Deaf News: Deafness experts in America say deaf children should be bilingual and learn sign language

Posted on July 11, 2015

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Deafness experts in the US, writing in a journal called Pediatrics, have said that deaf children should be bilingual, and that “the benefits of learning sign language clearly outweigh the risks” for deaf children, even if they are given a cochlear implant.

For years many (but not all) hearing specialists have advised that learning sign language may interfere with deaf children’s ability to make the most of learning to speak and use the hearing they have got.

Deaf people have vehemently disagreed – citing the importance of early communication and the benefits of communicating visually in sign language.

Now, Fox News has reported that nine experts writing in the journal have concluded that learning to sign along with speech is better than focusing only on spoken communication.

Extract from Fox News:

Parents of deaf children face a critical responsibility to learn and use sign language, according to a majority of hearing experts quoted in the journal Pediatrics, although the question of whether or not to sign has grown increasingly controversial.

Ten thousand infants are born yearly in the U.S. with sensorineural deafness, and data suggest that half receive cochlear implants, small devices that help provide a sense of sound to profoundly deaf individuals.

While some specialists advise that all deaf children, with or without cochlear implants, learn sign language, others fear that learning sign language will interfere with the demanding rehabilitation needed to maximize the cochlear device. Still others worry that asking parents to learn a new language quickly is too burdensome.

In an “Ethics Rounds” feature in Pediatrics, nine experts from hearing and language-associated fields share their perspectives and conclude, “The benefits of learning sign language clearly outweigh the risks. For parents and families who are willing and able, this approach seems clearly preferable to an approach that focuses solely on oral communication,” in which the child would depend only on the cochlear device or other auditory-verbal approaches.

John Lantos, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, writes in the journal, “The more languages they learn, the better these children will be able to communicate.”

Lantos told Reuters Health that too many children who receive cochlear implants fail to achieve full functionality in the hearing world. “If the idea is to give kids the most potential to communicate in the most ways that they can, it seems like learning both is the best approach.”

Linguist Donna Jo Napoli contributed one of the most urgent arguments for full adoption of sign language. “Children should be surrounded by sign language as much as possible as soon as the audiological status is determined,” she told Reuters Health. “If the child gets a cochlear implant and does well with it, fantastic. Then the child is bi-lingual.”

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