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Learning to Sign Together

Of the top three questions I’m asked is some sort of variation of “how can I learn sign language so that I’m staying a couple of steps ahead of my child’s communication development?”  This question is a great one to ask.  One of the best ways to promote our children learning sign language is for their communication partners – your family, including your other children –  to have enough signs to take advantage of spontaneous opportunities.  While there are great sign language classes offered in a lot of towns, it is often hard for parents to attend these classes because of busy family schedules and child care issues.  If the family happens to live in rural communities, the distance between their home and the nearest class presents a barrier.  Thankfully, the traditional sign language classes are not the only option.


Last November, Kate Hurst posted a blog highlighting Sign with Your Child video series, a great resource for families to learn sign language together.  Another popular video series is Signing Time, which many families watch on public television channels.

Distance Learning:

In Texas, we are fortunate to have Family Signs.  Family Signs is an innovative program that allows parents to participate in sign language classes in the comfort of their own homes and scheduled during times that work for their busy family schedules.  Through the use of high-speed Internet connection and videophone, parents can participate in free one-on-one instruction to improve their sign language skills.  Instruction is offered in English and Spanish.  If you are a parent or guardian of a deaf or hard of hearing child (including deafblindness) who is 21 years old or younger and you live in Texas, then you are eligible for this program.  Family Signs is coordinated by the Educational Resource Center on Deafness (ERCOD) at Texas School for the Deaf (TSD).  To learn more and to register, visit


It seems that every day a new app is identified that families can use on their smart phones and tablet computers.  Many of these are specifically designed to help them learn signs with their child.  As with the videos, these apps are often very appealing to young people whose vision is such they can see the screens.  Two such apps that the Texas Deafblind Project team is beginning to use are Sign 4 Me and ASL Dictionary.

Communication Skill Workshops:

Every summer, the Texas School for the Deaf offers a series of one-week classes for people interested in improving their sign language skills.  Parents of children who are deafblind in early childhood through 12th grade are invited to attend one of the sessions (check the Family Signs for specific dates).  The Communication Skills Workshop is an immersion program, which means everyone “turns off their voices” and sign the entire time they are in the workshop.  Participants are encouraged to stay on campus and need to be prepared for long hours and lots of fun.  As someone who has participated in sign language immersion weekends, I believe this is one of the best ways to not only increase your signing skills but learn about the deaf community.  Breaking away for an entire week to stay in Austin is a huge commitment for parents but as shared after their personal experience, it is well worth it!

I hope that you find a method that is a great fit for your family learning to sign together.  Remember the advice of other families – the best way to learn is to use sign language as part of your everyday family time.  Have fun together and let us know how we can help as you gain confidence with your signing skills. Also, please feel free to post any resources you find along the way.  As someone recently shared during a family training event, any list of technology is outdated the minute it is posted.  More than likely, as you read this post, there are newer and different sign language support options available.  We live in exciting times!

Edgenie Bellah
Family Support, Texas Deafblind Project
Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired,
1100 West 45th St., Austin, Texas 78756
512-206-9423;  fax: 512-206-9320
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