My family and I recently attended The 22nd Biennial American Society for Deaf Children Conference (June 22-June 26, 2011) in Frederick, MD. We are a new family to the deaf community and this was the first time we attended this conference. It was a wonderful experience where we learned a lot about the deaf culture through research findings and shared experiences. We left the conference feeling warm and fuzzy, albeit very exhausted by the 4th day. What really touched me was the impact it had on my 6 year old son, Ajay.
While the parents attended workshops, the children attended day camp full of fun activities. The first night, kids and parents were together so nothing major occurred. On the first day, the kids attended day camp and Ajay was excited since he did not know what to expect, but only knew there would be many fun activities to do. On our way home that day, he stated he had fun but felt left out because he did not know sign language. He felt uncomfortable to communicate with others even though there were hearing people around. Ajay could not tell who was deaf and who was hearing.
The morning of the second day of camp, he insisted he did not want to go because he could not sign and was feeling uncomfortable. I tried reassuring him that there would be plenty of nice people at the camp to help him. I also took this as an opportunity to teach him about tolerance and embracing the deaf culture by learning sign language. Furthermore, explained to him that his younger sister needed us to learn sign language so we can communicate with her. At which point he said: “Can’t we just teach her to talk so she doesn’t have to learn sign language?” All the explaining was of no avail, and he continued to whine, and whine, and whine some more.
He reluctantly followed us to the car and during our drive to the conference; I even created a story about a fictitious family who had a deaf child and who was like everybody except that she needed sign language to help her communicate with her family and friends. He listened to the story and made parallels to our own reality. Given all of the drama at the house earlier, I was pleasantly surprised the car ride was fairly calm.
We arrived at the conference camp, and I explained to the camp leader that my son was having a hard time since he did not know sign language and would be greatly appreciated if they could keep an eye on him. The camp counselors were very understanding and reassured him that he could go to any of them if he needed help. At this moment, I could see it in his face that the fears were alleviated and he happily joined his group.
At pick-up, he was his normal highly energetic self and reported he had a great day. He relayed everything that he did in camp on our ride back home. He reported that more people were talking today and he even learned a few signs! On the third day of camp, he excitedly joined the camp with many deaf and hard of hearing children and adults.
This positive exposure carried on to the next few days where he showed an immense interest in learning sign language by watching videos, practicing signs, and even searched on the Internet his favorite Signing Time videos. He stumbled across interviews with the Signing Time child actors (Alex and Leah) and he was really engaged in what they had to say! I know this is a start of a beautiful, lifelong journey of embracing the deaf culture and learning American Sign Language for our family. Kudos to all of the wonderful people who made this conference happen!