Spatial thinking – the way we navigate and manipulate the space around us. It is a very important part of problem solving and is the understanding of spatial matter. It is used in everyday life. Sign language is a form of spatial thinking and is done from the perspective of the signer and is involved in a shift of perspective and rotation. When somebody is signing, they are showing something spatially rather than on a flat surface. Study has even shown that learning ASL (American Sign Language) leads to construction of spatial relations which involves perspective shifts and mental capabilities.
In other words, when signing, a 3-D image is being shown of the topic. Signing the word tree, is showing something standing up high rather than flat on the surface. A hearing person will point and verbally cue at what they’re discussing however through sign language the discussion will describe spatially what is being talked about rather than just pointing. Using another word, spatial comprehension, people are able to visualize the object in positioning with a 2-D and 3-D environment. This also involves manipulating or rotating representations of positions or objects. That is one aptitude that is highly sought after and is an aptitude that sign language allows people to master. This might explain why so many hearing people have trouble understanding even the most basic signs. Because they are not thinking spatially when speaking so the image doesn’t ring true to them immediately. But when reminded to think of visual cues, they are generally able to follow signs like “drive”, “sit”, “stand”.
Right side of the brain focuses on spatial awareness and imagination. The left side of the brain focuses on logic, lists, and analysis. The left side of a brain also contains a person’s language functions. While research may say that people that sign use the same part of the brain to process language, what they might be missing is the spatial awareness that goes on when somebody is signing ASL. That is where hearing people are at their disadvantage, they don’t utilize both sides of their brain at the same time. That is why Sign Language is so hard to learn for some people, and also why those that utilize the language on a daily basis have capabilities beyond their imagination.
So next time somebody has a hard time gesturing or is unwilling to sign, it is not that they’re unwilling, it’s that they truly don’t have the spatial comprehension or awareness needed to be able to do it on the spot.