By Louise Sattler
Let’s all take a quiz! Can you name the top four languages used in the United States in 2013? Well let’s pick the obvious choices.. English and Spanish as #1 and #2. According to national census reports #3 is Chinese. If you guessed that #4 is American Sign Language (ASL) then you would be correct!
Were you surprised to find out that ASL was #4? Many are! But, the truth is that scores of people who comprise the deaf community use ASL as their primary mode for communication. In addition, people who have limited or no ability to communicate, such as after a stroke, use of a trach or have developmental disorders such as Autism, now are using sign language.
Not to mention that thousands of parents have hopped on the baby sign language “train”. Why? Well, experts have found that sign language, when used with hearing children, helps to foster earlier communication and reduce negative behaviors that are often exemplified during the “terrible twos” and “trying threes”.
Which brings me to why I taught my children to sign when they were infants. For years I had worked with deaf children and their families. I have deaf friends and love that sign language has so many cultural roots in our country. I also knew that learning a language as an infant was far easier than trying as an adult, so I introduced both Sign and Spanish in conjunction with English in our home. My first-born was able to sign easily as an infant. And, this translated in to advanced speech and language skills as a toddler. Our son, who was born prematurely, did not vocalize until he reached 18 months of age. However, he signed more than 50 words before his first “spoken word”, therefore able to communicate very well and within chronological and developmental expectations.
Throughout the years I witnessed my children utilize sign to communicate with deaf peers and adults. I have seen their ability to help those with special needs and also to teach their friends to do the same. My daughter, Natasha Sattler, has been cast in roles as an actor on television and in the movies, simply because she could sign!
Many may ask how to start to learn sign and teach your children. Thankfully, there are many accessible and affordable ways available. I caution, however, that parents do their due diligence and teach REAL sign language to their children. Some have made “baby sign” tools available that are NOT real sign language. This would be as if someone was teaching Spanish with incorrect vocabulary and grammar!
I would welcome to hear from any of the readers of this blog to see if your family uses sign language and have you experienced any benefits?
Louise Sattler is a Nationally Certified School Psychologist with specializations in linguistics and multi-cultural education. She has been teaching American Sign Language for more than 20 years to families with hearing and non-hearing children, college students, staff at public and private school systems and businesses. Louise resides in Los Angeles, California with her husband, Marc. She can be found at SigningFamilies.com.