Managing communication between hearing kids and Deaf parents takes thought and follow-through. When I first married Ken, I imagined the kids would just naturally sign. They did! They all began signing before they could speak. But as they got older, we saw that they would default to spoken English if we didn't keep encouraging them and reminding them to sign.
When we slacked off in this area out of laziness, we paid for it! Here are some tips and tricks we have learned that have helped us and helped our kids to automatically sign when they are around their dad or any other Deaf friends:
Ken (or the Deaf spouse)
- Keep voice off and just sign. This takes work and thought because it's natural to "code switch" and both talk and sign when communicating with any hearing person, but having a voice-off approach allows the kids to see and understand ASL without using English as a crutch.
- Don't allow the child communicate just by talking. Pretend you don't understand, even if you do, unless, of course, it's some emergency.
Sarah (or the hearing spouse)
- If Ken is in the room or within sight, we all sign. We have taught our kids from early on that this one way to show respect to Dad. As the hearing spouse, the responsibility is on me to model this to the kids. When Ken walks in the room, I start signing, even if he's not paying attention. (We also always leave closed captions on. Again, it's a sign of respect and value.)
- If the kids talk to me without signing in front of Ken, I act like I don't hear them. This is tough, because I have to fight naturally responding, but it makes all the difference. If they come up and start talking to me, I will simply look at them and sign (without voice), "What? I don't understand."
**5 years later, I'll edit my above comment to say that instead of telling the kids "Sign!" we found it much more effective to just sign, "What did you say?" In ASL, that's just pointing at my chin with the "question" grammar on my face.**
- Give them alone time with Dad! Since I homeschool them, they are with me, talking all day. Right now, we don't sign during the day when Dad is at work. That will change when the boys come home, but that's how it is for now. When I leave them alone with Ken, it gives them time to connect with him without defaulting to speech. I've been amazed at how their ASL increases when I go on a 3-day or more workshop and they are home with Ken for that long stretch. It convicts me to be more diligent at "making" them sign when they forget.
One of my favorite things is when they come to me, signing without voice, forgetting that I can hear them. I love that!! This usually happens after they've been alone with their dad for an extended period of time.
Both of us:
- Expect them to sign! Don't allow anything less. It may seem difficult in that moment, but it's SO worth it in the long run.
- Have the kids spend time around other Deaf people. Their time with other people in the Deaf community is invaluable!
The Brownies love signing. They love their dad and value being able to communicate freely and easily with him. Ken and I are certainly not perfect parents and this is one area we've had to work at with a purpose. The work pays off, I promise!
Often, you'll see the members of the Deaf community, whether it's teachers or advocates, talk about the 90% rule. 90% of deaf children have hearing parents. 90% of deaf parents have hearing children. 90% of the hearing parents don't learn to sign in order to communicate with their children. When I state this rule in my classes or lectures, I get gasps of disbelief from the audience. People wonder (not understanding the complexity of the issue) how in the world parents could be so heartless. But...what isn't reported is how many Deaf parents fail to sign with their hearing kids, making communication difficult at best. Isn't that just as "heartless"? It's certainly a double-standard.
There is so much more to this issue I can't possibly articulate it here. More than anything, I hope this is encouraging and maybe even convicting to parents, both Deaf and hearing, to make communication a top priority if you have a bilingual household.
Read Part 1