The Benefits of Learning American Sign Language for All Kids
American Sign Language is something that I’ve always wanted to learn. Starting from a very young age, I was mesmerized by watching those who could speak and understand ASL," a visually perceived language based on a naturally evolved system of articulated hand gestures and their placement relative to the body, along with non-manual markers such as facial expressions, head movements, shoulder raises, mouth morphemes, and movements of the body." I used to believe that the reason was because I was intrigued by the ability to have whole conversations without ever having to orally speak a single syllable. Now, I think it’s possible that my intuition was responsible for probing me, since one day I would have a son born with complications affecting his speech. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the night I was putting him to bed and I couldn’t understand him repetitively asking for more water to be poured into his cup. After a few minutes of me staring at him blankly and failing to interpret his request, he calmly rolled his small hands together in a fist and gently started tapping them together. I’m not sure what it was that instantly made a lightbulb appear over my head with a blinking message saying, ”Suzie, he’s using sign language!” but I got the point and quickly googled the sign for “more”. Sure enough, my three-year old had in fact been implementing another form of communication that allowed us to better translate the other’s thoughts. It turns out that a therapist from school had been teaching my son ASL and now amazingly, he was teaching ME!
After that evening, I was determined to become educated within sign, first by studying technique through YouTube videos and books found in our children’s department and now finally committing to a formal course taught by a certified instructor. With every new word and phrase obtained, I begin to understand a deeper platform of benefits that surround American Sign Language that moves beyond my own son’s disability.
Intertwining a non-verbal language with verbal communication shows lengthy evidence of being advantageous for all kids, including hearing, non-hearing and verbally challenged children of all ages. Barriers of communication can elevate anxiety, cause withdrawal and even foster depression but by knocking these walls down, we increase the ability to connect with others on a broader spectrum. Research shows that incorporating sign language into a child’s everyday palette of dialogue not only can accelerate their linguistic skills but can also decrease issues of frustration when a child is upset and finds it difficult to orally communicate their feelings. Other advantages include the increase of child/parent bonding and the capability to master spoken language at an earlier age than those who are solely dependent on verbalization. Babies who are taught early signing can process information faster as well as be able to indicate when something is wrong such as hunger or injury. That’s pretty amazing!
Here in the children’s department, staff is recognizing this important skill and are actively applying beginning ASL into many of our story times. If you‘ve attended one of these fun reading programs, you may have heard the “Hello” or “Goodbye” song, which we demonstrate by both singing and signing the lyrics. Kids and parents get a fun introduction to ASL while also opening up the doors to a new way of talking to one another!
Here are a few of my favorite signs that we can use in our library!
The sign for "Book" is holding your hand together and then opening them flat keeping the outside of your palms touching.
The sign for "Again" is holding one palm flat facing and then arching your other hands in the middle of the palm, then pull away as if you're making a bridge. This is a very useful sign for when your child would like to have the same story read to him/her again.
The sign for "Read" is to place one hand in front of you with the palm facing in. Take the other hand and form a "V" with your 2nd and 3rd finger. Start from the top and wiggle your fingers down the palm as if your eyes are reading down a page.