Benefits to Children:
SIGN LANGUAGE AND ITS BENEFITS FOR HEARING CHILDREN
American Sign Language has been one of the primary
means of communication for the deaf since the early 1800s after Thomas
Hopkins Gallaudet helped to develop the language and then went on to
establish a university for the deaf. Now, the practice of teaching hearing
children sign language is gaining popularity nationwide.
Babies as young as six to seven months old can remember a sign,
according to experts (Glairon, 2003). By eight months, children can begin
to sign single words and imitate gestures, and by 24 months, children can
sign compound words and full sentences (Glairon, 2003). Workshops are now
offered in over 75 cities across the United States for parents and their
children (Glairon, 2003). Many preschools have also begun to teach sign
language to their students.
The use of sign language has proven to be beneficial for children in
a wide variety of settings. Hearing parents are now teaching sign language
to their preverbal babies, which has proven to benefit children in their
later years. Sign language also enables children to communicate effectively
with their deaf parents. Sign Language has also proven to be a successful
intervention with children with special-needs including autism and Down
Research shows that sign language hastens speech development, reduces
frustration in young children by giving them a means to express themselves
before they know how to talk, increases parent-child bonding, and lets
babies communicate vital information, such as if they are hurt, or hungry.
A 2000 study funded by the National Institutes of Child Health and Human
Development, shows that young children who learn sign language speak sooner
than other children (Glairon, 2003).
Joseph Garcia, an ASL interpreter, educator and independent
researcher, developed one of the first programs for teaching sign language
to hearing children after researching the use of signs by pre-verbal
children in the mid-1980s (Yost, 2003). Garcia found through his research
that children are able to communicate sooner using sign language, which
involves only manual dexterity. He claimed that mastering spoken
communication is a difficult skill requiring the maturity of 200 muscles in
the face and throat (Yost, 2003). However, as some may think, using sign
language does not delay the speech process. Instead, children easily make
the transition from sign language to spoken words.
More than 90 percent of deaf parents have hearing children, according
to the Deaf Studies Board, a British research group (Sell, 2001). For a
hearing child and deaf parent, learning a basic, first word is just the
beginning in what can be a difficult and emotional communication process.
"Mother father deaf" is a phrase often used in the deaf community to
classify a hearing child of deaf parents (Sell, 2001). These are the
parents who never hear the fans yell when their child hits a homerun. These
are the parents who sit through their child's piano concert, never hearing a
note. And these are the moms and dads who never hear their child's name
called at graduation. These are the families that eventually link the gap
between the hearing and deaf worlds and that face unique parenting
Children of Deaf Adults (CODA) is a nonprofit organization of hearing
adult children of deaf parents. It gives the children a place to share
stories and experiences. Many claim that they often had to help their
parents in different situations, such as interpreting for them at schools,
courts, stores, banks, service stations and doctors' offices, even when they
were especially young. Because of their additional responsibilities, many
children of deaf parents mature faster than other children. As
interpreters, they are part of a conversation they would not normally be a
However, there are some disadvantages of children interpreting for their
parents. The CODA organization states that hearing people often project
unnecessary burdens on children (Sell, 2001). Many times a hearing person
will not interact with the parent and only the child, forgetting that the
child is only an interpreter and not a spokesman.
For many decades, speech language professionals have used signs
simultaneously with speech in treating children who are slow to develop
spoken communication. Using Sign Language has also proven to be a successful
intervention with children with special-needs including Down syndrome, and
Children with a variety of performance levels can be taught to
utilize sign language. Many abnormal behaviors related with autism and other
developmental disabilities, such as aggression, tantrumming, self-injury,
anxiety, and depression, are often attributed to an inability to communicate
to others. Sign language allows the child to communicate using signs and may
motivate the verbal language process. Another possible benefit of teaching a
child to sign may be the facilitation of their attentiveness to social
gestures of others as well as of themselves. Teaching sign language to
children with autism and other developmental disabilities does not interfere
with learning to talk, but teaching sign language along with speech has
proven to speed up spoken communication.
Parents of hearing children are discovering sign language is
beneficial for children in a wide variety of situations. The practice of
teaching hearing children sign language will continue to gain popularity
throughout the years.
"Deaf Parents of Hearing Children Resources," April 2003 http://www.listen-up.org
(April 27, 2003).
Glairon, Susan. First Words: Sign Language Lets Babies 'Speak' Their Minds.
The Boulder Daily Camera. Boulder, CO: 2003.
"Hearing Children of Deaf Parents," April 2003 http://library.gallaudet.edu
(April 26, 2003).
Sell, Jill. Deaf Parents, Hearing Children Face Communication Challenges.
Newhouse News Service. 2001.
Yost, Barbara. Look Who's Talking Sign. The Arizona Republic. 2003.
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