By Laurene Simms, Gallaudet University
In November 2017, I posted a YouTube video sharing some inspiring miracles that led me to
write this article. I should start by letting you know that American Sign Language (ASL) is not my native
language. Shocking, isn’t it. As a mother of three, with two who are deaf, I’m lucky to have raised my
children using ASL.
Growing up oral had me on a journey of being a “failure”. I was one of many deaf children who
were labeled “oral failures” because society believed we couldn’t talk. I’ve had my hands and mouth
slapped, a classic experience that many others share as well. Ironically enough, even after being
labeled a failure, I still managed to get a Bachelor’s in Elementary Education from the University of
Nebraska, a Master’s in Deaf Education from Western Maryland College, and a Doctorate in
Language, Reading, and Culture, with a minor in Teaching and Teacher Education, from the University
of Arizona – that’s some education background for someone who society dubbed as a failure.
Even with that journey, ASL managed to be a part of me. When I was five or six years old, my
mother and I could communicate with each other, although the signs were particular to us only. I
remember one day Mom and I went to a store to browse, and I noticed a woman and a little girl both
signing. Naturally, I was curious. I grabbed her attention, “Mom, look! They’re signing!” Fortunately,
Mom took my hand and together, we walked to meet them. As our mothers talked, that girl and I began
a lifelong friendship.
The mother we met at the store informed Mom about a deaf school that was near my home,
maybe five miles away, the Indiana School for the Deaf (ISD). Eventually, Mom and I visited ISD and I
remember being blown away. I was so mesmerized by how many students were signing. Even though I
didn’t understand a word, I remember being in complete awe. Quickly, I immersed myself and picked
up sign language. I remember just how amazing it was. ASL was a miracle then.
Years later, when I was in high school, I was part of the Big Brother/Big Sister project. I was
assigned to a little boy who was maybe four years old. As I signed with him, I noticed he wouldn’t look
at me and instead, kept looking elsewhere. I was determined and kept signing; I tried my best and
continued signing with him. Fast forward to when I was teaching after graduating from college tapped
me on the shoulder. I didn’t recognize him at first, he was just a very tall guy. Then he signed, “I
remember you! You signed to me. I remember! Even though I didn’t look at you, I could still see your
signs.” I was stunned. ASL was a miracle then.
Later, I became a mother and when I found out my baby was deaf, I wasn’t sure what to do.
How should I communicate? Do I sign to the baby? I asked the father of my baby what we should do
and he said, “Go ahead and sign!” He was a deaf person from a multigenerational deaf family. It was
so different from how I had been raised, with my hands and mouth being slapped – using the oral
approach. So, with that experience, I decided to raise my children differently and signed with them.
Today, my three children are all grown, and they all are fluent signers. ASL was a miracle then.
I taught first grade, my favorite level, for many years. May students would enter my class not
knowing any sign language. Some of them didn’t always know how to read and write. I taught them
reading and writing in ASL. As time passed from fall into the spring, I loved how the students flourished
in reading and writing, because of sign language! ASL was a miracle then.
(Continue on the next page)
The Power of ASL
Summer 2018 – Issue 10