Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Strategies and Approaches

Learning disabled children often struggle with oral comphrension and will require strategies and approaches to ensure that they can comprehend material and information that is presented orally. In the classroom, much information is presented orally and it is critical to ensure that those with deficits in oral comprehension have their needs met. The following strategies will assist both teachers and parents:

1. Present information in short and simple sentences.

2. Always check to ensure that the child understands by repeating or rephrasing your instructions/directions. Use voice intonation to keep his/her attention.

3. Whenever possible, use visual aids and or charts to reference as you're talking.

4. Use organizers whenever possible such as sub-titles, lists of instructions, sequence of tasks to be done and reference them as you're giving instructions/directions.

5. Provide ample 'wait' time. As the student to repeat for the class what the expectations are.

6. Teach strategies to these students that include rehearsing mentally, how to focus on key words and how to use mnemonics (an example of mnemonics would include the steps for long division - Dracula Must Suck Blood which prompts the child for divide, multiply, subtract and bring down)

7. Provide group learning situations whereby the student is prompted and or assisted by group members.

8. Review orally presented material regularly and provide taped versions if necessary.

Remember, just because you've stated it orally doesn't mean the child understands - part of our job as parents and as teachers is to ensure that understanding and comprehension is in place. A consistent approach with regular monitoring will be an effective strategie to support children with oral comphrension difficulties.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Special Education and Inclusion

The inclusive classroom means that all students have the right to feel safe, supported and included at school and in the regular classroom as much as possible. There is ongoing debate about placing students completely in the regular classroom. Views from both parents and educators can create a great deal of anxiety and passion. However, most students today are placed in agreement with both parents and educators. Often, the placement will be the regular classroom as much as possible with some cases where alternatives are selected.

The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), amended version 2004, does not actually list the word inclusion. The law actually requires that children with disabilities be educated in the "least restrictive environment appropriate” to meet their “unique needs.” The "least restrictive environment" typically means placement in the regular education classroom which typically means 'Inclusion' when ever possible. IDEA also recognizes that it is not always possible or beneficial for some students.

Here are some best practices to ensure inclusion is successful:

  • An Overview of the Inclusive Classroom
    In the inclusive classroom, it is important that the teacher fully understands the learning, social and physical needs of the students. A teacher has a special role to play when trying to maximize learning potential for students with special needs. It becomes the educator's role to create a welcoming environment and provide students with ongoing opportunities to learn, share, and engage in all classroom activities. Determining what alternate assessment needs to occur is another area where the educator needs to make changes to specifically support the student in the regular classroom.
  • Preparing Students for the Inclusive Classroom
    This checklist helps both parent and teacher prepare the student for the inclusional classroom setting. The child needs to know what to expect, equally important is to ensure that there are no surprises.
  • The Inclusional Classroom Checklist
    I am a big fan of checklists. This checklist provides educators with guidance about maximizing success for students in an inclusional setting. There are 12 key items that will guide the establishment of a successful inclusional setting. Each item points to some form of action which will be key in maximizing sucess for the student with special needs. You'll find that the checklist includes strategies for academic, social and physical success.
  • Using Peer Support in the Inclusive Classroom
    Peer support is one of the most essential ingredients in the inclusive classroom setting. Peer support helps to build rapport and a sense of belonging and community among students. Students with special needs often become the targets for inappropriate behavioral conduct from other students, however, by education the whole class and having members of the class become peer supporters, the problem of teasing is often minimized.
  • How To Reach and Teach all Students in the Inclusive Classroom
    It always helps to have great resources to help out. Without a doubt, this resource is my favorite! The pages of my book are dog-eared, marked up and highlighted. I have come across and read many books and articles about inclusion but this book is the practical one that my colleagues all agree on as needing at their fingertips.
Some food for thought regarding some of the challenges of the full inclusional model include:
  • How can you ensure that the student relationsips in your class are not superfical?
  • How will you provide intense one to one instruction? Time for this is often greatly reduced.
  • How will you ensure that equal rights are in place for all students?
  • Sometimes you'll be faced with research that suggests the inclusional classroom may not be as successful based on the specific needs of the student.
  • Many parents want both inclusion and alternative settings. Sometimes the full inclusional model just won't support all the needs.
Although inclusion is the preferred approach, it is recognized that for a number of students, it is not only challenging but sometimes controversial. If you are a special education teacher, there is no doubt that you have discovered some of the challenges of inclusion.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Become Your Child's Best Advocate

