End­ing the si­lence by learn­ing to sign

Par­ents take weekly classes to help them com­mu­ni­cate with their deaf chil­dren

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA - By YANG JUN in Guiyang yangjun@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Ev­ery Fri­day morn­ing, a dozen par­ents with hearingim­paired chil­dren gather to learn sign lan­guage at a work­shop in South­west China’s Guizhou prov­ince.

Xiong Wei, the lec­turer who is deaf, uses a pro­jec­tor to demon­strate the dif­fer­ent signs for dozens of words and sen­tences to the par­tic­i­pants — mostly moth­ers — who imi­tate the hand ges­tures in groups.

When­ever a stu­dent wants to ask a question, they must write it on a piece of pa­per for Xiong.

Yuan Feng­mei’s daugh­ter lost the abil­ity to hear at 4 months of age, due to com­pli­ca­tions as­so­ci­ated with surgery for bron­chi­oli­tis — an in­flam­ma­tion of the small­est air pas­sages in the lungs.

Doc­tors said the risk of this hap­pen­ing were “1 in 10,000”.

“Af­ter it hap­pened, I stood by the rail­way tracks near my home hold­ing my daugh­ter in my arms, hop­ing the rum­bling of the trains would make her cry,” Yuan said.

“She sim­ply stared up at me with her big eyes, like noth­ing was go­ing on.”

Hav­ing ac­cepted her daugh­ter would never hear again, Yuan tried her best to raise her as nor­mal. But this proved to be no easy task.

“One time she wanted me to buy her some candy when we were out shop­ping to­gether, but the doc­tors had specif­i­cally told me not to,” Yuan said.

“I couldn’t ex­plain such a com­pli­cated con­cept to her, how­ever, so she be­gan to cry. The sales clerk said I was a miserly mother for not buy­ing my daugh­ter candy. I will never for­get those words or the spite­ful look the clerk shot at me.”

With the help of Xiong, Yuan grad­u­ally learned the ba­sics of sign lan­guage. The first word she learned was “thank you”.

“My daugh­ter can’t hear, but she can see,” Yuan said. “So she must learn to be po­lite and grate­ful, just like ev­ery­one else.”

Yuan puts what she has learned to use when­ever she can. She uses the “thank you” ges­ture if her daugh­ter gives her some­thing or holds open a door.

“Now she is the same with me,” Yuan said. “When­ever some­one gives her a seat on a bus, she says ‘thank you’ us­ing the sign.”

Dan Qilin, dean of the Guiyang School for the Blind, Deaf and Dumb where the work- shops take place, de­scribes sign lan­guage as “the mother tongue of the deaf ”.

“What par­ents need to do is to break down the wall,” he said. “Chil­dren will feel lonely if they can’t be un­der­stood by their par­ents.”

Xiong, the lec­turer, said par­ents can learn to be their chil­dren’s ears.

“This is their only way to com­mu­ni­cate, and it brings them closer,” he said.

Chen Na, a 28-year-old mother whose 4-year-old son was born deaf, has been study­ing at the work­shop for three weeks.

“It gives me great con­so­la­tion when my boy ‘talks’ to me us­ing sign lan­guage all on his own,” she said.

Liang Shuang con­trib­uted to this story.

FAN GANGLI / FOR CHINA DAILY

Par­ents with hear­ing-im­paired chil­dren learn sign lan­guage at a work­shop held at Guiyang School for the Blind, Deaf and Dumb in Guiyang, Guizhou prov­ince.

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