All infants come into this world
ready to be loved and ready to learn. What is the key for acquiring language, particularly for a deaf or hard of hearing baby? As parents of a newborn, the love you share
with your child is natural and instinctive. This is your bond. This bond inspires an innate desire for communication. Your baby will learn about the world
through familiar smells, the sense of taste, the warm touch of your skin,
and most of all, through the eyes. For your child, world experiences and language will come most naturally and easily through the eyes. The eyes are your child’s single biggest strength. I just wanted to say that it’s a journey as a parent.
That you start off with the very simple… You know, you want to know the eat, drink, mama, dada,
because those are the important things. And as your child grows, your signing kind of grows with them…
kind of blossoms because you want to keep up with them. And so, my son, who is now in first grade…
is becoming, now, a kind of teacher to us. It’s a journey and it can be rough at times but
when you communicate, it’s just the most awesome feeling. Sign languages are complete and natural languages. Just like any language, American Sign Language is acquired through meaningful exposure and interaction. Today, ASL is the fourth most widely used
language in the United States. It is taught in high schools and universities for credit. Babies acquire language along a developmental continuum. ASL builds on the earliest connections you have with your child,
allowing your deaf or hard of hearing child the opportunity to process and understand the meaningful family interactions directed at him or her. Babies exposed to and interacting with
American Sign Language will typically produce their first words around seven to eight months of age. American Sign Language has been a gift to me and
a gift to the children that I work with. An amazing resource, an amazing key to
open up their minds and their ideas. I’ve worked with high school students, all the way down to infants. Because it’s so critical for children to have the relationship
to their parents, to have the attachment to their parents… and to have the love and caring that their parents can give them, and communication is the key to that.
So here is this beautiful gift for families to use. Really, my job is being a parent.
And my priority is to communicate with my daughter. And I figured my job as a parent is to open doors, and ASL was a door that I opened. Along with speech therapy, and hearing aids, and everything else. And I have a daughter that can walk around through
many different doors and feel very comfortable. It’s been a blessing, and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Early acquisition of a language provides the
foundation for cognitive growth, the thinking and learning skills that
children need throughout their lives. Through cognition, children are able to engage
in more complex actions and think more abstractly. Early language is a critical aspect of this process. Babies and toddlers will use ASL to communicate their needs and their wants, spontaneously, without effort. Age appropriate language and concept development leads to higher level thinking and abstract concepts. A baby’s brain is a powerful organ. It’s designed for learning language. For deaf babies, it’s important that language is clear,
accessible, transmitted in a positive setting, and interactive. Access to learning has to be visual, through American Sign Language. Children rely on their eyes and what they see in order to learn. The children who have full access are happy, ready to learn, motivated. They can express their thoughts and feelings. They feel safe. I teach toddlers and babies, and at such an early age they must
feel safe in expressing what they want or need to their parents. When the parents can respond and explain the
answer to them, they feel satisfied and safe. They know that for the rest of their life, they will be secure. Rich language, expansive and flexible communication
empowers both parents and children. When language is shared and communication is easy, confusion and frustration can be minimized. Oh my goodness. The brain just opens up.
The flexibility of the brain, the plasticity, the ability to acquire and use different resources of the brain. That’s what those children have:
they have a language resource, rich resources that they can use to move on to the other language. All children are capable of learning several languages.
There is no need to limit them to just one. It’s not harmful. The process is beneficial because it helps
develop the building blocks of language. It allows the child to be flexible and interactive. [in Spanish] It’s very important for me because I
have to be able to talk to [my sons] man-to-man. You probably know families who use
sign language with their very young hearing infants to communicate and foster spoken language development. Early sign language supports the development
of critical linguistic foundations that are necessary for later complex thinking skills. Alex is now two, and he signs more and more everyday. And it’s been wonderful to watch him grow and learn new signs. He… uh… I wish I would have started signing with him earlier. Hearing children do with their hands, well,
children play with their hands and look at them. But the deaf baby…
We’ve been looking at them and studying them. The movements are different.
They’re picking up the subtleties of language. They’re trying to talk, they’re trying to communicate
with their beautiful, beautiful hands and they do. The shapes become more refined,
and they turn and mold it into beautiful communication: words, ideas, and thoughts. That’s what babies need. Families and their new baby can learn
American Sign Language, now and together. Self-esteem and identity come from positive
shared experiences within the family. As the family learns together, they can also meet other parents with deaf and hard of hearing children and discover the diverse people that
make up the vibrant deaf community. I do… I remember when she was real young.
We would go to deaf coffee night and come home. And I would watch her as a three-year old,
sleeping, moving her fingers in her sleep. And it was just so beautiful. Now she’s ten. We come, and the code switching is automatic. She can be with hearing kids and she’ll use her voice. And she will be with the deaf community,
and voice off… and be fluent in both. Research shows that the family is the single most important factor in a child’s academic and social growth. The family plays a critical role in establishing foundations for learning. That means playing games, reading books daily, being involved with other families and pre-schoolers, knowing teachers, and helping with homework. Mealtime, for example, is an opportunity
to discuss daily and current events. With ASL, you will be able to introduce new
places, ideas, and vocabulary to your child. Growing up as a deaf person, I often felt my parents didn’t know me. When my daughter was born, she was also deaf. I wanted to make sure we had a relationship: that I knew her, and that she knew me. I knew the key was language. The first language she learned was sign language. And through ASL, now I feel I know my daughter. I can’t imagine what it would be like to live with someone and never speak the same language that they spoke. I saw her go into this huge world that I hadn’t known and I saw her go comfortably. And welcomed well. And after that, each step she was ready to take,
it was easier to let her go. Start today. Communicate with your child. Show the cup, say “cup”, sign “cup”. Point to things, then get a book and learn a few signs.
Go to a class. She told me why she wanted to learn sign language.
But my observation is that she loved me so much. She wanted to have a relationship with me,
like any other parent wants a relationship with their child. My mother wanted the same thing. I believe it was love. You’re right. The capacity for language is in all of us. It is an essential part of the human experience. Natural early language development through
American Sign Language is the key to your child’s future. You might not be ready, but your child is.