Bringing Families Together
RI School for the Deaf’s Parent/Infant/Toddler Program
When hearing parents give birth to a Deaf infant, they are immediately confronted with countless questions. “Will my child be able to attend college?” “Will he ever drive a car?” “As my baby picks up American Sign Language, how will I remain a part of her life?” And, perhaps most importantly, parents wonder, “Who can I talk to about all this new information?”
Questions and concerns like these are why RISD’s Parent/Infant/Toddler Partners (PIP) was developed. Designed to serve Deaf and hard-of- hearing children from infancy to three years of age with their families, PIP focuses on four key areas of development:
Language:Developing each baby’s ability to use and understand ASL and English separately. At birth, humans are wired for language through both visual and auditory pathways. The program activities seek to develop both to facilitate stronger cognitive skills right from the start.
Interaction: Fostering the a bond between parent and child, and supporting parents as they gain confidence in their role. Research demonstrates repeatedly that parents that can be empowered through learning to communicate easily and naturally through visual language with their deaf and hard of hearing children are most relaxed in their new role.
Emotional Growth: Encouraging the development of each child’s self-esteem and a sense of identity in both Deaf and hearing cultures.
Education: Helping each child reach developmental milestones, while teaching parents about natural child development.
One unique feature of the PIP programs is that Deaf adults direct the program, and their goal is to empower hearing parents to build confidence as their child’s primary teachers. Lena Greene, our PIP Coordinator, is a Deaf educator and a special educator, who helped to establish the program. Deaf, herself, she is trilingual, a certified Master’s level teacher, and a parent of four.
Helping Parents Teach Their Children, At School and At Home
At PIP, parents and children are encouraged to play and learn together in an informal classroom setting. Activities include storytelling and age-appropriate art projects. Since learnig through play is the most important work of young children, much family timeat PIP is spent ‘playing’ with each child and learning signs for everyday objects. Staff interpreters are always very involved, ensuring that all parents can ask for feedback, work on their ASL skills, and socialize with other parents of Deaf children.
During home visits, early childhood specialists who use ASL serve as language role models for parents and children. Incidental sign language instruction and ASL are presented in the natural context of the home and realistic positive expectations for the child’s growth and development are emphasized. These visits allow parents the opportunity to meet a fully-functioning Deaf adult early on and dispel some fears they may have regarding their own child’s deafness, while learning about Deaf culture and language.
Parents are also encouraged to take ASL courses at our campus. Courses are offered free to parents and grandparents while their child is a part of the program. A lending library comprised of videotapes, audiotapes, books, catalogs, and brochures is also available to parents.
Infants No Longer
Since its inception, PIP has proven to be a great success. Parents appreciate the opportunity to learn ASL, and many report that PIP has helped eliminate the isolation that they felt upon their child’s Deaf diagnosis. Often, friendships made by parents in PIP have lasted throughout the course of their child’s education. Entering preschool with a strong self-identity and deeper language foundation is the next step.
The program has proven to be a great benefit to students, as well. We believe that their early involvement with PIP, coupled with their commitment and the loving support of their parents, get these younsters off to a great start.
For more information on PIP, please contact Nancy Maguire Heath at 401-222-3525.