Lessons Learned from ASL
A few months ago, I decided that I was going to try learning American Sign Language (ASL). I'm not fluent in a second language, though I wish that I was. Having worked with a deaf therapy client once in the past (with the help of an ASL interpreter), the language, as well as deaf culture, interest me. Visually, it's a beautiful language. More importantly though, having the ability to communicate in another language is also a practical skill that is useful as a therapist. So, I set out to begin learning ASL. It has started out well, with the help of a book and DVD, and I plan to attend a class in the near future. To my surprise, my efforts to learn ASL have taught me more than how to sign the letters of the alphabet or basic gestures such as please and thank you. First of all, learning ASL immediately instills a new appreciation for being able to hear and communicate verbally. It's an easy thing to take for granted. Learning ASL also reminded me of the difficulty in mastering a new skill that is completely foreign. I ask my clients to do this, in a similar way, all the time. An important part of therapy is learning new skills to cope with things such as anxiety, depression, and stress. I teach these skills and techniques to clients and ask that they practice using them as much as possible. American Sign Language is giving me a rude awakening that learning a new skill (and then actually following through with practicing it consistently to get better at it) is easier said than done. I can more deeply empathize with my clients and understand their feelings of frustration when it doesn't come naturally to make a new skill, such as diaphragmatic/relaxation breathing, a daily practice. I will continue my journey of learning ASL and in discouraged moments will have to listen to my own advice that persistence pays off. Hmmm, I wonder how to sign "persistence pays off".