We were at an event for a local children’s D/HH program tonight. While the event wasn’t targeted at signing families, all of the families there said they sign with their children. Guess how many signing hands I saw at the event today? I saw one parent signing a couple of single words from the game they were playing. That’s it besides myself, my 2 girls, the Deaf staff member, and the interpreter that was there. Over the course of 2.5 hours. Besides Jessie, the other Deaf kids were 3, a baby (I give those parents a pass because this was all very new to them), and the other Deaf kids there were about 7-10 yrs old.
Jessi’s school had a restaurant fundraiser the other day and I saw the same thing with the few families there. Signing a couple of words here and there, but not even a full sentence, much less a full conversation. And all of the kids were at least 4 years old. I and one staff member were the only ones really signing.
Please parents, get those hands up and start signing. Your kids need you. I get that learning a language is hard. And I gave the moms of Jessi’s peers a pass when the kids were all babies because it’s tough to pick up a whole new language and that takes time. But those babies are now 4-5 years old. I’m not seeing much improvement in the parents signing skills or frequency with which they sign with their kids. And I see the husbands hardly knowing a handful of signs, and the grandparents, aunts/uncles, cousins, etc knowing virtually nothing.
I know this isn’t unusual. My own parents have only learned some and my siblings virtually nothing.
But just because it’s common, doesn’t make it OK. Our kids need better from their parents. I get that most parents don’t know any sign when their Deaf child is born. I get that learning a language is hard. But this is your KID we’re talking about. After 4ish years, you should be developing a decent degree of conversational fluency. And sure, your kid is learning English, but spoken language will never be easy, clear, or even always accurate for any D/HH person under the best circumstances. By only minimally signing, you are depriving your child of having truly strong and easy communication with you. You’re slowing their language acquisition. You’re limiting their everyday incidental learning opportunities, which can add up to huge deficits as they get older. You’re limiting their ability to learn the finer details of how social interactions should work. And more.
Communication is the foundation of a person’s success and the foundation for all their relationships. You can’t have either without solid communication skills. You want a strong relationship with your child? Sign. You want your child to have all opportunities for success available to them? Sign. Parents of D/HH kids who are learning to sign, please…pick those hands up and SIGN. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It can be slow, and awkward, and halting…but even imperfect signing is better than whatever garbled amount of English your child is able to hear/lip read any day of the week. Even imperfect signing is GOLD to your D/HH signing child.