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ASL as a First Language
Adopting a deaf or hard of hearing child
March 01,2006 / Heidi Officer
Untitled Document

I heard Rebekah speak her first full sentence last week- "OK, I will go do that now." After just one year, she was already speaking in full sentences. I was so proud! Under normal circumstances, this would be a milestone for a 6-year-old child who was adopted from another country, but for Rebekah, this was extraordinary.

You see, Rebekah came to me with very limited language skills due to a bilateral hearing loss. Although she did have hearing aides in China , she had not had them long. And even though her wonderful foster mother worked very well with her, there wasn't adequate deaf education in the orphanage so her language skills had not developed.

Since I knew some America Sign Language (ASL), I started using both words and signs for everything. She became a sponge! Her first day with me, she used her first sign "fish".

Our second day we went to the bathroom every 15 minutes -- she had figured out that she could use her hands to communicate what she wanted to do, and we responded! (We drank far less water on day 3, and worked on other commands like hungry.) She chattered all the time, but those on her Chinese medical team confirmed that most of this was babble, with a few words thrown in.

The first major language goal I wanted was to break her habit of squealing and pointing to get her needs met. Substituting a word, any word was the goal. Just saying "Mama" and pointing was fine for this first goal -- I did have to ignore some raised eyebrows because I wasn't insisting that she say "please". I knew that would come, but she first needed to learn that words were more effective than baby sounds. After six weeks, she had learned to command my attention using words, and she also recognized and utilized at least 100 signs.

We decided on a bilingual and bicultural approach to her education, so she has attended The Learning Center for Deaf Children in Boston since May, 2004. This program uses both ASL and English, and provides extensive speech therapy as well as ASL instruction. I knew that she would pick up the ASL, and English would follow. Her hearing-aides help her

hear sound (especially music) and language. Her eyes and hands give her the ability to understand and express herself. This removes the frustration of not understanding because of an inability to hear or the frustration of being misunderstood because she struggled to pronounce words.

With these communication skills have come growth and maturity and the emergence of a personality that is so charming, happy, nurturing, loving, and STRONG! I have been so thrilled with our ability to communicate. It gave her the chance to be a normal 6-year-old, with the ability to express her thoughts and feelings, and me the ability to have conversations with my little girl.

She continues to learn the spoken words for everything but pronunciation and grammar are difficult. It doesn't matter, her ability to communicate is the priority. Those English skills will come later.

But last week, my little Rebekah once again surpassed all my expectations. She said, grammatically correct, with her beautiful smile, "OK, I will go do that now". I do believe, she can go and do anything she wants.

Rebekah was adopted through Children's Hope International. Heidi is working on her dossier to adopt a 2-year-old waiting child through CHI. Rebekah's new sisters also has a hearing impairment.

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Readers Comments  (15 Comments)  View All Comments
First of all, it is AmericaN Sign Language not America Sign Language. Secondly, the fact that you are not fluent really does not justify the mode in which you communicate, so I am quite interested to see whether or not you do infact effectively communicate with Deaf and Hard of Hearing people or merely touting your skills to be such. Also the term is Hearing Aids, not Hearing Aides. And finally it is Education for the Deaf not Deaf Education -- since when was Education Deaf? I mean, really!- Josh
I want to adopt deaf children, so how would I find exactly deaf child to adopt?- Stella
I am very intersting about adopting deaf child or children. I have always wanted to adopt deaf kids for long time. I am single. It touched my heart from Brazil in Bauru that I met deaf kids that have no parents or poor home. I would love to adopt one day. Please give me more information etc.. I have job full time 12 years. from TX- Christina Whitley
I am very interesting about foster and adopt deaf children. I am deaf single good mother. Foster and Adopt children need home. Welcome my home and must show love and hugs foster and adopt children. I have three kids know sign language. We can help to communicate with foster and adopt children. We go to out fun for deaf events and good times and deaf church, sports, support and good education for them and etc..Thanks Az- Azucena Hernandez
Hi, I'm a single and I'm deaf I want to adopt child. I would like to have a child to be good healthy, supportive, experiences, and etc.- Anonymous
Hi.. I have a hearing daughter, age 5 1/2 yrs old and I would love to have adopt a deaf little girl. My fiance and I are deaf and always use sign language and even my daughter knows signs too. We would like to have her to be good healthy and lots of support and age between 3-4.. Thanks Julie- Julie
I am the mom of 5 kids, 3 birth boys, 2 adopted daughters from Ukraine (all 5 hearing). I am an ASL interpreter and we are embarking on our adoption of our 6 year old son, deaf , from China...virtually has no language, and this article confirmed what i know....with language , these kids thrive! Thanks for sharing your experience!- kim
Hi deaf adoption I am scott am single I looking for deaf adoption children where in live I want to know that I love deaf adoption children I still single I love children deaf or dwarf deaf let me know anytime thank scott- scott
Wonderful story. I've been wanting to adopt for around 4 years now, and recently developed an interest in adopting a child whose deaf. Thank you for sharing your experience.- Dee
i would like to adopt deaf child becuz of I am deaf mother i have one son hearing he know sign languague. i want to show love and care of deaf child likely i do - maria
I would love to adopt deaf child .. I am deaf and mother of three hearing children - Wende
You can search for deaf children on our photolisting: http://www.rainbowkids.com/wc, or visit the website DeafAdoption.org a great resource!- Martha O
this is wonerful story that I heard about adopt deaf and I am foster mother in wva and i really want to adopt deaf child this is my dream I am also hard of hearing and know sign. thank you- patricia
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