Deaf-Centered Topics

Teach your deaf child to be thirsty for knowledge

I am asked by parents of deaf children for guidance on how to help their children succeed in life. I’ve already written plenty about the need for completely accessible language at home, with American Sign Language as the foundation no matter what else is chosen to accompany it, and I’ve written about tips for teaching deaf children to be able to interact with the hearing world.

If you are a parent of a deaf child and you’ve successfully established communication at home, so that you and your child can have real conversations, then you’re ready to take this a step further.

In my 15 years of working for a Deaf-Centered non-profit services organization, one thing I have noticed is that in the community that I cherish so much, so many haven’t been taught to be thirsty for knowledge. This is not true for everyone in the community, it’s just very common. What does this mean? It means that I meet many people who learn when someone teaches them something new, but they rarely seek to learn new topics unless those topics will directly benefit their lives in obvious ways, such as learning how to find a job.

One gets a phone and needs to learn how to use it, so that gets learned. But history? Science? Philosophy? These subjects and countless others are left behind, remnants of those days struggling through school, often without effective access to communication. These subjects are a wealth of knowledge, the product of human civilization, and they are too often swept aside because my community is not usually taught how they can impact a person’s life on a daily basis.

The desire to know more about all kinds of topics is a rewarding experience. Life is amazing. The Universe is astounding. History is fascinating and the more you know, the less you’ll repeat the mistakes of those who preceded you. Poetry speaks to the soul, and analyzing why a poet might have written a certain poem and chosen certain words can be as enjoyable as putting together a jigsaw puzzle.

When you multiply 9 by any number, and you add the digits together, you get 9 again. 8 X 9 = 72. 7 + 2 = 9.  5 X 9 = 45. 4 + 5 = 9. Why does this happen? Don’t you wonder about such things?

What’s a microbiome? Oh, now I’m not sure I wanted to know that one…

Christopher Columbus did WHAT? Alright, that’s it. I’m not celebrating Columbus Day.

Why does so much depend upon a red wheelbarrow?

So it’s a bad idea to mix bleach and ammonia when cleaning? Good thing my brother stopped me.

Parents, I want you to think about everything that interests you. Have you talked with your deaf child about these subjects, in detail? Do you take the time to explain how things work? Do you demonstrate how to find more information? Do you share your excitement, hoping they will join you in your interest?

Have you ever said to your child, “I wonder how that works?” and then together look online or go to the library and find a book that answers whatever you were wondering about? This is what needs to happen.

Children learn through our examples. The drive to learn more is essential. Actually, and I’m going to flat out say this is both my professional and personal opinion, the drive to learn is even more important for a deaf person than it is for a hearing person. The reason I feel this way is that a hearing person is going to learn a lot of information by overhearing things, catching a little bit of news on the radio, hearing the TV that’s above the restaurant table, walking down a street catching bits of conversation. Hearing people are exposed to so much information every day, just going along living life. This is passive learning, they don’t need to seek out this information.

A deaf person, usually but not always, is not exposed to the same degree of peripheral education, because our world is not as accessible. This is why in my agency, we require all staff to be signing at all times. It’s a deaf-friendly environment. So someone in the lobby can catch a little of what we are signing to each other, and learn from it. Obviously, for confidential information, we’ll have those conversations behind closed doors.

Image by Dariusz Sankowski via
Image by Dariusz Sankowski via

Environments like that are such a rarity, mostly limited to deaf schools, agencies, and expos. This is why it’s so important to teach your child how to be an active learner, letting a sense of wonder be the guide. Acquaint them with encyclopedias, both the book form and online, and make sure a dictionary is present on their shelves. Teach them how to use these, until you are 100% positive that they know how.

Encourage questions. If your child doesn’t ask questions about something, then you ask this: “Is there anything you want to know about this?”

Again, demonstrate this by showing your own curiosity. Let your child learn at an early age that wondering about things is a positive habit, and seeking answers is a needed habit to develop. We must be active learners, fully engaged. We must wonder. We must seek to learn more so that we don’t become stuck. Only then can we truly succeed and grow.

When I look at all the successful deaf people I have met in life, curiosity is a common trait I see. We wonder about things, and we seek answers rather than wait for someone to come along and tell us. We become familiar with how to find information online. We buy a book or a magazine to know more. We ask others what they think. We have deep conversations about politics, poetry, movies, the meaning of life, and how to be happier and healthier.

This is, after all, a human practice. It’s one that every deaf child deserves to be taught.

By J. Parrish Lewis

J. Parrish Lewis was born and raised in Maryland. In his youth there, he and his brother had many adventures in the dogwood forests near his home. His nostalgia for these adventures has strongly influenced his characters, their relationships, and their perspective on the world they inhabit. He moved to California’s coast to earn his degree in communications and now lives with his family in the San Joaquin Valley. Lewis is profoundly deaf and uses American Sign Language to communicate. He enjoys hazelnut coffee, captioned movies, and walking his dog.

4 replies on “Teach your deaf child to be thirsty for knowledge”

How do you do that when your child uses a language you don’t know? How do you talk about politics and religion and how the universe works when your child uses ASL and you have only a preschool level of understanding of that language?

Both parents and children can improve. Children are fully capable of becoming bilingual at an early age. I definitely don’t think English development should be ignored. You can take the child’s age into consideration when discussing these topics. With my 8-year-old, I have political discussions, but I don’t use the same language that I would with an adult.

The fact that you are crossing that bridge to communicate, to validate your child’s thoughts is so, so powerful. Your child may not appreciate it now but they will know you took the time to communicate. Communication improves when both sides work together.

@melissa have you looked at cued speech takes 20 hours to learn, eight handshapes around the lips that make English accessible not to be confused with cued articulation

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