The Afele household can be pretty quiet sometimes, despite the presence of busy toddler Aria. That’s because much of the talking is done through New Zealand Sign Language, something 20-month old Aria and her parents Maryanne and Cody, have been learning for the past year or so. The couple discovered Aria was profoundly deaf when she was seven weeks old, and have been learning NZSL through First Signs, an organisation that works with families of deaf or hard-of-hearing children aged 0-5. Maryanne tells her story to Christine Nikiel.
When Aria failed her newborn screening test three times, understandably, her parents started to worry. They were told it could just be fluid in her ears from birth, but since both Maryanne’s parents are profoundly deaf, they realised there was a chance that Aria could be the same.
|Aria Afele after being fitted with her hearing aid.|
After numerous tests, and what seemed a lifetime of waiting, Maryanne and Cody were told that Aria was 100% profoundly deaf.
“It was an extremely emotional time for us and our families,” says Maryanne.
“We started to think about all of the precious moments we would miss out on together. Hearing her call "Mum" or "Dad", singing lullabies to her, having a simple conversation. We were devastated, but luckily we had my parents to help and guide us through the deaf world.”
The family was assigned to a First Signs facilitator and Aria, who’s had a cochlear implant, can now communicate with her mum and dad and her grandparents in NZSL. Now 20 anmonths old, and with 12 months’ hearing and a rich NZSL environment Aria is absolutely thriving and has the best of both worlds!
What are the challenges involved in learning to sign?
My sign language is outdated but is after all, my home language. With First Signs, I’m able to update my sign language to the current NZSL being used, which is great. Our biggest challenge is remembering to use one sign for one word so as not to confuse Aria.
What’s easy about it?
The easiest part about learning and teaching Aria to sign is the influence of the environment we’re in. We mostly spend our sessions at home, where Aria is very comfortable and we can create a fun and natural interaction with her using NZSL. Our first signs facilitator is so patient and makes learning fun!
How does learning sign language help in other ways?
Sign language helps in many ways! When you become fluent in sign language, you start to read a person like how deaf people do. You are much more aware of body language and certain expressions which help you to read a person before actually sparking conversation. Much like developing a sixth sense!