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Sign Language as a First Language (ASL)

Sign languages are complete visual languages with diverse vocabulary, construction, and grammar. They utilize hand shapes and movements, facial expressions, and body language. There are around 300 sign languages in the world. Like spoken languages, sign languages are natural and evolving, which means that they’re developed over the years by the

people who use them. Sign language is different than using a sign system such as Sign supported English or Manually Coded English which uses signs alongside spoken English following spoken English grammar and rules. The most commonly used sign language is the United States is American Sign Language (ASL).

Why do families learn sign language?

There are lots of reasons why families decide to learn sign language. Some families choose to learn sign language because they want to give their children the opportunity to communicate in as many ways as possible. For example, lots of families of children who use cochlear implants learn sign language so that their child can choose whether they want to use speech or sign language in the future. Some families learn sign language so they can continue to communicate with their deaf or hard-of-hearing child when they are not wearing their hearing devices (such as during water activities).

In fact, even families who don’t have a deaf or hard-of-hearing child might still decide to learn sign language with their hearing children, to support language development. Hand-eye coordination develops earlier than speech skills meaning babies exposed to full ASL often use their first sign around 10 months as compared to babies exposed to spoken language who have their first spoken word at 12-13 months.

Is sign language right for my child?

Many children are fitted with hearing technology as they are identified as deaf or hard of hearing, giving them the opportunity to develop spoken language. Sign language can still be a good choice as it can often help with understanding spoken language. It is possible that deaf children might choose to stop signing as their spoken language develops. However, for many deaf children, sign language will continue to be their preferred language or will still play an important role in their lives.

Learning sign language allows deaf children to communicate with other children who sign and enriches their experience and understanding of Deaf culture.

Will using sign language affect my child’s speech?

Some people worry that using sign language will mean their child doesn’t learn to speak or learns to speak more slowly. In fact, learning sign language can help you to communicate with your child. As long as your child is exposed to good spoken language as well as sign language, there’s no evidence that learning to sign will delay or stop them from developing speech.