Why Don't Some Parents of Deaf Kids Use Sign Language?

Reasons Why Some Parents Won't Learn or Use Sign Language

Sometimes, hearing parents do not learn sign language to communicate with their deaf children, even when sign language is the child's primary means of communication. Or, if they do learn it, their mastering of it is minimal. These parents may have their reasons for not learning sign language or becoming fluent in it. However, the resulting communication gap has been known to harm both familial relations and academic progress of deaf children.

This scenario was even the theme of an out-of-print children's book, Dina, the Deaf Dinosaur. In Dina, forest animals discover a crying deaf dinosaur. She ran away from home because her parents did not want her to learn sign language.

Hearing Parents Resist Communicating in Sign Language Even When Education Freely Available

A deaf education teacher notes that only one out of 17 families of students in her class use sign language. This is despite having a teacher and free year-round classes to teach the families sign language, and sending home sign dictionaries and vocabulary lessons. What are some of the common reasons that hearing parents of deaf children do not learn sign language? These are the answers relayed by several deaf educators.

1. Learning Sign Language Makes Deafness Real to the Parent

A parent may resist learning sign language because they are avoiding accepting that their child is deaf.

A parent may feel guilt that something (real or imagined) that they did or didn't do resulted in their child's deafness. By learning sign language, they have accepted their child is deaf.

2. Parents Are Still Looking for a Cure for Deafness Rather than Moving Forward

An educational interpreter says parents are often told of their child's deafness by a doctor and are locking into a medical model.

They are looking for treatments to fix the problem or cures that will make it go away. They are used to living in a hearing community rather than a deaf community and continue to pursue solutions other than learning sign language.

3. Parents Don't See Learning Sign Language as a High Priority

Working parents with few free hours may not realize the importance of spending them learning ASL. Even when classes are free and offered year-round, it takes commitment to go to them.

4. Parents Are Embarrassed to Sign in Public

Parents may resist using sign language in public as they are not confident in it or they do not want to stand out from other people. They don't want to draw attention to the fact that a member of the family is deaf.

5. Parents Worry They Won't Be Able to Learn to Sign   

Parents who had difficulty in other school subjects may be worried they will fail at learning ASL. They are used to being the ones to teach their children new skills rather than learning alongside them. Without being in a superior position, they may be reluctant to show this weakness to their child.

But they can improve their communication with their child even with rudimentary ASL ability.

6. Fear Their Child Won't Learn to Speak If They Use Sign Language   

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

7. Parents Think They Are Communicating Well Enough Without Sign Language

Parents may think they are communicated well enough with their child, or that their child has more hearing and understanding than they do in reality. One educator noted that children in her class couldn't answer a yes or no question or give the name of their parents or siblings, yet the parents thought they were communicating just fine.

The results of poor communication skills can keep a child from progressing well at school and lead to stress and estrangement within the family.

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