Friday, 18 November 2011

Dyspraxia & Sign Language

    There's two things I'm really interested in (outside of writing) - autism / dyspraxia studies and Deaf awareness / sign language. I have the former (dyspraxia) and am studying the latter (just started Level 2 British Sign Language).

    Before I started BSL, I never considered how it could link up with my dyspraxia - I've discussed that before ( - but I'm conscious more than ever how they can impact each other, and improve my awareness of both my condition and my communication with others, both Deaf and hearing.

    My short-term memory is atrocious - genuinely, it is terrible, so I have to work hard and for longer to retain information. I'm also a very visual people, so I don't always rely on reams of notes to get me through a situation, but rehearsing and practicing over and over again, even in the confines of my own head, help me learn. I think I worry people sometimes, because they notice my lack of note-taking, but I much prefer visualising my learning; it makes it easier, and BSL is perfect for that - it's ALL visual! I don't make many notes in class, as I much prefer to practice in an almost rote-like fashion, and this makes my learning far more effective.

    There's another HUGE concept in BSL - that of multi-channel, where a concept or a phrase is communicated through hands, facial expression and body. All of sign is, of course, communicated like this, but multi-channel signs are whole concepts rather than individual signs; for example, "I've not seen you in ages" is a multi-channel sign. It uses the face and body as well as hands to communicate that entire phrase - and you need all those things to communicate it effectively.

    That makes it interesting for someone who isn't overly facially expressive for a majority of the time; when I am, it's usually because I'm in a comfortable setting, with people I know, and I'm confident with my emotions. For the rest of the time, if I'm unsure of how to project an emotion (sometimes!) or I have anxiety (sometimes) or not thinking about making an actual effort to project an emotion to make other people feel comfortable, or I just don't understand an emotion, then I will appear quite ... ahem ... serious.

    Visual and expressive emotion is a fun thing to study in BSL when you're like that, and it can increase my anxiety when I have to be overly expressive - although I can't entirely put my finger on why. That's a debate for another time, but learning BSL at level two is a lot harder than level one (in a good way), and so I have to be a lot more focused on the language and how non-manual features such as facial expressions are vital in communication.

    This is a "hearing" issue as well as a "dyspraxia" issue, I suspect; hearing people can use intonation as well, and don't need rely on facial expression to get across an emotion. So this is an awareness-raising discussion as well; for others as well as for me. I've always believed that hearing people need to have more deaf awareness, and have a more emotive face is certainly part of that - and clearly something that I will continue to learn!

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