This past week, Cape Town newspapers were filled with images and stories children starting Gr.R and 1 for the first time. Leaving mom at the gate, tears and excitement, anxiety and fear…
One article however, completely ignored the issue at the heart of it all. A striking image of a young child with sky-blue eyes, and then to quote the article: “Once they learn to communicate, they apparently begin to feel isolated from their families, who often have little knowledge of sign language, so this is a place for them where they can express themselves” This a report on the first day of school for children a school for Deaf children.
This quote, really punched me in the gut! The sad reality for many families raising Deaf children. A child is provided with an opportunity to attend a school where she will be educated, learn a language and develop. As she flourishes in her language and communication skills, she becomes isolated from her family…
This isolation is not deliberate though. The crucial link, the empowerment of the parents/caregivers raising Deaf children is missing. Very little, to no guidance and skills development is offered to parents of Deaf children. Their families therefore become inaccessible because they do not speak their child’s language…
How can this child be expected to thrive in all areas (emotionally, socially, physically and cognitively) if her family cannot support and encourage her in her first language, South African Sign Language, a language that our pathetic government is yet to recognise as an official language in South Africa!?
How powerful and encouraging it would have been to read that this government school offers support services and sign language training to families that assist with the prevention of the child growing up in isolation from her family?
I don’t have any experience with South African Sign Language, but I am a mother and I can’t begin to imagine NOT being able to communicate with my child in a language that he understands. I cannot imagine sending my child to a special needs school WITHOUT being offered any support and guidance as to how to communicate and assist in the development of my child. A school after all, is an extension of my home and family.
A child’s language should not isolate, it should open up a child’s world to wonder! How can we encourage parents and families of Deaf children to learn SASL, are there resources and do the families have access to the information and opportunity to learn their child’s language through the school that they attend? How much support do those working with Deaf children offer the families of the children whom they work with?
We should always remember that behind every child is a parent, a caregiver, a family. The heart and foundation of any child…people who want to be involved and who should be given the opportunity to develop and grow with their Deaf child…They after all also have a special need; a need to learn the language of their child; South African Sign Language.
I CANNOT STRESS ENOUGH HOW IMPORTANT IT IS TO EMPOWER, SUPPORT and GUIDE parents through their child’s development needs. A child with hearing loss deserves to receive language and communication support outside their school environment. This support SHOULD be from THEIR FAMILIES and therefore their families should be seen as the KEYHOLDERS to their CHILD’s SUCCESS and DEVELOPMENT!
Let’s not educate children in isolation of their families, let’s educate them holistically by empowering their parents and families!