My earliest recollection of communication in my home was the movement of hands in the air. I watched my mom and dad sit across the table from each other and sign. They coupled the fluid movements of their hands with meaningful facial expressions and body movements. From the back seat of the car, I would watch Dad signing one-handed to Mom. This was my life as a CODA, or a child of deaf adults.
My parents, my brother, and I, and the Deaf community we were a part of had a very different experience communicating through American Sign Language. If you’re interested in learning ASL or having your student take an ASL course, I’d like to share with you what this beautiful language means to me from a CODA perspective. I hope that it might inspire you to encourage your child to take the first steps to begin learning ASL.
Growing Up with Deaf Parents
Growing up as a child of Deaf adults may seem very different from growing up in a hearing home. But in reality, the differences are small, and they don’t make it easier or harder. My brother and I grew up in a loving, caring family. We never felt like we missed out on anything. We grew up learning ASL naturally—saw ASL modeled, and we mimicked what we saw. My brother Dean and I both agree that our home life wasn’t difficult; it was just a little different from a hearing home. We both feel that growing up in a Deaf home has given us a gift. Our gift was a visual language in ASL, a beautiful culture, and a community of caring friends.
How Growing Up as a Child of Deaf Adults Is Different
When I think about the differences of living in a Deaf home, I focus on communication and access to information. In my home, we shared information visually. My mom and dad read the news in the newspaper, because although we had a television set, there were no captions. My parents could gather some information from the pictures, but little from the talking head at the news desk. They both learned speech reading and lip reading skills at the school for the deaf, but it didn’t help much. Often the newscaster would voice over pictures or footage, leaving my parents with no support.
Radio, as a source for information, was of course not valuable to my parents. However, my father would often turn the volume of his truck radio up when driving late at night. He didn’t do it to hear it. He did it because he could feel the vibrations, and that helped keep him awake. The next day, I would get in the truck, and when the engine turned on, the radio would be blaring.
Dad loved watching sports on television, particularly baseball and football. Because of his knowledge of football and speech reading skills, he usually understood what the coach was shouting to the referee. Often, he’d tell me I wouldn’t want to know what was being said.
As children, we learned visual and tactile means to get our parents’ attention. At the table, we would pound the table twice to attract their attention. Depending on the circumstances, we would wave, tap them on the shoulder, or blink the room light, too.
Modern Improvements for Deaf Families
Today, Deaf people have better access to information through mandatory captioning of all broadcast programming, texting, and video phones. In addition to needing visual information, my parents also needed visual security measures in our home. All alerting devices in our home needed to flash or have a screen. My parents had a flashing alarm clock, a strobe light for the fire alarm, a blinking light for the telephone so they could answer their TTY (telephone device for the Deaf), and they had their phone alerts set to flash for the video phone.
The Challenges for Deaf Families
While growing up as a child of Deaf adults wasn’t hard, it still presented some challenges for our family, some of them small, and others that could have been quite serious.
Part of the challenge is that Deaf people do not perceive the intensity of sounds or know how sounds travel. It wasn’t unusual for Mom to vacuum the floors at 5:00 a.m., or for the television volume to be extremely loud, or for dad to talk very loudly in his “deaf voice” in a public setting.
For example, one time my parents were visiting us at Bob Jones University, and we went to the large university dining room for lunch. Our family went through the cafeteria style line and sat at a table not realizing Dad was still in line. My dad walked out into the dining area and couldn’t see us, so he stood there and hollered “Gloria” in his distinct deaf voice. The room became very quiet. I shrugged my shoulders and went to direct Dad to our table. It is all a part of living with deaf parents—a little different.
Serious Challenges for Deaf Families
More seriously, several years ago, my mother was in the hospital with chest pains. It ended up not being major heart problems, but as a precaution, the doctor prescribed nitroglycerin. Instead of having an ASL interpreter convey the instructions, the nurse gave the information verbally. She relied on my mother’s ability to read her lips. I was hundreds of miles away when my mom contacted me, telling me she had taken four nitroglycerin tablets and still had chest pain. I knew she had taken too many pills and sent her to the emergency room, where she was properly assessed. It was disconcerting to me that a nurse thought she could give critical information to a deaf person orally without a qualified Sign Language interpreter to ensure she could convey the right dosage.
The Heart Language of Deaf People
When I was growing up, our town had a thriving Deaf community that sponsored many events for Deaf people. Our family went to many Deaf gatherings, such as picnics and tournaments. When Deaf people were together, they always shared news with other Deaf people, and they arrived early and stayed late! They were in their environment where they could communicate and share information with ease and were loath to leave! Whenever I got to attend these events, I saw Deaf people, people like my parents, expressing thoughts and ideas, sharing jokes and stories, all in their beautiful, vibrant language.
Even with all the advancement in technology, ASL is still the heart language of people in the Deaf community. When important information needs to be conveyed accurately to a Deaf person, ASL is the best way to accomplish that!
My parents and their friends (along with approximately one million other Deaf Americans) communicate in their heart language, American Sign Language. They can read and write English with varying degrees of skill, and some Deaf people can speech read well and even speak. However, English is still their second language.
Learn American Sign Language
I am excited to support BJU Press in offering a beginning level American Sign Language course. I can’t wait to introduce my students to the beauty of the language I grew up using.
This course meets the standards for foreign language credit requirements for high schoolers. My focus in teaching this course is to help students communicate in the language, learn the culture of the Deaf community, and engage with Deaf people. My students will watch native signers share stories and insights about their language and culture. And if any of my students want to further their sign skills, I’ll share career and service opportunities. There are many opportunities for people who have developing skill in ASL, like becoming interpreters or teachers of Deaf students. I’ll also be presenting the need for skilled signers to take the gospel to one of the most unreached people groups in the world.
How to Learn American Sign Language with BJU Press
My course will be an experience and practice focused course. I’ve prepared student handouts for review and to direct practice, but this course does not use a traditional textbook. My students will need to watch each video lesson online for instruction. Check out a preview of the new American Sign Language course from BJU Press!
The First Language of a Child of Deaf Adults
As a child of Deaf adults, ASL was my first language, and I was immersed in the Deaf culture. I have loved, studied, and taught this language and culture throughout my life. My experiences growing up with Deaf parents may be different from what other CODAs experience. However, I trust my understanding of the Deaf people in my world will provide learners with insights into the Deaf world and give them an appreciation of Deaf people, their language, and their culture.
As a child I was involved in the lives of Deaf people. That love and passion for Deaf people has stayed with me into my adult life. While I grew up using sign language, I also took formal training to solidify my understanding and receive national certification as a sign language interpreter. The BJU Press ASL course is in many ways a culmination of a lifelong journey for me. That journey began when my Deaf parents leaned over my crib and signed, “Mommy, Daddy.”
• • • • •As a child of Deaf parents, Gloria Eoute learned American Sign Language (ASL) as her first language. Growing up with Deaf parents and surrounded by Deaf aunts, uncles, and friends, she was immersed in Deaf culture. As an adult she formalized her training in American Sign Language and became a nationally certified ASL interpreter. Throughout her life she has had direct involvement in the Deaf world as nurse for a Christian camp for Deaf young people, ASL interpreter for college classes, church ministries, and medical settings. With her life experiences and having taught ASL courses in both the community and college setting, she has developed an approach to teaching American Sign Language that allows the student to learn sign language as a modern language in the context of proper ASL grammar, syntax, and culture. Gloria’s desire is that her students will develop an appreciation for this beautiful language and learn to love and interact with Deaf people.
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