Nine out of ten deaf babies are born to hearing parents, which makes them a minority in their environment in that they do not automatically speak the auditory language of their parents and family members. Many of these hearing parents naturally go through the grieving process as they realize that their deaf child is not “like them.” Parents also begin searching for answers and information on how to raise a deaf child. There are so many philosophies and recommendations out there on language, education, and auditory choices; additionally, the slew of doctors and professionals with whom the parents will encounter regarding their child will have their own advice and opinions. It is very easy for parents to feel confused, lost, or even scared. Parents may feel unconfident that they are making the right decisions for their child.
Throughout the initial process of diagnosis, evaluation, and referral to Early Intervention for deaf babies, it is rare for parents to have the opportunity to meet and discuss language, education, and auditory choices with a Deaf/Hard-of-hearing (D/HH) adult from the Deaf community. I would like to take some time to provide information that I hope will help hearing parents with deaf babies or even toddlers to become more confident in their decision-making process.
- One does not have to choose one language over the other: American Sign Language (ASL) versus English. Every deaf child (and parent) has the potential to be EQUALLY fluent in both languages. ASL is the third most used language in the United States! Any child, deaf or hearing, can learn both languages simultaneously right from the beginning. Babies have been documented to begin signing as early as 5 or 6 months old, long before their first vocal words come at 8 or 9 months old.
- Bilingualism has many cognitive advantages including: highly developed language skills, possibly increased IQ, increased creative thinking skills, early literacy skills (reading and writing), and increased speed of spatial reasoning development. These advantages apply to bilingualism in any two languages, including ASL and English.
- Every child (deaf or hearing) has a right to learn language naturally, through communication with you and other family members, as well as children’s books and word play. This IS possible through both ASL and English. Read to your deaf child every day!
- Research shows that learning ASL does not delay speech development! In fact, learning ASL has the opposite effect – it enhances speech development and your child may speak earlier than if only an auditory language is used.
- Even more research shows that in babies and toddlers who have or will receive cochlear implants, those who learn and use ASL during the initial stages are faster in learning speech production and recognition skills than those who receive solely Auditory-Verbal Therapy.
- Signing with your deaf child will dramatically reduce frustration and tantrums due to limited communication between you and your child. Communication should not be a daily struggle, as this can be very exhausting and draining for everyone. Learning ASL will give your child words that he/she can use to express his needs and wants long before his/her speaking and listening skills are developed well enough to meet his/her needs. Using both ASL and English allows you and your child to be able to focus on being a family – developing a loving, enriching relationship!
- Bilingual Deaf Education ensures that your child will develop basic and academic skills in both ASL and English across all subject areas. Also, speech therapy and speaking/listening skills can be developed if appropriate for your child. Many D/HH children with cochlear implants attend bilingual Deaf schools around the country! For more information, click on the Deaf Education page on this site.
- Look around your community for classes offering to teach ASL to adults or even to whole families, including your child’s siblings! Learning ASL will be a fantastic activity that the whole family can do together! See below for a list of websites that can also provide you with ASL resources. Learning a new language may seem like a daunting task, but with the right support and attitude, it will be possible and extremely beneficial.
- There are many successful D/HH adults who have become professionals – doctors, lawyers, college professors, engineers, business managers, K-12 teachers, politicians, accountants, and much more! There may be a few in your community – ask around to find them! Attend a Deaf community event in your area to meet more D/HH adults who can be role models for your child and your family as a whole.
- Last, but not least, reach out to other parents with D/HH children. You are not alone! You can find them by becoming involved with Deaf Bilingual Coalition (DBC) and American Society of Deaf Children (first year free for parents of deaf children).
The Greatest Irony: This cartoon illustrates the ironic paradox of not allowing deaf babies to learn ASL despite the large amount of research showing the benefits of doing so for hearing babies. The benefits of learning ASL can also be enjoyed by deaf babies if we all recognize and accept this fact! Celebrate ASL and Bilingualism for deaf babies everywhere!
(Image retrieved from a presentation by Deaf Bilingual Coalition)
Resources for learning American Sign Language (ASL) for families with D/HH children.
- Signs For Intelligence: http://www.signsforintelligence.com/
- Baby Signs: http://www.babysigns.com/
- Signing Time: http://www.signingtime.com/
- ASL University: http://www.lifeprint.com/
- Babies and Sign Language: http://www.babiesandsignlanguage.com/
- Signing With Your Baby: http://www.signingbaby.com/
- Dawn Sign Press: http://www.dawnsignpress.com/
- Harris Communications: http://www.harriscomm.com/
- Everyday ASL: http://www.everydayasl.com/