Storytelling and Sign Language

Christina's Capstone Project

Tag: stories

Research Journal: Themes and Structure

There are several themes and ideas I hope to address in my play. Depending on the type of information used, these themes may overlap and/or blend together. Some the central ideas include:

  • Education of the Deaf: how do students, teachers, parents, and administrators perceive it? Does it need to be improved or reformed? How and why?
  • Self-Identity vs. Societal Perception in the Deaf Community: What influence does society have on the formation of self-identity in the Deaf Community?
  • Differences between the Deaf and Hearing “worlds”: What cultural differences exist? Are they really so different after all?
  • Motivation: What motivates hearing people to engage with the Deaf community and vice versa?

 

To help keep these themes at the forefront of the writing, I’m going to continue to reflect on the notions of “stories” and “identity,” as well as the interplay between these two things (Thanks, Eakin!). So to that, I hope my final piece answers the following questions:

  • What are stories? Who tells them? Why do they tell them? Does the way/manner (spoken, sung, danced, signed, written, painted, etc.) in which people tell these stories matter and how?
  • Does one’s concept of identity influence the stories they tell? Or does society’s concept of another’s identity influence the stories that one chooses to tell?

 

Structure

Ultimately, the final structure will depend on the information gathered from interviewees and other sources. Hopefully, it will follow the structure below:

structure

Here we have the typical dramatic structure of a play complete with exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. This will work best if the play follows one (perhaps, two) main character and creates an action depicting his journey. This could ultimately work with a Deaf adult character as the “lead” taking the audience through his/her journey in the education system and include scenes of identity conflict and resolution. This “lead” character would recall his/her story told with the various perspectives of his family, friends, audiologists, therapists, community, Deaf community, etc. So far, using this structure would lead to the following scene break down:

  • The audience is introduced to the main character as he/she recalls their story beginning with diagnosis. This section would include information from the young child’s perspective, parents’ response to diagnosis, reactions of family and friends. Additionally, it would include statistical information about Deafness and its culture.
  • Conflict: here the parents and child are faced with a choice—what educational route to the take for their child. ASL? Total communication? Oral only communication? This section will include different viewpoints of how to raise a child with a “disability” (is it considered disabling or different?). Are there more limits or restrictions placed on this child?
  • The education system: In this section, the main character will show the audience his/her journey through the education system. Dialogue and information will include teachers, administrators, parents, peers, and therapists from both the Deaf and hearing community. It will conclude with his/her graduation and pursuance of a career.
  • Self-realization: Here, the main character will begin to fully express his/her self-identity. At this point, the story will continue with more dialogue and monologues from the “lead,” showing his capturing and exposition of his own story.

 

Research Journal: Eakin’s How Our Lives Become Stories

The first chapter of Eakin’s book How Our Lives Become Stories opened up an infinite amount of questions and perspectives to consider as I continue to flesh out my capstone project.

Early on, Eakin writes about the definitions of “I,” “self,” and “subject.” In terms of autobiography and memoir, these words can carry various meanings. According to Descartes’ philosophical writings, the bodily “I”/subject differs from the “thinking I.” Descartes posits in one of his first writings:

“On the one hand I have a clear and distinct idea of myself, in so far as I am a thinking, non-extended thing; and on the other hand I have a distinct idea of body, in so far a this is simply an extended, non-thinking thing. And, accordingly, it is certain that I am really distinct from my body, and exist without it.”

But how does this theory of dualism interact with individual experience? Eakin continues to explore this idea. He cites several scenarios, in which a person loses “body awareness” in one way or another. After this loss, these people have experienced a transformed sense of identity. Eakin introduces several other psychologists and theorists, who support this connection between the physical sense of self and the sense of identity.

