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The Visual Approach

Infant Hearing Program

ihp8.jpgThis type of approach to language development means that the child with hearing impairment develops sign language as his or her first language. Hand gestures, facial expressions and body language all play an important part of sign language.

American Sign Language (ASL) is the main type of sign language used in North America and Langue des Signes Quebecoise (LSQ) is used in the Ontario and Quebec francophone community.

Generally, hearing aids are not used when sign language is chosen by the family, although there are some cases where the child will use hearing aids or other types of hearing devices yet communicate by signing.

American Sign Language

American Sign Language (ASL) is a manual language with its own vocabulary, grammar and social rules of use. The primary goal of ASL is to be the deaf child’s main language, and allow him/her to communicate before learning to speak, or even if the child never learns to speak. ASL is considered the language of the Deaf community, and it prepares the child to be part of this community.

Sign language is a visual language. Hand shapes, how the palm of the hand faces, and the location of the hands are all important parts of sign language. In addition to hand signs, facial expressions and body movements play an important role in helping to communicate the information. It is possible to sign without using facial or body expressions, but doing so may give a mixed message and confuse the deaf listeners. It is also important to use finger spelling if there is no sign for a word, rather than make up a sign that others may not understand.

Learning sign language takes time, and involves the whole family. It is not just the baby that has the hearing impairment who must learn to sign, but all members of the family so that the baby can communicate with them. If nobody in the baby’s family is deaf, ASL training and education about deaf culture is necessary so that the family will be able to communicate fully with the baby. To pick up enough signs for basic communication and to sign them comfortably can take one to two years. Everyone learns to sign at their own speed, so some family members may pick it up more quickly than others. It is important not to get discouraged, as learning to communicate with a deaf child is very rewarding, and worth the effort it may take.

Like any verbal language, ASL grows and changes over time. Some signs may be particular to certain regions, much like an accent in spoken language.

Please visit the following websites for more information on sign language and Deaf culture.