The image is simple, but the message speaks volumes. The girl on the screen is 11 months old and is looking at book. She points to a picture of a lion and, using her hands, signs “lion.”
Cal State Northridge, working with the California Department of Education, has released a DVD that underscores the benefits of American Sign Language for all babies. The target audience is families with newly identified Deaf and hard-of-hearing babies and toddlers for whom communicating the most basic needs—hunger, thirst, love—can at first seem impossible.
As the film, “Through Your Child’s Eyes: American Sign Language,” points out, Deaf and hard-of-hearing children communicate through their eyes. Learning American Sign Language (ASL) opens doors for children and their families to truly bond.
“When you communicate, it’s the most awesome feeling,” said one parent in the film.
“That feeling—that connection between child and parent, child and teacher, child and friends—is something that every person should experience,” said Roz Rosen, director of Cal State Northridge’s National Center on Deafness, which played an instrumental role in putting the DVD together.
“Research supports ASL as beneficial for babies who can hear fully,” Rosen said. “Language is a human right that belongs to every child. ASL is an invaluable component of bilingual language acquisition leading to positive family dynamics, effective communications, critical thinking and educational mastery.”
Rachel Friedman Narr, associate professor in CSUN’s Department of Special Education and the project’s co-principal investigator, agreed.
“This DVD will afford parents the opportunity to see the value of American Sign Language in the earliest stages of their child’s life,” she said.
The 13-minute video was developed in collaboration with a CSUN committee and producer DJ Kurs using funds from the Annenberg Foundation. It is available to the public at www.throughyourchildseyes.com. Information on obtaining or buying the DVD is also on this website or at the website for the Deaf Education and Families Project, www.csun.edu/deafproject.
The filmmakers set out to demonstrate the value of American Sign Language as a natural, beneficial visual language for all people and its benefit in English acquisition.
“The intent of this project is to elicit a positive notion of ASL with respect to the dramatic benefits for people in the Deaf community,” said Andrew Laufer of the California Department of Education. “We believe that providing this message in a compelling DVD to parents of newborn children will help to assure them that the birth of a Deaf child is not a tragedy.
“There is no doubt in my mind that the time has come to start telling the story of American Sign Language,” he said.
Nancy Grosz Sager, a Deaf and hard-of-hearing programs consultant with the California Department of Education, added, “This DVD accomplishes exactly what it set out to do. It shines a positive light on ASL for families of Deaf children, but it does so much more.
“It invites parents to meet and talk with Deaf adults and other families of children who are Deaf,” she said. “It takes the pressure off parents to make a ‘choice’ between signing and speaking. They can have both. It demonstrates what is known from research: that using sign language does not prevent a child from learning to speak, in fact, the opposite. ASL helps with the most important goal of early start, the establishment of a bond of communication between parent and child.”
Parent and educator Tomas Garcia grew up deaf in a family of hearing people. He told the filmmakers that he felt his parents did not really know him because they could not communicate. Now the father of a Deaf daughter, Garcia said he is determined not to repeat that mistake.
“I wanted to make sure we had a relationship, that I knew her and she knew me,” he said in the film. “I knew the key was language. The first language she learned was sign language. Through ASL, I now feel I know my daughter.”
Michael Spagna, dean of CSUN’s Michael D. Eisner College of Education, said all children are born wanting to be loved and ready to learn.
“Language plays such an important role in facilitating, learning and communicating love. ‘Through Your Child’s Eyes’ reinforces this principle so eloquently,” he said.
Mary Ann Cummins-Prager, associate vice president for student affairs at Northridge, remarked, “This DVD represents a marvelous collaboration of parents, practitioners, researchers, and state policy leaders to ensure that all children have the means to effective language and communication, thereby opening the doors to educational, career and social opportunities throughout their lives.”
“Students arrive at school, usually long after the critical period of acquiring language—zero to five years of age. This DVD will help more students to come to school prepared with a full language, ready to learn,” said Erika Thompson, a community resource coordinator for the California School for the Deaf Riverside who served on the project oversight committee.
American Sign Language is the fourth most widely used language in the United States. It is accepted in schools and universities nationwide as one of the language electives for credit and as a required component for some degree programs.
California State University, Northridge is nationally recognized for its dynamic programs serving Deaf and hard-of-hearing students and those who seek careers related to this population. CSUN was the first university in the country to establish Deaf Studies as a discipline and to employ professional interpreters and captionists, starting in 1964.