We all are in this world together and there's enough-- millions and millions-- of deaf people, just two, three million culturally deaf people in America alone, that I'm not about to exclude them from what kind of world it is. Is English dominant? You bet. Are hearing people more powerful? Absolutely. So your son has the problem that confronts countless children

(Describer) A banner says, “Texas Deaf Caucus”.

in America every day and that is, he's born into a minority. In early spring, the deaf community

(Describer) A man signs.

here celebrated the anniversary of the deaf president now strike at Gallaudet. We have a dream. We have a hope. We have desires.

(Describer) Lane:

We still do. We were there as new members of the deaf community. Thanks to the Gallaudet revolution. Thanks to the civil rights movement in the United States. Thanks to the linguistic discoveries about ASL of the '70s and '80s, this is a magnificent time to be deaf. It's a time full of promise, full of recognition, full of appreciation. I'm just very happy for Thomas that in the years ahead, our society is increasingly accepting who he is, recognizing his unique contribution to our society,

(Describer) Laurie and Thomas look at a book.

and opening doors and careers to him. And these are very sharp.

(Describer) A bucket on a ladder, then a tv.

Scissors. And what do we have here?

(Describer) A dripping faucet.

Watch it. Watch a tape. Bath. We're still working on Thomas's speech. Shower. OK, Thomas. Let's play a game. Your turn. And recently, the daughter of a person we know at Thomas' school has been teaching us sign language.

(Describer) She does the sign for “lion”.

Her name is Rebecca and she's deaf. Lions.

(Describer) He covers Laurie’s mouth, then does the sign.

Oh, Thomas, lion. Are you going to show us a lion? Don't. Rrrr! Good job. That's very good. That's a lion.

(Describer) He puts thumbs on his temples and moves his fingers.

Horse. Can you do horse? No, no.

(Describer) Laurie:

What's the sign for horse? Yes, that's great. The way you're ending this documentary bothers me. I'm not really happy with it, because you end with Rebecca. That means you're ending with sign, as if after all this searching we finally decided that signing's wonderful. Well I'm not adverse to that, but I haven't completely satisfied my need to answer all those questions that still lay out there.

(Describer) At a restaurant, Thomas stands.

And ultimately, the questions will be answered by Thomas. It's up to Thomas.

(Describer) Laurie signs.



Listen, listen.


Oh, you want to kiss me? Well, just a minute. I like your new glasses. It's true, the story doesn't end here. We haven't made a decision yet on what we're doing at school next year with Thomas. We know that whatever we do it won't be easy, but for now, we're just going to enjoy each other. Well, we made up a sign in the car and it was all Tommy's doing.

(Describer) Opening his arms.

He wasn't just a little happy, he was big happy. Can you show? Big happy. That's right. Big happy! Big happy! Big happy! We made a lot of mistakes, Thomas. And I'm sure we'll make some more. When you become a parent, I know you'll understand. We wanted to change you, but you changed us. You'll see this someday and wonder why we made such a big deal about it. Think of it as a gift, the way we think of you.

(Describer) Titles: Produced and directed by Rob Tranchin. Written by Rob Tranchin, with Laurie Tranchin, Ginny Martin. Edited by Ginny Martin. Photography: Bert Guthrie. Original Music: Stan LePard. Interpreters: Stella Ashley, Robert Hahn, Thomas Wright, Deborah Tomardy, Johnmark Ennis, Susan P. Russell, Phyllis Rogers, Linn Stanton, Lena Dumont, Grady Altom, Tammi Malret. Online Technical Director: Marshall Sansbury. Online Editor: Joe Bill Worthington. Online Audio: Earl McDonald. Narration Recording: Susan Schewe. Executive Producer: Yolette Garcia. Executive-in-Charge: Sylvia Komatsu. KERA - Copyright 1994 North Texas Public Broadcasting Inc. Accessibility provided by the US Department of Education.


Little pig, little pig, let me come in. Little pig, little pig, let me come in.

(Describer) A logo features a line of three faces in profile.

For a Deaf Son is made possible in part by Acordia, a network of companies providing insurance brokerage, administration, and selected financial services across America. American Airlines-- providing daily flights to Europe and offering the American Airlines advantage travel awards program since 1981. The Southwestern Bell Foundation. Funding also is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the Southern Educational Communications Association.


This is PBS.

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When Thomas Tranchin was one year old, his parents discovered he was profoundly deaf. His father, a filmmaker, produced this program (in video diary format), which originally aired on PBS. The program tells of a family's journey through a maze of emotional, educational, political and social factors as they face life-changing decisions. Includes interviews with family members, audiologists, and others. The "speech versus sign language" conflict is documented in detail. Oral, manual, and cued speech approaches are outlined and supplemented with viewpoints from a variety of sources as Tommy's parents struggle to find the best way for their child in this rare glimpse into the difficult choices faced by hearing parents of deaf children.

Media Details

Runtime: 57 minutes

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1 hour 35 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
53 minutes
Grade Level: PT/TT -
Achieving Goals! Career Stories of Individuals Who Are Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Episode 13
6 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Achieving Goals! Career Stories of Individuals Who Are Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Episode 14
7 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Achieving Goals! Career Stories of Individuals Who Are Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Episode 18
8 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Achieving Goals! Career Stories of Individuals Who Are Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Episode 15
6 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Achieving Goals! Career Stories of Individuals Who Are Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Episode 16
9 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Achieving Goals! Career Stories of Individuals Who Are Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Episode 17
7 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Achieving Goals! Career Stories of Individuals Who Are Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Episode 6
27 minutes
Grade Level: 10 - 12
Achieving Goals! Career Stories of Individuals Who Are Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Episode 7
32 minutes
Grade Level: 10 - 12

Viewer Comments

  • Tiny default profile photo
    Hershella A. (Chicago, IL)
    September 13th, 2017 at 12:46 AM

    Awesome. Helps students get a better understanding of hearing parents trying to decide the best method of communication with a deaf child.

  • Tiny default profile photo
    March 31st, 2017 at 03:03 PM

    This excellent documentary always leads to very animated, passionate discussions.

  • Tiny default profile photo
    Darlene C. (North Potomac, MD)
    December 28th, 2016 at 07:41 PM

    My students researched what happen to the boy after the movie. They were motivated to learn more!

  • Tiny default profile photo
    Jacqueline M. (Phoenix, AZ)
    December 1st, 2015 at 02:05 PM

    Great and one of my favorite video.

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    November 16th, 2015 at 10:36 AM

    I enjoyed the documentary. I thought though that the Mother was unrealistic with her expectations and was too concerned about who should have or could have been her son. Good example of what Parents think and feel about having a child who is deaf.

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    Rhonda L. (Zephyrhills, AL)
    January 28th, 2015 at 06:25 AM

    Excellent movie for ASL 1