Today I received an excellent question on my SIGNING FAMILIES FACEBOOK page. It was a very caring grandmother requesting information about First Signs for her young four year old granddaughter who is having sensory and learning challenges.. Where should they start? How can the school support their efforts and vice versa?
I have added a slideshow at the end of this blog to help answer this question.
Here are my basic rules for teaching sign to children whether they are deaf / hard of hearing or have developmental challenges. (These rules also can apply to teaching children “just because”.. which makes me all happy inside to think that so many are learning ASL for fun and to make communication bridges.)
1- Introduce signs that are in the child’s enviroment. Concrete signs. Daily activities or objects. Nothing that is abstract or not pertinent.
2- I always suggest learning a few signs such as MORE, WANT and FINISHED at the onset of ASL learning, too. These not only help with transitions but also can help with promoting positive behaviors.
3- Signs like I LOVE YOU and GOOD JOB will help the older child who is learning sign language feel comfortable.
4- Don’t use ASL in isolation. Have everyone in the child’s immediate environment learn ASL so that the child is an equal member of the family. Nothing is worse than a holiday celebration, an incidental conversation or a trip to the store where people are chatting all around you but you understand virtually nothing or very little. This is the scenario that has been retold to me time and time again by my deaf friends.
5- Learn only FIVE to TEN signs at a time. Your child will be able to tackle more, but try to learn and introduce the new signs in to your basic everyday conversation. Anymore than that and you may feel overwhelmed.
6. Involve your child in to the local deaf community. And, yourselves! There is a wonderful deaf community waiting to embrace you and share the rich culture that has been part of the fabric of Deaf Life here in the United States.