Sign Language, Parents, and Cultural Perceptions!

As teachers of children with special needs, we try our best to be there for our students. Parents, on the other hand, go through an entirely different process. Teachers cannot presume to understand all that they have to do. With the children’s well-being in mind, we teachers try to do our best to guide them and facilitate a smooth integration into society. We aspire to give them knowledge, values, skills, and possible opportunities to grow into a proficient and independent individual. 

In the process of integrating them into society, we face some issues with parents and their viewpoints. For parents, the acceptance stage sometimes extends longer. They harbour feelings of hope that their child will be perceived as a hearing person by their families, friends, or society.

Adults find it difficult to put aside societal expectations of so-called “normal” behaviour, and allow the child to be himself, accepting him for who he is, in entirety.

Special education teachers understand that this is a very sensitive issue. In my experience, I’ve noticed that acceptance eventually happens. Parents recognise that the child is an individual who happens to be deaf and has great potential within. But getting there takes time. While parents resist accepting their child’s ingenuity and enthusiasm, the child is raring to go! Adults find it difficult to put aside societal expectations of so-called “normal” behaviour, and allow the child to be himself, accepting him for who he is, in entirety.

As an offshoot of this refusal to accept their child’s needs, parents do not agree to certain aspects of the educational programs. For instance, our parents do not want their children to learn Sign Language. They are incredibly anxious about the societal reaction to children signing, nor do they recognise the importance of sign language as a means of communication. They prefer to keep the child in the dark rather than change the status quo. The child misses out on the opportunity to express himself, be it socially or in his academic classes.

The parents feel that if their children sign, they draw attention to their deafness. They aren’t ready to acknowledge that their child needs sign language to communicate and learn academic concepts. They place more value on societal acceptance than on what the child needs.  The crucial initial years are lost, in the failed attempts at communicating, with their child.

Sign Language is the mother tongue of the deaf; it is where they are actually at home. Deaf children do adapt, adopt, and use their sign language when they are together. In many schools, the official Sign Language of that particular region or country is still not formally taught sadly, and for a reason that is counterproductive to their overall progress.

I think it’s tragic that the parents keep the kids away from Sign Language. Even if, after much persuasion, they accept it, they still refuse to learn to sign for their children’s sake. We can never claim to understand the parents’ point of view, but we only hope they realise that Sign Language is the key to a much happier and brighter future for their child.

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