Have you ever visited a foreign country without any knowledge of the native language? If so, do you remember what it was like trying to communicate with people who didn’t understand what you were trying to tell them? For deaf and hard of hearing children who are living in a hearing world, the experience is very similar. Without language, they struggle to communicate their wants and needs to family, friends and teachers.
For babies, whether hard of hearing or hearing, sign language is the first language they have access to. They are able to master the visual language before they are able to speak, giving them a foundation on which to build other language skills. Sign language gives them a way to communicate with their parents, siblings and peers, and can help minimize frustration often associated with an inability to communicate their wants and needs.
Children who lack access to language or are language deprived:
· Struggle with delayed development of critical thinking skills;
· Face academic challenges;
· Have poor self-esteem;
· Often exhibit behavioral problems; and,
· Struggle to engage with their surroundings.
The ages between birth and 8 are considered a critical time for language development. Any children who lack access to language during this seemingly short period of time can enter school already behind their peers developmentally and socially. These challenges and setbacks underscore the need for early intervention.
The Benefits of Teaching Children American Sign Language (ASL)
· They gain access to a means for self-expression, which often reduces behavioral challenges that result from an inability to communicate their wants and needs.
· The learning delays often associated with lack of language are minimized.
· They avoid feelings of social isolation and low self-esteem, resulting in improved social-emotional health.
· Improved fine motor skills (dexterity) will strengthen a child’s writing abilities and help him or her perform other tasks that require small muscle control.
The Benefits of Bilingual (ASL/English) Education for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children
Just as a hearing person can benefit from learning multiple languages, deaf and hard of hearing children can benefit from a bilingual, ASL/English, education. For children with varying levels of hearing loss, bilingual education helps them to become fluent not only in ASL, but also in written and spoken English. This approach helps children to achieve optimal literacy, giving them access to a wide range of learning opportunities inside and outside of the classroom. It also provides a strong foundation of language that will benefit them at home, at school, in the workplace and in the community as they engage with individuals who are hearing, deaf or hard of hearing. Simply put, mastering two forms of language makes the world more accessible for deaf and hard of hearing children.
Having access to language is critical for the development of all children. For deaf and hard of hearing children, it is an important first step in gaining a means of communication, which will subsequently help to minimize any academic or social-emotional delays.