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

Hearing fathers are usually the poorest signers in the family, if they can sign at all. Scott is no exception. Jan, who has a fair grasp of signing, did attempt to bring Kate into conversations. One such attempt with a deaf man who was a fluent signer began this way: "Kate, tell him how old you are." Not "tell him about your school activities" or "tell him about your horse collection," as Jan would have said to Kristen, the younger sister. Kate signed "age seven" and was ready to gallop off, but the man held her back to learn more. Kate's delightful personality unlocked when she realized that the man could sign. With access to social conversation, Kate told him about her hobbies, projects at school, and plans for the coming weekend.

Jan and Scott wanted their deaf daughter to take part in this social event, but both were afraid to start a prolonged conversation that might reveal their embarrassing weakness in signing. How much richer Kate's experience would have been, linguistically and socially, if Jan had introduced her to people in a manner more conducive to conversation: "Kate is finishing a project for school that is really exciting. Kate, what did you think was the best part of your project?" This is communication, wrapped in the fabric of socializing. To be able to explain and describe your world, model social conversation, and allow your child to participate--aren't these the reasons to learn to sign?

Signing in School

Most parents evaluate the option to sign in terms of their child's access to education. Legions of Deaf people will attest to the fact that their education accelerated after they learned to sign. This effect is particularly common among deaf children who are placed in an oral environment for the early years of their schooling. The oral method may be appropriate for some deaf children, but for many others, learning barely moves forward because of the time spent repeating spoken phrases. Historically the inability to master oral communication has limited many deaf children's access to the information typically taught in school.

Learning to sign does not guarantee a better education. It does open doors to learning, however, because for deaf children signing is a more comprehensible form of communication than speech. This premise is clarified in later chapters, which explore the role of signing in the education of deaf children during the past two centuries.

Despite a long history of signing in the United States, many school districts still lack adequate instruction in signing. Even if your school district provides good instruction, it may not subscribe to the type of signing you want for your child. It is possible to advocate for your chosen method of communication and win, although in such disputes the law in most states favors the schools. In chapter 9, we discuss the law and how you can use it to your advantage. We don't promise that it will be easy, and we can't guarantee that you will always get what you want.

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