SASL Journal Vol. 1, No. 1 - Page 12

ASL: Access, Benefits, and Quality Rosen and 1999 reauthorizations of IDEA, revisions were made by deleting references to speech and hearing difficulties and their role in receiving linguistic information, and by including “language preferences” of deaf students, including sign language. ASL was mentioned as one of the languages used by deaf students for the first time in the 1999 reauthorization of IDEA (Rosen, 2006). Consequently, one of the altered IDEA practices with signing deaf students was the increased presence of sign language interpreters with signing deaf students in mainstreamed settings. Their presence generated interest among hearing students and teachers in the lives, experiences, language, community, and culture of the signing deaf students. Hearing students began to increasingly request courses in ASL (Rosen, 2006). As a result, general education schools began to accept ASL as one of their languages. In terms of the number and percentage of high schools in the U.S. that offer ASL for foreign language credit, a national survey conducted by the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) showed that in 1996 ASL was offered in 1% of the 1,650 surveyed US secondary schools with foreign language programs, or 17 high schools, in 1987, and 2%, or 33 high schools, in 1997 (CAL, 1997). Rosen (2008) found that out of about 1,900 public high schools in the U.S. that offered foreign language classes in 2004, 701 offered ASL for foreign language credit. Benefits of ASL for Learning In this section, the attention shifts to understanding what benefits there are in learning ASL. The value of sign language competency is addressed first with deaf students and then hearing students. Deaf Students The value of ASL for deaf students is examined in relation to their cognitive and language development. This includes consideration of how deaf students’ sign language competency helps with their learning of other languages. Language development. In order for deaf children to be able to develop language and cognitive skills, they need to first acquire linguistic principles. The relevance of ASL as a sign language in this process has emerged as an important consideration since it is something to be seen, not heard (Singleton, S. Supalla, Litchfield, & Schley, 1998). The early perceptions that deaf children have language problems gave way to the emerging idea that the problem lies with English as a spoken language. Supporting this, ASL acquisition studies (Mayberry & Eichen, 1991; Meier, 1991; Meier & Newport, 1990; Newport & Meier, 1985) demonstrated that acquiring sign language provides deaf children with knowledge about the nature of language. Newport and Meier (1985) reviewed studies on ASL acquisition by deaf children and found that the stages of acquisition are similar to hearing children’s acquisition of spoken English in American society. Both deaf children’s acquisition of ASL and hearing children’s acquisition of spoken English undergo similar stages, which are the following: basic, one-sign, to two-sign and telegraphic grammars, progressing to uninflected forms, and then to inflected forms and adult word order forms. Studies on the acquisition of ASL by deaf children continue to produce positive findings since Newport and Meier’s 1985 study. For instance, Lillo-Martin and Pichler (2006) studied the acquisition of verbs; Lillo-Martin (2000) studied the acquisition of wh-questions; Pettito (1994) SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017 12