The Many Faces of the Users of Sign Language

By John Miller
Sunday, November 25, 2012

About a year and a half ago, I came across a young man having problems in one of my schools.  He was about five years old and like any other five year old boy, he was a bit stubborn.  But, unfortunately, he was also known to be a bit of a “flight risk” from the classroom.  We will call him Alex.

Alex isn’t deaf.  I don’t even think he is hard of hearing.  Alex is a very bright young man….a bright young man with Downs Syndrome.  Because of the Down’s, Alex has a lot of trouble with his expressive communication skills.  He can hear everything anyone is saying to him, and he really enjoys interacting with others he comes across.  He is a very affectionate boy.  But up until a year and a half ago, Alex had no real way to communicate back to others what he wanted to say. He made noises here and there but other than gestures, his full thoughts were not being conveyed well and his frustration with communication was evident.

Thankfully Alex’s teacher had previously worked as a speech therapist in a Deaf and Hard of Hearing classroom and she suggested Alex be placed in a DH/H classroom setting where he would be submersed in sign language and he would have continual access to those who used it. Alex picked up on the concept of signing almost immediately.  His signs, much like baby signs are often approximations of the true ASL sign, but they are definitely understandable.  His command of language shows remarkable purpose and thought.

Today it is AMAZING to see Alex sign with his teachers, interpreters and his peers.  He has a schedule and knows exactly how to use it and the purpose behind it, even making suggestions of ways to add to his schedule so that it is more complex and inclusive to his needs.  He is reading everyday words that are a part of his schedule.  His mother and the staff that work with him are so happy with Alex’s progress.  “He has become a MUCH happier boy now that he can effectively communicate his wants and needs.”  Adds one member of his educational team.  His mother’s comment, “Our home life is night and day different and the frustrations, although still there at times, are so much less than what they were before Alex had a voice through sign language.” This comment brought a tear to my eye and a lump in my throat.

These are the people we created Signing Savvy for, the people who need a voice and those who work with them. We know there are others out there like Alex who may not be Deaf or Hard of Hearing but are still walking the earth “without a voice”.  If you know anyone who fits into this category, please don’t hesitate to suggest the introduction of sign language to them.  You may dramatically change their life forever!

Alex’s face is distinctly different than your typical Deaf or Hard of Hearing child, yet one thing is very much the same…..the smile when he is communicating.

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