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

Making the Decision to Sign

For many parents, discovering that their child is deaf is a traumatic experience. It destroys their previous notions of how their child will develop, go to school, have friends, visit grandparents, attend college, and so on. Above all, it puts a damper on the parents' expectation of hours and hours of conversation with their child where they share their experiences and dreams. Some parents never recover from the shock to realize that their child can, in fact, do all of these things. They never accept their child's deafness or recognize the child as a capable individual who will experience the pains and joys of growing up just as other children do.

While there have to be some differences in our expectations for a deaf child, we must remember that our society is filled with differences in culture, income, geography, and so on. The reality is that we do not expect all children to be raised in the same manner. But we should expect that all children have access to those things in life that are necessary to fulfill their fundamental needs. We are all motivated to know what is going on around us, why things happen, and what effect events have on our lives. To access such information we must be able to communicate, which leads to the ability to think, react, and analyze the world.

In considering whether or not to sign with their child, parents should be careful not to be influenced by attitudes that now are outdated. Not so long ago, the conventional view outside the Deaf community was that if you couldn't speak, you didn't have a language. And if you didn't have a language, you couldn't be intelligent. This myth was powerful among many linguists and educators in the last part of the nineteenth century and for much of this century. Proponents of the oral-only approach to language development latched on to this way of thinking, forbidding the use of sign language and allowing only speech and speechreading as the mode of communication. For a long time parents everywhere, deaf and hearing, were wrongly convinced that their deaf children had to learn to speak at the expense of learning school subjects. Where did this leave the Deaf adults who signed? They were wrongly accused as being semiliterate gesture makers. True, they could string signs together, but was it language? According to the thinking of those times, signed language was not considered as complex as spoken language and, therefore, was viewed as inferior.

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