7 Steps To Being Your Child's Best Advocate:

1.Positive Parent/Teacher Relationships
Positive interactions between parents/teacher is best for your child. Both parties need to ensure the child comes first and that the goals for the child are key and shared. Share your views, offer advice and become a good working team. Make shared decisions about the child's goals. Touch base often, share concerns in a friendly manner always anticipating outcomes. Learn how to have effective conferences.

2. Be Well Informed About Your Child's Needs
Learn as much as you possibly can about your child's needs. Find out what the best practices are and how your child's needs are best met in the school setting. Ask good questions! Find out who the organizations and professionals are regarding the needs of your child and learn as much as you can. Learn about the issues and controversies and be practical. Sometimes our expectations can be high but they also need to be practical and manageable.

3. Be a Note Taker
Keep good records. Keep a running diary/journal of all correspondence you have with the school staff, organizations, support services, phone calls etc. A record of all verbal and written dialogue will help you to become an expert on your child's program and needs. It will provide you with review type information and can be used to persuade school staff to follow through with verbal commitments and take you seriously because you are on top of things!!!

4. Know What Records the School Is Keeping
Always ask for copies of records or information that is kept in the student's file at school. Make sure you have all letters, documentation, program plans, conference notes and anything else pertinent to your child's education. Make this a part of your record keeping.

5. Ask Questions
Be candid, if you don't understand terms being used, ask for clarification. Make sure you completely understand the process, procedures, planning and interventions being discussed on behalf of your child. Getting the answers to the questions you may have will avoid any sense of frustration.

6. Include Your Child
The whole process is about your child. Talk to your child, your child's point of view is very important, he/she should not be left out of the loop. His or her feelings are extremely important.

7. Remain Positive and Think Positive
Sometimes this is the most difficult step. How do you get positive outcomes? Certainly, it isn't by becoming aggressive. Build a productive working team by remaining positive, it's your best method to getting those positive outcomes. You can be assertive but know the difference between aggression and assertion. It will help to build a two way trusting relationship. Remember: anger, hostility, aggression and frustration will not be productive in ensuring the best program is in place for your child. 2-way trusting relationships will maximize your child's benefits.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Benefits of teaching chess to children

The game of chess is a real test to the mental capabilities of a person. By testing and training the mental capabilities, the game refines the character of the person who plays chess on a regular basis. It is this special quality of the game of chess that made it withstand the travails of time and technology for the past 1500 years and still fascinates people. It is no doubt true that the game of chess will be there for many more centuries to come as long as this humankind, in its present form, exists in the world.

Teaching chess to children and encouraging them to take up the game seriously is one of the best gifts that as parents and well-wishers we can give to our children. It is not an exaggeration, but a well-researched and proven fact. Students who were taught to play chess as part of their curriculum in their schools performed extraordinarily in comparison with other students who were not playing chess or not exposed to the game in their schools.

By taking up chess as a sport or a favorite pastime in the young age and practicing the game frequently, children cultivate very good habits that will not only help them gain expertise in the game of chess, but also guide them for a better, brighter and prosperous life qualitatively.

Children have the unique capability of learning things quickly and grasping them. Once a child is taught the basic elements of chess and encouraged to play the game, he or she will develop an interest for the game and try to go up the ladder of growth in chess. In his pursuit to learn more about the intricacies of the game, he will be anxious to read more about the grandmasters, the different types of games, tactics and strategies. This curiosity will lead him to read more books related to chess, and in the process, he, without his explicit knowledge, cultivate the habit of reading.

