signed languages

Communicating in ASL means communicating within the Deaf community

Anonymous said to realsocialskills:
I’m autistic and struggle with spoken language. I’m verbal, but my communication is often slow or I fail to express myself properly. I’ve often thought about learning sign language as a better way to communicate, but I’ve been told by several friends it would be appropriation of deaf culture as I am a hearing person. Is it okay for a autistic person to learn ASL, if only for themselves? And what’s the best way to be respectful of deaf culture while learning, if it’s appropriate at all?

Realsocialskills said:

It’s not appropriative to learn ASL, even if it’s just for your own use. It’s ok to want to find a way to communicate that works for you.

That said — it’s important to understand that ASL is a Deaf language. ASL isn’t similar to English, at all. It’s a minority language used by a minority culture that is very different from English-speaking culture.

If you came to communicate mostly in ASL, the overwhelming majority of people you’d be communicating with would be Deaf people and people who have Deaf parents. Your life and cultural reference points would become very different than they are now. You’d be assimilating into a minority culture that you’re not already part of — one that has every reason to be cautious about hearing newcomers. (Especially hearing newcomers who don’t have Deaf relatives.) That’s not impossible, but it is much easier said than done.

If you’re looking to learn a few signs that you can use with friends and family when your communication breaks down, that might be possible without changing your life too much. It’s important to understand that learning a few signs is not the same thing as learning ASL. (Just like there’s a difference between knowing a few Spanish words and knowing Spanish). 

(Also, don’t give yourself a sign name. It’s considered rude and appropriative, especially if you only know a few signs. You don’t give yourself one, Deaf people who have accepted you as integrated into the community give you one.)

If what you’re looking for is the ability to communicate more readily within the English-speaking culture you’re already part of, ASL is not likely to be very helpful. (For the same reason that no matter how much easier you find it to pronounce Spanish words, learning Spanish probably won’t help you to communicate with English speakers.)

If you’re looking to communicate more readily within English-speaking culture, English-based AAC is more likely to be helpful. If you’re comfortable with typing, a well-designed text-to-speech iPad app could make communication much, much easier. The best app I’m aware of is Proloquo4Text.  It has good text-to-speech voices, and it also makes it easy to communicate by showing people your screen. P4T also has good ways of storing phrases, and it’s highly customizable. If you find that typing doesn’t always work, you may find a symbol-based system helpful. (For instance Proloquo2go, LAMP, or Speak for Yourself.) (Good apps cost money, and they also solve a lot of communication problems that free and cheap apps don’t solve. And even the most expensive AAC app is cheaper than learning a second language).

Tl;dr ASL is a Deaf language. Communicating in ASL means communicating mostly within the Deaf community. Learning ASL probably won’t help someone with a communication disorder to communicate more readily within English-speaking culture. English-based AAC is likely to be a better solution. It’s important for people who want to learn ASL to respect it as a language and to respect the Deaf community as linguistic minority culture.

Question about autistics learning ASL

mellopetitone:

prosthetical:

lysikan:

m79point7:

realsocialskills:

inthedreamer001 said to realsocialskills:

I am considering learning ASL, and I recently shadowed a local class. While I like the class overall, the teacher kept saying to the students “eyes to eyes, not eyes to hands” to prompt them to make eye contact while speaking ASL. Is this a universal ASL thing? If so, are there exceptions made in the autistic/neurodivergent community? Thanks!

realsocialskills said:

I don’t know enough about ASL and Deaf culture to give you a good answer to this. I’m posting this in hopes that someone who knows more than I do will weigh in.

There are two things I know that might be relevant here:

Thing #1: Sometimes there are competing access needs. Sometimes there’s a conflict between what one group needs and what another group needs. This is often not anyone’s fault, and negotiating it can be very complicated. Sometimes there’s no easy or short term solution. 

Thing #2: There are important differences between how facial expressions work in ASL (and other signed languages) vs English (and other spoken languages.) Facial expressions are much more important in ASL than they are in English. 

In spoken language, most of the information is communicated by sound. Most people who can hear can understand all or most of what someone is saying without looking at them. (Which is a reason that it’s possible to understand podcasts and radio programs.)

In spoken language, eye contact isn’t that important. You can communicate everything important without looking at someone’s face. (Unless they lipread and need you to be facing them so they can see your lips clearly.). Eye contact is a popular way to show respect, to show that you’re paying attention to someone, or to show that you’re speaking to them. There are other ways of communicating all of that. 

ASL and other signed languages are different. Facial expressions mean a lot more, because ASL is an entirely visual language. Some important Information that is communicated through sounds in English is communicated through facial expressions in ASL. If you don’t look at faces, you miss a lot. (Much more than you’d miss in English.)

