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August 2, 2004

SEE helps deaf, hearing-impaired

From: Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, IN - Aug 2, 2004

Signing Exact English expresses entire sentence

By Sabra Snyder
The Journal Gazette

Fourteen-year-old Amanda Didier can read and write in English without ever having heard a spoken word.

"Amanda is able to read and write correctly," said Deb Didier, Amanda's mother. "She writes proper English. Without hearing English, (Signing Exact English) has helped her to write and read in exact English – and not leave out words."

Parents such as Deb Didier, teachers, speech pathologists and others gathered at Blackhawk Christian Church on Sunday to begin sharpening their sign language skills at the 11th annual Signing Exact English Skillshop, a weeklong workshop that teaches how to use Signing Exact English to communicate with deaf and hearing-impaired people.

During the week, signers will attend about 45 hours of training. The conference is sponsored by the League for the Blind and Disabled, Parents and Associates of the Verbally Challenged, and Blackhawk Ministries.

Signing Exact English is a form of signing, feeling, voice use and articulation developed by SEE Center co-founders Esther Zawolkow and Gerilee Gustason that differs from the more widely used American Sign Language.

Deb Gualdoni, a speech therapist at DeKalb Memorial Hospital and SEE Skillshop co-organizer, said the primary purpose of SEE, which was developed from ASL, helps people who are deaf or hearing-impaired at their early developmental stages understand the concept of spoken and written English words.

In contrast, Gualdoni said American Sign Language relies more heavily on symbolic gestures and ideas to convey meaning. ASL is most often used by deaf and hearing-impaired individuals after the childhood development stage.

Gualdoni said that when signing in ASL, concepts are used to make a coherent statement. Three signs whose literal translation would sound something like "Put–ball–table" are connected automatically in the viewer's mind to mean "Put the ball on the table."

But with SEE, signers use visual equivalents of word endings and connecters to fill sentences out manually and visually. In SEE, there is a sign for words such as "on" and "the" and endings such as "-ed" and "-ing."

"ASL is a beautiful language for everyday use," Gualdoni said. "But there's a coding that you use in SEE that you don't use in ASL."

That coding, Gualdoni said, helped deaf children such as Justin Laurie, 13, of Huntington, learn English without ever hearing it spoken. Justin's mother, Mary Laurie, an educational interpreter, said she came to SEE Skillshops in Fort Wayne when her son was young.

"I feel that when a child is first starting out, SEE is the way to go," Mary Laurie said. "When children are growing up, they need to learn proper English, how to speak it and write it. When Justin was growing up, I wouldn't have chosen anything but SEE."

Mary Shifley, a FWCS special education teacher, said the demand for SEE training in the Midwest has increased since she and Jan Forman, a district interpreter brought the SEE Center to Fort Wayne for the city's first Skillshop in 1993.

Gualdoni said Foreman and Shifley saw a need in Fort Wayne. There were not enough signers with professional credentials to work with Fort Wayne's deaf and hearing-impaired individuals.

"They saw the advantages of educating with SEE," Gualdoni said. "Eleven years ago, our educators weren't getting enough formal training in ASL or SEE. They were hiring anyone they could get to sign."

SEE's success in helping deaf and hearing- mpaired children understand the mechanics of the spoken English language has made it a widely used form of communication and interpretation in Fort Wayne schools. Today, Fort Wayne Community Schools and Southwest Allen County Schools use SEE to integrate hearing-impaired and deaf children into their communities, and other area schools use elements of SEE as well.

Justin Laurie attends school with an interpreter who uses SEE to help him communicate.

But Mary Laurie said as Justin has grown older, the family has begun to learn more about ASL. Laurie said she believes the two languages are beneficial at different stages – that SEE was important for Justin's early development and that ASL might be an easier communication tool as he gets older.

But Laurie said the choice to use ASL or SEE will ultimately be Justin's.

"The important thing is getting the meaning across – making others understand you," Laurie said

Mary Laurie said attending SEE Skillshops helped her meet other parents with special needs children. Laurie said Skillshop parents and professionals provided her with both a support network and much-needed motivation to continue her work with signing.

Shifley said the satisfaction of seeing individuals complete their Skillshop training is priceless.

"It's so rewarding to see people at the end of the week who can now talk with their child or their grandchild," she said.

© 2004 Journal Gazette and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.