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Communication is one of the most important things in life. We use communication to express our needs, our wants, our feelings and to develop meaningful relationships. Imagine a world with no communication where you can’t express your thoughts, your feelings, and your needs. As an adult in a foreign country with no interpreter and no language, a person will usually resort to any type of gesture or the use of pictures and visuals to try and convey meaning. For a child or an infant who does not learn communication skills auditorily, the strategy for language learning is much more intense. A child needs to be given every opportunity to learn how to communicate.
ASL AND SPEECH
The issue of speech versus ASL is a long standing debate. Should we use sign language or teach speech? The debate is pointless. Let’s use every means at our disposal. We cannot afford to limit our children by limiting their choices. There is no research that supports the misconception that one language input stops or hinders the learning of a second language. Children learn when learning is meaningful. Let’s provide them with every means possible to become good communicators and to achieve their goals.
It is important to develop communication as quickly as possible to reduce the frustration felt when needs are not met. One of the ways to give meaning to communication is to provide clear visuals for everything. If a word is only mouthed to a child without any visual connection, then meaning is unclear or absent. It produces the same frustration you would experience if someone were speaking to you in a foreign language. However, if every time the word “ball” is spoken, it is signed and a ball is shown, then a connection begins forming. The child can then make the connection between the object, the sign and the spoken word. Speech alone without signs provides a very small, ambiguous signal that is easy to miss or misunderstand. It is difficult to get and hold a young child’s attention when that is all they are given. Adding the sign gives that signal significance and clear meaning. The added benefit is that the child can also produce that sign long before he will produce speech, empowering him to get his needs met and reducing frustration for both child and parent. Speech is not hindered by sign language, it is enabled. When the child has a language base, and the concepts behind the words, lip reading and speaking become meaningful.