Chapter 1 of The Signing Family: What Every Parent Should Know about Sign Communication continued . . .

If you decide that learning to sign is right for your family, remember that there is no quick and easy way of doing so. There is no Minister of Sign, who for a few dollars and a signature will perform the rites that turn you into a proficient signer. Learning to sign is not as easy as many people suppose. Indeed, this misconception is shared by many professionals. Some university programs send teachers into the field to teach deaf children after just a course or two in signing. And we have heard of people taking positions as sign instructors after completing only a beginner's sign course! Learning to sign proficiently takes as much time and practice as the learning of any other language.

The Insecure Parent

Many parents get frustrated communicating with their children, whether the children are deaf or hearing. When the parents of a deaf child are not fluent signers, their sense of inadequacy as communicators can make them feel uncomfortable with their deaf child. While it is good for parents to be reflective about their relationships with their children, these feelings of inadequacy should not divert them from whatever task is at hand.

Jan and Scott are good examples of parents who allow their limitations in signing to interfere with their roles as parents. Jan is cheerful, outgoing, and respectful of other people. Scott is more withdrawn; at social gatherings he is inclined to stay in the background while his wife mingles. They have a seven-year-old deaf daughter named Kate and a six-year-old hearing daughter named Kristen. Their expectations of the two girls are remarkably different. After a presentation by a deaf person to a group of parents of deaf children, Jan and Scott watched the girls socializing in the crowd. Kristen was expected and even prodded by her parents to say hello to people and tell them something about her school activities or what she was doing with her spare time. Her parents kept an eye on her and often joined her in conversation while she skimmed in and out of this linguistically rich social activity.

The treatment of the deaf daughter contrasted sharply with that of her hearing sister. Scott kept an eye on Kate, asking now and then if she wanted a cookie or a drink. (cookie is the first sign many parents learn, perhaps during snack-time when the parent educator comes to visit. Eager to use their newfound signing skills, they ask, "Danny, you cookie?" We are waiting for the day when Danny looks up quizzically and replies, "Gee, no Mom, I am not a cookie." But let's not get sidetracked.)

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