10 Tips for Parents that Need to Learn Sign Language

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While there has been a trend in recent years of hearing parents learning and teaching their hearing infants to use sign language before they become verbal, there are a surprising number of hearing parents who opt not to learn sign language, even after discovering that their child is deaf or hard of hearing. For parents that have a deaf child, here are ten tips and bits of advice regarding the learning of sign language.

  1. Be Patient – The twin frustrations of learning that your child is deaf and the enormity of learning an entirely new language in order to communicate with her are enough to set anyone on edge. One of the most important things that parents can do, however, is to be patient with themselves, their children, and the flood of unsolicited advice from well-meaning but misguided friends and relatives.
  2. Understand the Benefits – Teachers that work with deaf children agree that children who live in a home with signing parents are more likely to be operating at the appropriate grade level, have better reading comprehension skills, and are more eager to join in activities and lessons than their peers who have non-signing parents.
  3. Understand the Dangers of Choosing Not to Learn – Just as the children of signing parents tend to perform better academically and socially, the children of non-signing parents are more likely to be withdrawn, angry, and exhibit behavioral problems stemming from their frustration at being unable to communicate with their own parents.
  4. Start Small – If you choose American Sign Language, begin with the first hundred signs and work your way up. Whichever signing method or language you decide to learn, understand that learning the simplest, most basic aspects of it will be the foundation upon which the rest of your skills are built.
  5. Look at All of Your Options – The phrase “sign language” most often calls to mind American Sign Language, which is the more popular and widely-used method of sign language in North America. However there are still several other types of sign language in common use, all with various strengths and weaknesses. Carefully consider each before making your decision.
  6. Accept That Your Child Will Communicate Differently Than Their Peers – For some parents, the idea of not learning to communicate freely with their deaf child is unfathomable. However, experts theorize that many opt not to learn any type of sign language because they want their child to learn to speak and sight-read in order to be as “normal” as possible. Still, studies have shown that even proficient sight-readers have difficulty in any conditions that are less than ideal, so it’s important to understand from the outset that your child will always communicate differently than their peers, but that they require the same encouragement and love.
  7. Adapt As You Go – There’s no one-size-fits-all method of parenting for any child. Regardless of how much you plan and prepare for your child’s life and learning methods, it’s important to still be flexible and capable of adapting.
  8. Be Prepared For a Challenge – Another of the common reasons why hearing parents don’t learn sign language is that they mistakenly believe that it will be simple to grasp. When they discover that, just like learning any second language, it comes with challenges and difficulties, they may abandon the idea in favor of options that work better for them but are less effective for their child.
  9. Take Advantage of Every Available Resource – In addition to in-person classes and tutoring, there are also a wealth of free online resources to help you polish your sign language skills. It may also be a good idea to join support groups for hearing parents of deaf children in order to help one another and become more involved in the community.
  10. Make Decisions Based on the Individual Needs of Your Unique Family – In the end, the decisions that you make should be based upon the careful consideration of the needs of your family, rather than advice from outsiders. As long as you’re making a concerted effort to communicate as freely as possible with your child and to support them unwaveringly, you aren’t likely to go wrong.

In addition to helping one another to learn sign language and communication skills, joining a support group for hearing parents of deaf children can be the first interaction that young deaf children have with others who are also deaf. It can also offer parents a much-needed place to vent and share experiences, so it might be a good idea to look into the offerings in your community.

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