Many schools and parents teach their babies and young children American Sign Language (ASL). This practice is rooted in studies that show a clear advantage to expanding children’s communication abilities and styles. These studies suggest significant improvements in children’s lives in and out of the classroom, such as:
+12 IQ point advantages
Accelerated emotional development
Lower frustration levels
Improves child-parent bonding
Improves attentiveness to social gestures of others as well as of themselves
Earlier reading and more extensive reading vocabulary
Better grades in school.
Several of these developmental assets are significantly a result of bilingualism. Although, explicitly learning Sign Language has many benefits for young children of all abilities. Knowing a visual language helps with coordination, understanding cues associated with body language, and learning the emotions conveyed by other’s faces.
Some may say it is ironic to encourage hearing children to learn ASL while at the same time, we tell our deaf children to learn to speak. Why can’t deaf children learn to talk? This idea lacks an understanding of how powerful an effect communicating in their primary language can have for deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) children.
This is not to say knowing English is not of benefit to deaf children. Just as the help of native English speakers learning, for example, Spanish. In this instance, we learn by seeing and hearing the Spanish words. The point is, when you are deaf, you cannot hear the language. Therefore, your primary language should be the one you can feel free to express yourself. One in which you can see, take in and understand without interference. If one cannot hear the language, one must be able to visualize the language. This idea is not solely words on paper, but a language geared for the eyes, Sign Language.
The takeaway: Though ASL is something we encourage in those who do not need the language, we need to encourage and empower those who need the language.
Next week we will discuss why English (either in written or spoken form) poses a challenge for DHH.