Hearing Parents: Teaching Your Deaf Child Communication
~ Authored by Heather Flynn
Ninety to ninety-five percent of Deaf children are born to hearing parents who do not have any prior knowledge of American Sign Language (ASL). Immersion in a language is critical for success in learning the language. Deaf parents of Deaf children are equipped to pass on their language to their child since typically ASL is their native language. Hearing parents of Deaf children are usually not. Parental involvement is important in the language development of a Deaf child. (Weaver, Starner) They have the added responsibility of choosing the communication method for their child. This can be an overwhelming task.
Making a Language Choice
Hearing parents are inundated with diagnoses and doctors, facts and figures, and statistics and treatment plans. The options seem endless and confusing. Not many people are ready to make such a huge parental decision on your first day as a parent. A decision does not need to be made before discharge. There are some ways to make the decision process a little less scary.
First, parents should think of their Deaf child as a “visual learner.” It is less of diagnosis and more of a statement of fact. If they think about it that way it is a little easier to comprehend. Also, the first form of communication with any baby is through touch, nonverbal. Parents do not need to worry if their baby will understand the message. After touch, communication develops through vision and sound. Parents speak in a high pitched voice and they use exaggerated facial expressions. Even if the Deaf baby cannot hear, they can feel the voice vibrations while the hearing parents sing or sooth their child. Parents can take some time to learn about their baby and how to be parents before making a life-changing decision.
Early Language Access
It is very important to give a child language as early as possible, but there is no one right way. ”What is fact is that a child’s early language experiences provide him/her with a lifetime ability to learn. The key is for the child to develop fluency in a first language as early as possible in his/her life.” (Coogan) Language should be given in a way that is going to be received well. If the child is not receptive to it or understanding, then frustration can develop, not only for the child but for the parents as well. In my opinion, the best thing about language is the sharing of ideas with one another; and the best thing about parenting is sharing ideas with your child.
“We Need to Communicate! Helping Hearing Parents of Deaf Children Learn American Sign Language” by Kimberly A. Weaver and Thad Starner, 2011
“Early Sign Language Acquisition Helps Deaf Children learn Spoken and Written Languages” by Mercy Coogan, 2011
“The Value of Deaf Children Learning Sign Language” by MT&A