SASLJ Vol. 2 No. 2 - Page 107

Unlocking the Curriculum Johnson et al. o The acquisition of a natural sign language should begin as early as possible in order to take advantage of critical period effects. The earlier a child learns a first language, the more opportunity he or she will have to learn about the world and the more prepared he or she will be (both linguistically and culturally) for learning the curricular content of an educational program. Upon identification, a deaf child should immediately be given extensive contact with adult deaf signers in order to take advantage of the capacity to acquire a language naturally. In general, the greater the delay of acquisition of a first language, the greater the deficit in access to information and the later the acquisition of proficiency in any other language. In addition, the child's family should be provided with intensive sign language training and education about deafness in order to promote a home environment which promotes cognitive, linguistic, social, and emotional growth. o The best models for natural sign language acquisition, the development of a social identity, and the enhancement of self-esteem for deaf children are deaf signers who use the language proficiently. The initial models for language acquisition for deaf children with hearing parents should be deaf adults. As the child grows, sources for sign language acquisition might also include older deaf children, peers from deaf families, and proficient hearing signers. There should be deaf adults present in all educational contexts. This is critical also because ASL, like all natural languages, exists within a cultural context. Without the presence of adults who have access to the understandings that arise in such contexts, the acquisition of the language is not truly complete (Epstein, 1988). o The natural sign language acquired by a deaf child provides the best access to educational content. We have discussed this issue at length earlier in this paper. Along with early acquisition, this is the central and critical concept of the proposal. Its practical application is that anyone attempting to teach curricular content to the children must be a fluent signer. There now exists a large pool of fluent signers, which consists of deaf people already trained to be teachers of the deaf, bright young deaf students who could be encouraged to undertake such training, and a smaller number of hearing teachers and students who are fluent in ASL. Mather (1987) compared the classroom interaction of a deaf teacher, fluent in ASL, with that of a hearing teacher who was less fluent. She found that the conduct of lessons, even about nonlinguistic topics, proceeded most effectively in interaction with the deaf teacher. She argues that these results stem from fluent use of the language and knowledge about how to interact in ASL. o Sign language and spoken language are not the same and must be kept separate both in use and in the curriculum. American Sign Language, as the SASLJ, Vol. 2, No. 2 – Fall/Winter 2018 107