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

Whether you should use ASL, English signing, or contact signing with your child is not a question that we prefer to answer offhandedly. Even if we were your neighbors and knew your child well, we would tread a cautious path in offering advice. Our best suggestion is that you create a set of goals for signing that are centered around the communication needs of your deaf child, and then, by using the information provided in this book, determine how each type of signing maps onto your goals. This process should give you a good idea of what kind of signing you might best like to use with your deaf child.

Signing as a First Step in Communication

For any parent of a deaf child, the foremost goal is communication, and the essential first step is parent-child communication. You want to be able to communicate with your deaf child in much the same way that you communicate with a hearing child of the same age. But remember, we don't always expect 100 percent comprehension the first time we say something to a hearing child. Our expectations with a deaf child should be no different.

Learning to communicate is a step-by-step process. Young children daily add to their ability to ask for things, spin stories, and make sense of their world. They progress from one sign to two signs, from simple sentences to complex sentences, from simple words for complicated ideas to fancy words for simple ideas. Effective communication facilitates language development. How you communicate is going to have a direct impact on how well your deaf child learns a signed and/or spoken language. But it is essential that your child begin to develop language skills during the toddler years.

School is just one of the places where children gain fluency in a language. Many deaf children learn their first language in school, but hearing children acquire fluency in a first language in their own homes. We would like to see deaf children grow up with similar opportunities. Fluent communication between parent and child provides a foundation for whatever language skills the child needs to develop later, including the ability to read and write English. And much of the child's education will hinge on reading and writing skills.

Many deaf children of deaf parents acquire American Sign Language as their first language, and at the same age that hearing children begin to speak. Deaf children of hearing parents generally acquire ASL when they interact with other deaf children who know ASL, an interaction that typically occurs when they begin school in a class of deaf children. Acquiring proficiency in ASL is not a challenge for most deaf children, even though ASL is a complex language. They learn ASL more easily than they learn speech because they can clearly see all aspects of this language. Furthermore, ASL, unlike spoken languages, incorporates the natural dynamics of communication with the hands and body. For this reason, many deaf people consider ASL to be their natural language.

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