Have you ever thought about how a deaf person learns sign language?

Think about it. How did you learn how to talk? Do you even recall learning how to talk? It just happened. You heard others talking ever since you were born. And you learned without realizing that you were learning. But what about a deaf child born into a hearing family? How does the deaf child learn sign language?

Meet Joel. Joel is five years old and is just starting school. A cute little fellow. Joel is a deaf child, born into a hearing family. At five years old, Joel can’t talk. Not even sign language. His family doesn’t know signs. Joel started life in a very silent world. His only communication was pointing and yelling.

I came to the deaf school expecting to be dad to two boys that stay here during the week. Those plans changed shortly after arrival. Just before school started, Joel was discovered. I was asked if I would be willing to teach. I decided that I could learn sign language with him.

The first day of school came. I sign good morning to the cute little boy that would be my student. He responds with a blank look like, “What are you doing with you hands?” Suddenly, I realized that more than teaching math, reading, and writing, I would be reaching a language. Sign language.

The first day of school, I thought I would hand him a paper and pencil and say write the numbers 1 through 10 several times. We will see how well your handwriting is and go from there. Not sure what I was thinking.

The first few days were long. Joel was scared. Didn’t understand what was going on. What are these marking on a paper? These pictures are cool, but why is this guy moving his hands like that?

Soon, Joel relaxed. School, was no longer scary. In fact, those early strange hand motions were making sense. The signs for animals, colors, and the alphabet were soon mastered. School was great!

Joel’s world has been getting bigger ever since. These days he is working on addition and learning to spell words for the spelling bee.

I have been blessed to have Joel as my student. Seeing his eyes open to the world of communication has been so much fun. The excitement of seeing Joel make his first sign. I have had the opportunity to learn so many things.