It’s a service that three-year-old Max has relied on for most of his life: A weekly lesson to learn American Sign Language.
The sessions are critical for the Kelowna boy, who was born deaf.
“He’s got bilateral hearing loss; it’s not fixable,” said Kelly Wilson, Max’s mom.
While Max can hear a little bit with his hearing aides in a quiet environment, Wilson told Global News that her son’s main mode of communicating is through American Sign Language (ASL).
“He’s using it throughout the day on top of his speech, but when it comes to the point his hearing aides are out, or he’s very tired, fatigued, or done for the day, it’s full on American Sign Language,” she said.
Max’s older brother and parents are learning it as well, so the family can better communicate.
The family has been told by the service provider that lessons will soon be scaled back significantly due to provincial government funding shortfalls.
“We are deeply concerned; devastated, actually, would be the better word,” said Lisa Meneian, executive director for the Deaf Children Society.
“We are absolutely devastated with these changes.”
The Deaf Children Society supports about 560 B.C. families, including the Wilsons.
“Unfortunately, the funding has not changed over the past 10 years that the Ministry of Children and Family Development put into early intervention, specifically from birth to five (years old),” said Meneian.
“The number of families that are accessing the service has more than doubled, and so we have the same pot of funding that needs to be divided among more than double the number of families.”
The insufficient funding will mean reducing services, such as Max’s ASL instruction, from weekly to monthly, a reduction the society said could be detrimental.
“If they are only allowed to learn that language once a month how fluent will they become?” Meneian said.
“Children will suffer from what is termed as a language deprivation syndrome. So that is that inconsistent language stimuli in the child, which then leads to language processing and cognitive delays and issues later in life.”
In a statement to Global News, the ministry responsible said that between 2009 and 2019, the number of deaf and hard-of-hearing children accessing early intervention services in B.C. rose from 263 to 529.
According to the ministry, during this period, the budget for these services increased from $1.66 million to $1.79 million.
It also stated:
“We understand the stress families are feeling as we adapt to the growing demand for services. These pressures are being considered as we proceed with developing a new child and youth with special needs service framework.”
Parents hope that new framework will include more funding to continue the vital services.
Wilson said it would be heartbreaking to see a reduction of any kind.
“That’s his language and if this isn’t continuing, then I feel they are taking his language away from him,” Wilson said. “It would hinder his future.”