Parents Not Learning Sign Language for Mute Child Blasted: 'Always Refused'

A post about a teenage son who "blew up" at his parents for not being willing to learn sign language to better communicate with their mute daughter has gone viral on Reddit, where it has received more than 8,000 upvotes.

In a post shared on Reddit's Am I The A****** (AITA) subforum, 16-year-old Reddit user Maleficent_Round1611 said his 23-year-old sister Natalie has been mute following a car accident around five years ago that damaged her vocal cords.

The user said he and Natalie do video calls on FaceTime a lot because he learned sign language for her and it's how she prefers to communicate.

"Natalie gets by very well with sign language, however, our parents have always refused to actually learn ASL [American Sign Language]," he said.

Couple using sign language.
A stock image of a couple communicating using a type of sign language. iStock/Getty Images Plus

According to the son, their parents prefer to use text to "replace the long phone-calls they had with their parents when they went away to college."

His parents allegedly expect Natalie to be "sitting on the couch with the phone and [reply] as fast as possible in real time, and she's not interested. I overheard my parents complaining about this and insulting Natalie for it, and I blew up at them."

The son said his parents "got really angry" and grounded him. His aunts also criticized him, saying that his mother and father "both worked full time, had three kids to raise, both had church responsibilities," and that Natalie and he "were brats for expecting them to learn a new language on top of that."

ASL is a complete language expressed by movements of the hands and face and its grammar differs from that of English.

The National Association of the Deaf says it can take a year or more to learn enough signs for basic communication and sign them comfortably. As with any other language, some may pick it up more quickly than others but the key is to be patient through the learning process.

The original poster said his parents "always insisted that Natalie could write anything out, that text-to-speech was good enough if she didn't want to carry around a pen and paper. Most of her teachers were like that too, but I get it for them, she's just one student and they're busy. These are our parents."

According to the son, "so many people," including multiple cousins, their grandparents, multiple aunts and uncles, the two boyfriends she had after the accident as well as her current girlfriend, learned to sign for Natalie but never them [his parents]."

Being Busy Is Not an Excuse

Michelle Mintz is the founder of Baby Blooming Moments, a California-based parent coaching service who has a certificate of clinical competence in speech language pathology. She told Newsweek: "This brother advocating for his sister is beautiful and absolutely appropriate. Communication is the key to connecting and it is so sad to hear his parents are choosing not to connect with their daughter in the way that is best for her."

Mintz noted that learning a new language can be challenging and does take time, but "being busy isn't an excuse for a parent not doing what is best for their child."

"Learning to adapt to meet their daughter's needs is the ultimate essence of parenting," Mintz said.

She said there may be other underlying issues for the parents being so resistant to learning ASL.

According to Mintz they may be "having a difficult time accepting this new life for their daughter and themselves" or are just fearful they can't learn a new language.

Make It Fun To Learn the Language

Mintz said perhaps "making it fun to learn the new language" by turning it into a game may be a good approach to this situation.

For example, while sitting at dinner with everyone around the table, the daughter can teach the same sign every time someone passes food across the table. By repeating the same sign throughout dinner, the parents can easily pick it up and use it appropriately at other times, she said.

"The parents must be acknowledged for their attempts and success to encourage them to continue with this family journey. It is extremely important to find creative and fun ways for the parents to learn ASL as that is the language their daughter best communicates with and it will improve the dynamics of this family tremendously," Mintz said.

In a 2016 study by the Modern Language Association looking at course enrollments across colleges and universities in the U.S., ASL was reported to be the third-most studied language, outranked only by Spanish and French.

Parents Need a 'Reality Check'

Several users on Reddit sided with the original poster and shared messages of support.

In a comment that got 14,000 upvotes, user LordNeo wrote: "Parents should've been the first ones to learn ASL. If 'church responsibilities' are more important than parental responsibilities, then they should get a reality check on what said church is teaching them."

Panzermensch911 said: "OP [original poster] you are NTA [not the a******]. You are a good egg. I hope you can preserve this for yourself despite the social pressure of your family. You and Natalie might want to have a plan though and play this smart. As long as you are financially dependent on your parents they have considerable power over you."

PokemonPuzzler said: "The length of the conversations they want is what stood out to me. If they're so busy they can't spend some time learning ASL for their daughter, how do they have time for those long phone conversations? If they have time for those, it's by text so they could send their messages and try to learn in between. NTA, OP."

Newsweek was not able to verify the details of this case.

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