Thursday, February 21, 2013

Deafness and Literacy: A Two-Sided Debate

I can remember in the beginning, when I found out Julia had a hearing loss at 13 months old, I have to say, it was like someone had picked me up and thrown me against the wall. All the dreams, aspirations for my child and what was hoped to be were shattered. I started blaming myself, the doctors, etc. It was a tormenting roller-coaster of emotions, scary as heck and seemingly never-ending. Being caught up in it all I lost sight of all the beauty and miracle of life I was blessed with in my daughter. I learned the emotions had to be received and dealt with in order for me to move forward for the benefit of my daughter and myself. I knew my responsibility, as her mother, was to remove myself from my world and put myself in hers, this included learning a new language that would be her own. This article gives some insight on the importance of literacy and language development for those living with deafness.

In a commentary from the Harm Reduction Journal, Language acquisition for deaf children: Reducing the harms of zero tolerance to the use of alternative approaches -- The vast majority of deaf infants (approximately 96%) are born to hearing parents, who often know very little about sign language or Deaf communities. These parents are in a state of vulnerability, grieving the loss of a normally hearing child and fearing what the future may hold (or not hold) if their child cannot speak like a hearing child. They might view sign as an inferior choice or a last resort and not fully understand that sign language is a human language with the linguistic complexity and expressiveness of spoken language. They might also fear their child will be stigmatized if they use a sign language. Furthermore, they might be afraid of trying to learn a new language at their age or of being embarrassed by the use of the language.

Another aspect for consideration is medical professionals who work with deaf children and their families need to step forward and assume the responsibilities the situation places on them. If they intend to give advice to their deaf patients about language development, they need to inform themselves about how some principles of first language achievements might be more important for deaf children. Visual language skills can contribute to deaf children's language development. A deeper understanding of this would lead medical professionals to tell parents of deaf children that sign language offers them accessible language and prescribe this as a medical necessity.

In an article by Diamond, B. (1998).— He writes, It is well accepted that American Sign Language (ASL) is the first language of deaf individuals, yet many educators persist in teaching English as their first language. English and ASL are grammatically different and mastery of both languages proves to be difficult for many people, hearing or deaf. If a person has not been exposed to a verbal language, they cannot understand the rules which govern that language, making it a very difficult challenge if instruction is only presented in English. Hearing children live in an environment where they hear English continually and that by hearing the language, they gain the ability to form grammatical sentences. Deaf Children are excluded because they cannot hear the verbal language. 

We must keep in mind; every child is different, with different degrees of hearing loss. The ability for a child to learn language and reading skills will depend on the measurement of hearing loss. Determining which is best for your particular child will be better handled by all those involved in the child’s education and the mastery of goals expected to achieve. As the mother of Julia, I can say this for sure, along our journey with her is has been most important to us as a family to respect her learning style and encourage language development in her native sign language. This was also equally important for the communication and grassroots involvement with her educational teams throughout her school years. For a child to have true mastery of a goal in any subject there must be collaborations with educators and families, it’s a team effort. Keep the lines of communication open and ask questions.