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Opinion | Deaf children (and their hearing parents) need to learn ASL

Many parents don't learn sign language, affecting child's life and education.

It may not surprise you to learn that more than 90% of deaf and hard of hearing children are born to parents who can hear.

But it may surprise you to learn that many of those parents will never learn sign language – a decision that will have a huge impact on the rest of their child’s life.

Even if a parent has made the decision to get cochlear implants and plan to have English as their child’s primary language, it’s critical that deaf and hard of hearing children be given access to sign language right from the start. Here’s why:

  • Deaf and hard of hearing children who acquire ASL at a young age perform better academically, understand more English, and often have better skills for organizing, maintaining attention, and inhibiting impulses.
  • Deaf and hard of hearing adolescents who rated their communication with their families as poor reported more symptoms of depression.
  • Deaf and hard of hearing adults who lacked early language skills went on to have difficulties knowing social norms, developing work skills, understanding and exhibiting interpersonal and interaction skills, and some have difficulty living independently.

In addition to evidence from academic research, there is ample evidence from real life that children who grow up with both ASL and English can – and do – go on to be successful bilingual adults. The bottom line is that if hearing parents invest in learning and using ASL, they can provide a solid foundation for their child to learn, thrive, and succeed.

Why Deaf Children Need ASL republished with permission from the American Society for Deaf Children.

September is Deaf Awareness Month.

To honor the UN’s International Day of Sign Languages on Sept. 23, the American Society for Deaf Children is raising funds to give every family with a deaf or hard of hearing child in the U.S. the opportunity to learn American Sign Language. 

Why sign language?

More than 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents. Without sign language, parents don’t have a way to meaningfully communicate or bond with their deaf child. Without sign language, deaf children can experience language deprivation, limiting their potential for a lifetime.

ASDC is using donations to provide online class and programs that give parents the opportunity to become fluent in American Sign Language. ASDC will help them find deaf mentors and learn deaf culture so their child can feel a sense of belonging within the deaf community.

Editor’s note: Publication of an opinion piece does not mean Seattle’s Child or its staff endorses the views of the author.

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About the Author

Tracy Stine, American Society for Deaf Children