To fully support Deaf children’s linguistic, cognitive, social and emotional development, the Washington School for the Deaf (WSD) provides a comprehensive educational program that includes a commitment to promoting the acquisition, maintenance and study of American Sign Language (ASL) and English for all deaf and hard of hearing children. This commitment supports students’ development of ASL receptive and expressive skills as well as reading and writing in English and, when appropriate for the child, spoken English.

WSD believes both ASL and English are distinctive yet equal. WSD’s ASL-English bilingual program is based on the following principles:

  • A strong language foundation is the key to overall successful educational experiences. Research demonstrates that deaf children who are fluent ASL users have greater success in English literacy and higher cognitive skills.
  • ASL exists in a natural, visual-spatial modality that allows for full linguistic input.
  • By developing competency in a first language such as ASL, deaf children will be able to develop competency in a second language. Cummins (2006) offers the Common Underlying Proficiency (CUP) theory as an explanation for proficiency in a first, fully accessible natural language being a necessary prerequisite to the development of a second language. Children will be able to transfer their meta-cognitive skills from the first language (ASL) to the second language (English).
  • Providing formal instruction in ASL allows deaf children to develop metacognitive awareness of language functions, executive functioning skills and a sense of self and identity, as well as the ability to communicate with society at large.
  • The advantages of bilingualism include:
    • Greater cultural access and knowledge
    • Better overall socio-emotional skills
    • Communication and cognitive flexibility (i.e. meta-cognitive skills)
    • Creativity and stronger problem solving skills
    • Stronger proficiency in the understanding of abstract concepts
    • Stronger ability to categorize information
    • Superior skills in verbal/nonverbal intelligence tests.

To learn more about the ASL program, you can download the ASL-English Bilingual Program Fact Sheet. WSD also offers student support including ASL Specialists as well as Speech & Language Pathology.