ASL Improves Communication
As a child of deaf adults (CODA), growing up with deaf parents, Dr. Luanne Sailors learned ASL as her first language, which was a strong influence on her founding Sign Tribe. When she was born, Sailors’ parents would communicate with her in sign language, and she learned to sign back as a six-month-old baby. “I don’t remember the first word I spoke, but the first word I signed was ‘milk,’” she recollects. “Growing up with both parents being deaf wasn’t always easy.”
A CODA grows up in two worlds—first being the deaf world with their family, and the other being the hearing world—and this puts them in a unique position, with a foot in two cultures. Sailors grew up noticing examples of poor accessibility and communication, or a lack of effort from the hearing world. She was often utilized as a communication bridge between her parents’ deaf world and the larger community’s hearing world.
“It was challenging, and you grow up fast that way,” Sailors says. “Growing up, I felt like my life was normal until I got to first, second grade. Then, I started realizing that other people had parents who could hear.” Her experiences fueled her passion to help adults and children communicate better at home, at school, or anywhere in the community. “My passion in life became working in the field of special education, and that, combined with my knowledge of ASL, was the beginning of Sign Tribe,” she says. “You’d be surprised that families where either their kids are deaf or parents are deaf, a lot of times families don’t learn sign language to communicate with each other.”
Benefits of Learning ASL
Sailors’ goal is to help adults communicate better with their children who face difficulties related to a disability—seemingly easy everyday communication can be challenging to an individual trying to communicate the same way to a person with a disability. “Learning sign language will provide them with other options on communicating; they can communicate their basic wants and needs,” she says.
Some individuals on the autism spectrum lack the ability to convey verbally, which leads to frustration and behavioral issues. With an aim to modify behaviors while also helping students communicate, Sailors integrates rewards along with teaching specific signs or gestures. She provides consistent micro-lessons, and with time, achieves the results she is hoping for. Sailors says, “What makes me feel humbled is that many families have reached out to me to share that they have experienced less frustration with their children because they now have communication options.”
According to Sailors, there are three main benefits of learning sign language for special-needs individual—bridging communication gaps, building self-confidence, and building independence. “Being able to communicate basic wants and needs independently and finding what’s right for the individual also helps to build confidence while bridging the communication gap,” she says.
Sailors uses a communication strategy paired with sign language, called a communication picture system. An adult or cild with autism is taught to communicate their request or thought to another person by giving them a picture of that item. This reduces tantrums, as a person with access to these communication cards along with sign language can easily convey their needs.
Sailors posts weekly quizzes, called Wisdom Wednesday, on her Instagram stories for her followers. One of Sailors’ students’ parents, E. Kunke, says, “Dr. Luanne engages well with our girls during the workshops and throughout her social media presence. We all love Wisdom Wednesday! Our girls have enjoyed learning ASL and communicating to others using sign language.”
Sign Tribe works with adults, parents, and children who range in ages from elementary to high school. Sailors is also a licensed teacher in Tennessee in the following disciplines—special education, general education, English language learners, and deaf education. She has undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Memphis.
She devoted her time to research and learn more about students with special needs and used this experience and personal knowledge to develop Sign Tribe. #
For more information on Sign Tribe, visit sign-tribe.com or Instagram: @drluannesailors