7 Reasons Why Using Sign Language Helps Families of Deaf Children

Overcome Your Hesitation to Learn

It's a good idea to learn sign language when your deaf child uses it as his or her primary means of communication. You might be hesitant at first and you're not alone because many parents feel the same way for one reason or another. The key thing to remember, however, is your child's happiness.

Parent communicating with child in sign language
Dieter Spears / Getty Images

A communication gap between hearing parents and deaf children has been known to harm both familial relations and academic progress. Yet, it's common that most hearing parents (up to 88%) will never learn American Sign Language (ASL) even though it will benefit their child.

What are some of the common reasons that hearing parents of deaf children do not learn to sign? Let's examine some obstacles that may deter or delay hearing parents from learning ASL.

1. It Makes Deafness Real

As a parent, it can be difficult to accept the news that your child cannot hear. This is understandable and it can be quite a shock. Naturally, this may cause you to be hesitant about learning to sign, particularly if you're still looking into medical treatments.

Some parents may also feel guilty that something (real or imagined) they did or didn't do resulted in their child's deafness. The reality is that there are many potential causes for deafness and most of them — particularly with children — are out of your control.

2. Looking for a Cure

Parents are often told of their child's deafness by a doctor. This gives it a medical connection. As a result, you may be seeking treatments or looking into cures, especially in the beginning.

While hearing aids and cochlear implants are available, they do not restore normal hearing. It is good to discuss all of the options with your child's doctor, of course. Yet, you can also begin to learn sign language at the same time because both will take some time to figure out.

3. A Busy Schedule Gets in the Way

If you're a working parent with few free hours, it can be difficult to fit ASL classes into your schedule. Even when classes are free and offered year-round, it takes a time commitment to attend them. This may not always be immediately available.

As an alternative, you might look into online classes or ask your child's teacher for vocabulary lessons until your time frees up. You can also ask your child to teach you what he or she has learned. Sharing the experience can benefit your relationship and put your child at ease as well.

4. Some Parents Lack Confidence

Parents may resist using sign language in public if they are not confident using it. A solution may be to ease into signing in public. Begin using it when you're around family and close friends. As you become more comfortable, you can expand it to more public situations.

When you make mistakes, try to laugh about it. After all, you and your child are learning a new language together and it's going to take some time to become fluent.

5. Learning Is a Challenge for You

Parents who had difficulty in school may be worried about not being able to learn ASL. The reality is that learning anything new can be a challenge for anyone and the older we get, the harder it is to learn new things. When you're used to being the teacher, as parents often are, your pride can also take a hit if you struggle to pick up this new skill.

Getting a new perspective on the situation may help you overcome any fears of failure. Think about how much better you'll be able to communicate with him, even with a rudimentary ASL ability. If you keep at it, your relationship can only improve because neither of you will feel the frustration that comes with the inability to communicate.

6. Fear That Your Child Won't Learn to Speak

Hearing parents may have a strong desire for their child to learn to speak or maintain and improve their speaking skills. You might worry that if you learn sign language, she won't continue to develop speech.

Hearing and speech are both about communication and it's an important part of daily life. As a parent, you can encourage both speaking and signing with your child. It doesn't have to be one or the other.

Speech training is available for people who are deaf. Yet, it's also important to understand that vocal speech is different for everyone in the deaf community. This too will take time as will her ability to learn to read lips.

7. Communicating Well Enough Without Sign Language

No matter the situation, it's easy to overestimate the effectiveness of communication. Some parents may feel that they're communicating well enough with their child. It's also easy to think that he hears or understands better than he really does.

The results of poor communication skills can keep a child from progressing at school and lead to stress within the family. This is probably not your desire or intent, but it can happen.

To be inclusive to all members of your family, it's a good idea that everyone learns to communicate with each other. Make ASL a family affair and take classes together while practicing your skills at home. Learning a second language is a good life skill to have anyway, it just so happens that this one hits very close to home.

2 Sources
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  1. American Society for Deaf Children. Why families with a deaf child need a deaf role model. February 13, 2019.

  2. American Society for Deaf Children. Sign language use for deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing babies: the evidence supports it.

By Jamie Berke
 Jamie Berke is a deafness and hard of hearing expert.