One of the things a chess player should do while playing games is to note down the moves or record the notations, which will be useful for later analysis to find out the flaws or mistakes in the concluded game. Children playing chess will be interested in recording the notations. This exercise not only helps improve the understanding of the various squares, but also makes them write, which will ultimate improve their writing skills.

In the game of chess, each of the pieces has a set value and identity relative to their capabilities and utility. The Queen is given 9 points, the rook gets 5 points, the bishop and the knight are assigned 3 points each and the pawns are given 1 point. Knowing the value of the pieces and their importance is very essential in the game of chess so that some sort of balance or equilibrium in terms of the pieces on the board is maintained. This analytical ability and assessment of values will be of much help to the people while they learn the skill of mathematics or such other analytical skills.

Children learn the most important trait of decision-making skills right from the tender age as they gain expertise in the game of chess. Planning, analyzing, assessing different options, taking the right decisions and making the right moves are all developed as one plays the game of chess with passion and love. These virtues are very essential for success in life.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Dyslexia - Getting to the heart of the debate

Heated debates in the media about dyslexia are nothing new. Whether it centres around how best to diagnose and help dyslexic children, or whether the learning difficulty even exists, dyslexia continues to be an emotive topic. When Labour backbencher Graham Stringer, MP for Blackley in north west England, stated that the condition is a 'cruel fiction', the debate was re-ignited.

As an expert in teaching children with dyslexia, I follow these debates with great interest, but was dismayed to see that yet again, the real issue isn't being addressed here. In my experience, the central issue isn't whether dyslexia exists or not, it's about how the individual learning needs of children are being addressed by the school system.

Mr Stringer wrote; "To label children as dyslexic because they're confused by poor teaching methods is wicked." I think this generalisation about teaching methods is misleading in this latest dyslexia debate. Is it possible for a system that needs to teach children in large groups to match teaching style to each child's learning style? The answer is inevitably no. This is not about teachers failing - it's about the fact that all children are different and schools cannot accommodate individual learning styles.

So where does this leave the thousands of parents who know that their child is struggling to flourish in a system that cannot cater for their needs? Many go down the route of getting their child formally assessed and labelled as having a learning difficulty, which can create other problems. I believe instead that a different approach is required, one that is at the centre of my attitude towards every aspect of a child's education and development: avoid labelling. In my experience, and those of the private tutors that work for my agency, when one adapts the teaching style to the needs of the child, the 'need' for that label disappears.

I'm not saying that as a tutor I ignore dyslexic symptoms and pretend there is nothing to address. On the contrary, many of the children that I have taught with dyslexic profiles have extraordinary strengths in pictorial reasoning and logical inference which are impossible to ignore! I prefer to teach these children with the attitude that their dyslexia has no negative impact, it simply means that teaching them has to be approached differently. If these children are taught in such a way that these strengths can be capitalised upon, with techniques that make any difficulty with the written word simply irrelevant, then they develop into students with more resources for learning. There are also psychological benefits as they form a self-perception that is untainted by any negative labels. To me, that is the most important result, but sadly, debates such as the one triggered by Mr Stringer do nothing to achieve that.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Sign language is popular with hearing students

Jessica Berumen rushed over to a friend after she walked into class and saw almost everyone sitting silently but speaking frantically with their hands.

The 17-year-old positioned her fingers to ask: "It's finals today?" When her friend nodded, "Yes," Berumen stomped her foot and slapped her hand against her lips.

Then her hands fell to her sides and she relaxed. With clear enunciation, she said: "I'm sure it'll be OK."

Berumen isn't deaf. Neither is her friend.

The students at Skyline High School in Sammamish are taking American Sign Language -- a class that has become increasingly popular among the nation's hearing students as a foreign-language requirement. About 2,200 students in the Puget Sound region chose ASL over Spanish, French, Japanese and German this year.

Teachers say they're not surprised by the growing popularity of ASL. They note that teens have a difficult time sitting through entire classes all day without much movement. Sign language speaks to them: It's active and visual.

