Wednesday, June 22, 2011
When I first started losing huge degrees of hearing, I took initiative and enrolled in Signing Exact English classes at the local college (there were no ASL courses offered at that time). The classes were free, taught by a hearing teacher and a Deaf assistant teacher. As my hearing deteriorated, I also took speech reading classes. These classes were designed to teach a person how to read lips, facial expressions and body language. I still struggle with these visual cues.
Not everyone can learn to read lips. Interestingly, just about everyone can learn to sign. Babies naturally sign before they can speak. In fact, the muscles for speech don't develop for a few years. My son was signing to me before he was 8 months old. I knew if he was hungry or thirsty. I never had to struggle with what he was "saying" or trying to decipher the sounds his little voice was saying because his signing was clear. There was no question about what he needed, no struggling to figure out what was wrong. He knew what he needed and how to communicate with me with a real language, ASL. Anyone else who knew ASL could understand him as well.
We point to things and ask babies, "What's that", or we point and give it a name. Just by pointing, we are naturally signing. We wave, we gesture. It is communication. Children who learn to sign early in life develop better vocabularies and communication skills. When sign is used in conjunction with verbal cues, both sides of the brain fire up. Both languages together result in a person becoming bilingual. That's pretty cool.
We are born to sign, to communicate. It is language. We should be free to use the language we are naturally born with. I'd love to see more schools and day care centers teaching ASL. I'd love to see hospitals give new parents baby ASL books (such as the ones designed by Signing Time, Two Little Hands Productions), and I'd love to see children of all ages communicating naturally with one another in ASL with no barriers or prejudices between them.
Communication builds relationships, and that's what life is all about. Signing is a natural way of communicating.