I don’t know what that means about autistic and other neurodivergent signers. I suspect that for some autistic people, looking at faces in ASL might be possible in a way that looking at faces in English isn’t. (Because maybe it just feels like language and not the intrusive eye contact thing.). But I don’t actually know. I also don’t know how the Deaf autistic and otherwise neurodivergent community handles this. 

Does anyone who is more familiar with ASL and Deaf culture want to weigh in? How does signing and participation in Deaf culture work for autistic-and-similar people who have cognitive trouble with eye contact and looking at faces?

m79point7 said:

ug. not enough room in the reply.  let’s try this again

Eye contact is important in ASL, however, I do not think this should stop ANYONE from learning ASL for a couple of reasons:

1) In my experience, the Deaf community is a lot more open to accommodations than the NT, hearing world.  

2) If you can handle looking at someone’s nose or mouth, instead of directly in their eyes, that is close enough that the other person can easily see your eyes and your facial expression.

Again - this is coming from a hearing person, so it is not ‘insider info’ from the Deaf community, just my humble experience and thoughts.

I would encourage anyone who is interested to learn ASL!  It can be a real help when you can’t talk for whatever reason, and it gives you another way to express yourself.  It also opens up a whole new community and culture full of some really awesome people!  And it is fun!  ASL lets you talk to a friend across a room, through a window, underwater, or with your mouth full!

If possible, learn ASL from someone who is Deaf,a s learning any language from a native user of the language is always a much better way to learn.  Books and videos can only get you so far.  

I use ASL without eye contact. It limits me a lot in what I can say or how I can say it, though.

prosthetical said: @goldenheartedrose @mellopetitone

mellopetitone said:

I’m HoH, autistic, and learning ASL.

Eye contact is the usual way the concept is expressed but you don’t need actual eye contact. In ASL is important to look at a person’s face but you don’t need direct eye contact and more than you do with speaking. You must look at someone’s face but you can look at their mouth or forehead or alternative to look at their hands.

Expression is important, but I know it’s a big struggle for many people to make visible enough expressions. If you don’t emote much, your signing won’t be as interesting, like monotone in spoken language, but you can get across your meaning, though it may require extra signing to make explicit what would be communicated in an expression.

Reading expressions is wonderful for me in ASL. Native signers are so emotive that a lot of understanding comes just from emotion, even if you only recognize a few signs. It’s not like spoken English where I struggle to recognize emotions, especially with people I’m unfamiliar with. Signers who emote get across a huge range of meaning that signal very clearly for me.

The teacher saying eyes to eyes but eyes to hands was less meaning to state down the signer, but to tell students that the way signing us absorbed is by looking at the face for information and to express you’re paying attention, while getting the signs from the outer portion of your vision, not the middle.

TL;DR Looking at the signer’s face is required; eye contact is not. Making expressions is hard and many student signers have a hard time; this is expected by everyone and not a sign of failure. For me at least, signers’ expressions are easy to read and very informative. I understand meaning in ASL much better than I do in spoken English.

(Some of this information is not accurate when communicating with signers with other access needs, like deafblind. The access changes depend on the reason and within that also vary from person to person.)

Any Deaf care to add?

Anonymous said to realsocialskills:

I’m not Deaf but i took some pretty extensive ASL classes from teachers who were. It ended up helping me a lot because I can be non-verbal during panic attacks. 

I don’t know the answer to the question but I can say that knowing even a little sign has helped me in emergency situations. I didn’t take the classes for that reason. But.. it helped, a lot.

realsocialskills said:

I think that’s true of a lot of things, and that it’s a reason that it’s important for disability communities to communicate and collaborate. A lot of things created by people with one kind of disability can be amazingly helpful to people with another kind of disability. Sometimes for the same reason, sometimes for different reasons. 

We all have so much to learn from each other.

ASL is a language

American Sign Language and other signed languages are languages. It’s important to respect them as languages.

ASL is not English. It is a completely different language. Similarly, signed languages aren’t all the same. British Sign Language is completely different from ASL.

Signs are not universal, any more than spoken words are universal. The meaning of a sign isn’t always obvious just by watching; many signs are completely arbitrary.

Sign is not pantomime, and it’s not ad hoc gesture. It’s also not like symbolic gestures that are sometimes made up to accompany kids songs either. It’s a language, with all the complexities of language. The difference is important, and it needs to be respected. 

In order to know what signs mean, you have to learn them. (Just like in order to know what spoken words mean, you have to learn them.)

ASL is not just gestures, any more than spoken languages are just sounds. ASL has grammar, vocabulary, and culture. It’s important to respect this and not erase it.