Interest in ASL is so great that many high schools want to offer more classes, but they can't find educators to teach the courses. That's partly because of a backlog at colleges and universities.

"There is quite a demand for ASL here, but it's hard to approve new faculty because of budget cuts," said Karen Knaughton, assistant professor in the foreign-language department at Central Washington University.

Seattle Central Community College offers an ASL program, but CWU wants to become the first university in the state to offer an ASL major and minor.

The university can't hire more staffers, but the minor should be available by the fall of 2004, Knaughton said. She said she isn't sure when the school will be able to offer the major.

In the meantime, CWU can't accommodate all the students who want to learn ASL. The foreign-language department turned away 50 students last fall because its six classes -- taught by one part-time and two full-time professors -- were full.

"Students see a practical use for ASL and can use it in a job -- interpreting, teaching and counseling," she said.

Indeed, about 10 percent of the Western Washington population has been classified as deaf or hard of hearing, and many of them rely on interpreters in various situations.

In 2001, more than 1,400 public school students were classified as deaf or hearing-impaired in Washington. Of those, 1,023 attended schools in Western Washington.

Several high schools in Washington are having trouble starting ASL programs, and schools that offer them often must turn students away.

Bellevue High School tried to start providing ASL classes four years ago, but had to abandon the effort when the school couldn't find a committed teacher to fill the spot.

Doug Hostetter, principal of Kentwood High School in Kent, said: "Our program is extremely popular. We could add two more classes."

That would translate into a half-time position. He hasn't found a teacher to sign up for it.

At Skyline, "the classes are usually full with a waiting list," said Cozette Amador, an ASL-certified interpreter who teaches the school's five ASL classes.

"ASL teachers are hard to find," Amador said. "There is more money in interpreting than in teaching."

ASL classes have been offered in Washington for about 20 years. The Puyallup, Auburn and Fife school districts are among the most recent to begin offering the classes.

Students who do make it into ASL programs often become involved in after-school activities and events that allow them to interact with the deaf community and learn more about signing skills. One such event, Silent Games, recently held at Federal Way High School, involved about 200 college, high school and middle school students and their parents -- some hearing, some deaf. The participants took part in a variety of games and competitions and could not speak all evening. They could use only sign language.

It was at one of those events three years ago that Meghan Myers developed an interest in ASL. She began taking classes because it "looked cool."

The reason she's stuck with it goes deeper. "I'm dyslexic, so I know the struggles people go through in learning with a disability," said the 17-year-old senior.

"This is something that I'm good at, that I feel confident doing and that I can make a lot of money doing," said Myers, who hopes to become a certified interpreter some day.

Each country has its own form of sign language and several English variations exist, but ASL is used most commonly among the deaf community in the United States and Canada. Body language and facial expressions are exaggerated and students must learn a different sentence construction. For example, "Letter me finish write" and "Dance, I like" are grammatically correct in ASL.

The difference between tired and exhausted involves simply hunching the body over into a slump.

To say that it is cold out, clinch both fists and place them in front of your shoulders. Your arms should be parallel to your body. Now, shake your fists.

ASL isn't about memorizing a bunch of signs, however.

"It was a lot of work because you constantly use your eyes to catch all the signs and facial gestures," said Kassie Bland, a 19-year-old senior at Kentridge High School in Kent. "People think it's easy because it's not spoken, but it's not."

Some students take ASL hoping for an easy A but don't get it, said Loretta Watanabe, Kentridge's only ASL teacher. "If some of my kids never do anything with it, they at least come out with an awareness of the culture," she said.

Watanabe said many hearing people tend to think that the deaf community "needs to be fixed."

For one day each semester, Watanabe teaches her students by example when she gives each a pair of earplugs to wear all day.

"They find their teachers are taking to them like they're an idiot -- loud and slow -- and their friends are like, 'I'm tired of writing to you! I'll see you tomorrow,' " she said.