Gerald Edelman, a neurobiologist, emphasizes the brain’s ability to adapt to the “ever-changing demands of experience.” Each individual will have unique and distinct experiences. Edelman continues to explain the “higher order consciousness, as the ability to construct a socially based selfhood, to model the world in terms of the past and the future.” Humans are unique in this ability because of the developed language system we possess. The brain is constantly experiencing various events and actively creating impressions. However, every time a memory is recalled, the recollection differs based on the context and circumstances. Some questions: Because this higher order consciousness is based in our language system, how does later developing language (especially in Deaf children) impact this ability? What is the impact on social development and selfhood development when the language system differs from most peers?

Eakin goes on to explain Kerby’s five registers of self: ecological (related to physical environment), interpersonal (relations with others), extended self (existing outside of the present moment), private self (not available to others), and conceptual self (self-information). These selves are developed throughout childhood by the home and school environments. Once again, how are these registers affected by language differences? What creates autobiography/memoir? The private self or the conceptual self or the interpersonal self?

Eakin’s writing presents some very interesting cases of the interaction between the physical body and the identity of self. One case discusses a male who injures his leg and as a result experiences an injury in his identity. No longer able to feel and utilize an essential part of his physical being, the man lost his sense of selfhood and identity. This idea of sensory deficit leading to an identity deficit was confirmed in a study of congenitally blind children that developed the pronouns “you” and “I” much later than sighted children. As I continue my project, I think this difference in self-identity will also be relevant to the Deaf community. It will be interesting to see how age influences the formation of self in this particular population.

Finally, Eakin emphasizes “every experience takes place within a vast background of cultural presuppositions.” Yet another point to consider. Deaf culture is incredibly specific and unique. It functions with its own rules and expectations. As Eakin already stressed one’s identity is influenced by experience, but that experience is informed through culture.

More Stories

This weekend I went to the Brooklyn Book Festival and came home with a bag full of new reading material. My favorite item from this haul is a children’s book called “I Get It! I Get It! How John Figures It Out: One Boy’s Journey and Triumph with Auditory Processing Disorder.” (Yes, I’m 21 years old and bought a children’s book, apparently it happens when your future career choice involves kids). The author of this book, Yvonne Capitelli, writes for children with the intention of building self-esteem and encouraging kids to make good choices.

Now, I could mull over pages of textbooks and scholarly journals to learn about Auditory Processing Disorder (APD). And I have done that in the past. From that experience I’ve learned that APD causes a disruption in the processing of auditory information because the brain does not properly interpret sounds, phonemes, words, and sentences. I could list symptoms, diagnostic tests, and treatment plans for APD but that doesn’t provide a full picture of the disorder. However, reading a story about this disorder from the lens of a child created a more complete understanding. The narrative chronicles John’s story from his academic struggles to his diagnostic evaluation and through his treatment and success. Rather than pages of speech jargon, there is a description of the disorder, as it would present itself in the real world. Communication disorders have side effects. A child with APD is not just his symptoms. He has experiences and emotions related to this disorder and that’s what this story really portrays.

There aren’t many books written for kids about children with disabilities, so I’m more than excited to have this new copy resting in my clinic one day.

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Research Journal: Storytelling

“Storytelling is joke telling. It’s knowing your punchline, your ending, knowing that everything you’re saying, from the first sentence to the last, is leading to a singular goal, and ideally confirming some truth that deepens our understandings of who we are as human beings. We all love stories. We’re born for them. Stories affirm who we are. We all want affirmations that our lives have meaning. And nothing does a greater affirmation than when we connect through stories.”—Andrew Stanton

In this TEDTalk, Andrew Stanton goes on to discuss what makes a great story. There are some obvious things—character development, a strong theme, a promise of outcome. All of these are essential to creating a great story. But he also introduced another suggestion for great narrative by asking, “does it invoke wonder?” Will audiences, readers, and listeners leave with a sense of awe and wonder? These elements of a story are not as simple of beginning, middle, and end. Rather, they need to be embedded into the content and plot of the story.

We need stories. Stories are important. They give us hope and they remind us who we are. They allow us to connect with others in unique and different ways. Stories can provide us with knowledge or teach us a lesson. They can make us laugh or make us cry. But a great story should always leave the audience struck with wonder.