Ron Podmore, who is deaf and teaches ASL to hearing students at Decatur High School in Federal Way, said the hearing community has historically been unforgiving to deaf people.

In the 1880s, deaf people were told to read lips and speak instead of use sign language so they would be more like those who can hear.

"The deaf have been learning the language of the hearing for the past 150 years," Podmore said. "Now it's time for the hearing to learn the language of the deaf."

Sunday, August 30, 2009

American Sign Language

American Sign Language (or ASL, Ameslan) is the dominant sign language of the Deaf community in the United States, in the English-speaking parts of Canada, and in some regions of Mexico. Although the United Kingdom and the United States share English as a spoken and written language, British Sign Language (BSL) is quite different from ASL, and the two sign languages are not mutually intelligible.

ASL is also used (sometimes alongside indigenous sign languages) in the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Côte d'Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Chad, Gabon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Mauritania, Kenya, Madagascar, and Zimbabwe. Like other sign languages, its grammar and syntax are distinct from any spoken language in its area of influence. While there has been no reliable survey of the number of people who use ASL as their primary language, estimates range from 500,000 to 2 million in the United States alone

History of ASL

A sign language interpreter at a presentation

In the United States, as elsewhere in the world, hearing families with deaf children often employ ad-hoc home sign for simple communications. Today though, ASL classes are offered in many secondary and postsecondary schools. ASL is a language distinct from spoken English; it contains its own syntax and grammar and supports its own culture. The origin of modern ASL is ultimately tied to the confluence of many events and circumstances, including historical attempts at deaf education; the unique situation present on a small island in Massachusetts; the attempts of a father to enlist a local minister to help educate his deaf daughter; and in no small part the ingenuity and genius of people (in this case deaf people) for language itself.

Prior sign languages


The French had a natural sign language, which is often referred to as Old French Sign Language (OFSL). OFSL was the language of a large community of Deaf people living in Paris. This language was passed down from deaf person to deaf person, and may be the oldest sign language of Europe. The Abbé Charles-Michel de l'Épée was the first to acknowledge that signed language could be used to educate the deaf.

An oft-repeated Deaf folk tale explains Epee's role in the origin of LSF (and later, ASL): While visiting a parishioner, Épee met two Deaf daughters conversing with each other using OFSL. The mother explained that her daughters were being educated privately by means of pictures. Epee was inspired by these Deaf children and in 1771 established the first educational institution for the deaf.[1] He created a series of grammatical signs to represent French grammatical markers (called "methodical signs") and taught those to his students. At Epee's school, a large group of Deaf children lived together for the first time in France and it is this generation of native speakers which most likely developed OFSL into a full language. The combination of OFSL, methodical signs, and possibly other influences came together and evolved into French Sign Language, LSF.

United States

Little is known of sign languages in the United States before 1817. It is said that since there was little contact between communities in early America, home sign language was likely used most widely. However, a deaf community on Martha’s Vineyard in the late 17th century used a natural sign language. From 1690 to the mid-twentieth century there was a high rate of genetic deafness on Martha’s Vineyard caused by the founder effect. It afforded almost everyone the opportunity to have frequent contact with sign language. It was said that 1 out of 155 people on the island was deaf, compared with 1 out of 5700 people in the rest of America during that time. The ancestry of the deaf community could be linked to Weald, a small area in England.

Plains Indians

In 1688, 1740, 1805, and 1828 were reports that the Plains Indians developed a sign language to communicate between tribes of different languages. This sign language is believed to have developed in the lower Rio Grande prior to the Europeans settling and to have spread northward and become what is known as Plains Indian Sign Language (PISL). There is no evidence to show that it influenced the development of American Sign Language. By 1885, PISL had an estimated 110,000 users of various tribal dialects, but today it has only a small fraction of that number.

Birth of American Sign Language and American School for the Deaf

In 1815 a Protestant minister, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, left his home in Hartford, Connecticut and moved to Amsterdam. Dr. Mason Cogswell asked Gallaudet to investigate methods of teaching his deaf daughter. While in England, Gallaudet hit a roadblock when directors of the Braidwood Schools, who taught the oral method, refused to share their methods of teaching. Nevertheless, while in London, Gallaudet met with Abbe Sicard, director of the Royal Institution for the Deaf in Paris and two of his students, one of which was Laurent Clerc. Sicard invited Gallaudet to visit the school in Paris. He did not go immediately, but instead traveled to Edinburgh, Scotland where he again met the methods of Braidwoods. They again refused to teach him their methods. Gallaudet then traveled to Paris and learned the educational methods of the Royal Institution for the Deaf with sign language, a combination of Old French Sign Language and the signs developed by Abbė de l’Epėe. Gallaudet persuaded Clerc to return with him to Connecticut and become a teacher for the deaf. Gallaudet and Clerc opened up the Connecticut Asylum for the Education and Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Persons (now called American School for the Deaf) in April 1817. Deaf students were taught French signs and brought in signs of their own, such as those from Martha’s Vineyard. Thus, it was at this school that all these influences would intermingle and become what is now known as American Sign Language.

Growth and standardization

American Sign Language Convention of March 2008 in Austin, Texas

Interestingly, because of the early influence of the sign language of France upon the school, the vocabularies of ASL and modern French Sign Language are approximately 60% shared, whereas ASL and British Sign Language, for example, are almost completely dissimilar.

From its synthesis at this first public school for the deaf in North America, the language went on to grow. Many of the graduates of this school went on to found schools of their own in many other states, thus spreading the methods of Gallaudet and Clerc and serving to expand and standardize the language; as with most languages though, there are regional variations.

Oralism vs. Manualism

After being strongly established in the United States there was a bitter fight between those who supported oralism over manualism in the late 1800s. Many notable individuals of high standing contributed to this row, such as Alexander Graham Bell. The oralists won many battles and for a long time the use of sign was suppressed, socially and pedagogically. Many considered sign to not even be a language at all. This situation was changed by William Stokoe, a professor of English hired at Gallaudet University in 1955. He immediately became fascinated by ASL and began serious study of it. Eventually, through publication in linguistics journals of articles containing detailed linguistic analysis of ASL, he was able to convince the scientific mainstream that ASL was indeed a natural language on a par with any other.

A living language

The language continues to grow and change like any living language. In particular, ASL constantly adds new signs in an attempt to keep up with constantly changing technology.[citation needed] For example, there is now an ASL sign for INTERNET and a sign for Video blog (wherein both L hands touching at thumb tips rotate from palm down to palm forward).


A group of people signing.

ASL is a natural language as proved to the satisfaction of the linguistic community by William Stokoe, and contains phonology, morphology, semantics, syntax and pragmatics just like spoken languages. It is a manual language or visual language, meaning that the information is expressed not with combinations of sounds but with combinations of handshapes, palm orientations, movements of the hands, arms and body, location in relation to the body, and facial expressions. While spoken languages are produced by the vocal cords only, and can thus be easily written in linear patterns, ASL uses the hands, head and body, with constantly changing movements and orientations. Like other natural sign languages, it is "three dimensional" in this sense.[2][3] ASL is used natively and predominantly by the Deaf and hard-of-hearing of the United States and Canada.


Although it often seems as though the signs are meaningful of themselves, in fact they can be as arbitrary as words in spoken language. For example, a speaking child may often make the mistake of using the word "you" to refer to themselves, since others use that word to refer to him or her. Children who acquire the sign YOU (pointing at one's interlocutor) make similar mistakes – they will point at others to mean themselves, indicating that even something as seemingly explicit as pointing is an arbitrary sign in ASL, like words in a spoken language.

However, Edward Klima and Ursula Bellugi have modified the common theory that signs can be self-explanatory by grouping signs into three categories:

  • Transparent: Non-signers can usually correctly guess the meaning
  • Translucent: Meaning makes sense to non-signers once it is explained
  • Opaque: Meaning cannot be guessed by non-signers

Klima and Bellugi used American Sign Language in formulating that classification. The theory that signs are self-explanatory can be conclusively disproved by the fact that non-signers cannot understand fluent, continuous sign language. The majority of signs are opaque.

Generally, signs that are "Transparent" are signs of objects or words that became popular after the basics of ASL were established. There are, of course, exceptions to this.


In ASL, fingerspelling is used primarily for proper nouns, for emphasis (for example, fingerspelling STOP is more emphatic than signing 'stop'), for clarity, and for instruction.

The American manual alphabet in photographs

ASL includes both fingerspelling borrowings from English, as well as the incorporation of alphabetic letters from English words into ASL signs to distinguish related meanings of what would otherwise be covered by a single sign in ASL. For example, two hands trace a circle to mean 'a group of people'. Several kinds of groups can be specified by handshape: When made with C hands, the sign means 'class'; when made with the F handshape, it means 'family'. Such signs are often referred to as "initialized" signs because they substitute the first letter (the initial) of the corresponding English word as the handshape in order to provide a more specific meaning.

When using alphabetic letters in these ways, several otherwise non-phonemic handshapes become distinctive. For example, outside fingerspelling there is but a single fist handshape - the placement of the thumb is irrelevant. However, within fingerspelling, the position of the thumb on the fist distinguishes the letters A, S, and T. Letter-incorporated signs which rely on such minor distinctions as thumb position tend not to be stable in the long run[citation needed], but they may eventually create new distinctions in the language. For example, due to signs such as 'elevator', which may require the E handshape (depending on the sign used), some argue that E has become phonemically distinct from the 5/claw handshape.

Fingerspelling has also given way to a class of signs known as "loan signs" or "borrowed signs." Sometimes defined as "lexicalized fingerspelling," loan signs are somewhat frequent and represent an English word which has, over time, developed a unique movement and shape. Sometimes loan signs are not even recognized as such because they are so frequently used and their movement has become so specialized. Loan signs are usually glossed as the English word in all capital letters preceded by the pound sign(#). Loan signs are sometimes used for emphasis (like the loan sign #YES substituted for the sign YES), but sometimes represent the only form of the sign (e.g., #NO). Probably the most commonly used example of a loan sign is the sign for NO. In this sign, the first two fingers are fused, held out straight, and then tapped against the thumb in a repeated motion. When broken down, it can be seen that this movement is an abbreviated way of fingerspelling N-O-N-O. Other commonly known loan signs include #BACK, #BUS, #CAR, #JOB, #PIZZA, and #YES.


Writing systems

ASL is often written with English words in all capital letters, which is known as glossing. This is, however, a method used simply to teach the structure of the language. ASL is a visual language, not a written language. There is no one-to-one correspondence between words in ASL and English, and much of the inflectional modulation of ASL signs is lost.

There are two true writing systems in use for ASL: a phonemic Stokoe notation, which has a separate symbol or diacritic mark for every phonemic hand shape, motion, and position (though it leaves something to be desired in the representation of facial expression), and a more popular iconic system called SignWriting, which represents each sign with a rather abstract illustration of its salient features. SignWriting is commonly used for student newsletters and similar purposes.

Baby Sign

In recent years, it has been shown[by whom?] that exposure to sign language has a positive impact on the socialization of hearing children. When infants are taught to sign, parents are able to converse with them at a developmental stage when they are not yet capable of producing oral speech, which requires fine control of both breathing and the vocal tract. The ability of a child to actively communicate earlier than would otherwise be possible appears to accelerate language development and to decrease the frustrations of communication.

Many parents use a collection of simplified or ad hoc signs called "baby sign", as infants do not have the dexterity required for true ASL. However, parents can learn to recognize their baby's approximations of adult ASL signs, just as they will later learn to recognize their approximations of oral language, so teaching an infant ASL is also possible. Typically young children will make an ASL sign in the correct location and use the correct hand motion, but may be able only to approximate the hand shape, for example, using one finger instead of three in signing water.