Language acquisition for deaf children: Reducing the harms of zero tolerance to the use of alternative approaches
Written by a group of academic professionals from the Deaf community and posted to the Harm Reduction Journal on April 2, 2012, Language acquisition for deaf children: Reducing the harms of zero tolerance to the use of alternative approaches reviews the medical harm that is imposed upon children who receive cochlear implants and are not provided with an opportunity to learn sign language. The authors also suggest that the implantation itself is not necessary, that the gain in hearing abilities are not more than the hearing which is gained through the use of hearing aids, and implantation results in irreversible damage to the cochlea ( Humphries, Kushalnagar, Mathur, Napoli, Padden, Rathmann and Smith 2012).
Linguistic abilities are strongest when children are young, and providing opportunity to acquire language is a basic human right. The authors suggest that most of the children who receive a cochlear implant, “experience harm not only because they do not experience success with the cochlear implant but because they are also not provided with exposure to sign language” ( Humphries et al., 2012). Not doing so deprives Deaf children typical brain development which impacts their ability to function and to live optimally.
The abilities to produce intelligible speech and to utilize hearing as provided by the cochlear implant are frequently insufficient. There is no harm in providing multiple modalities for language reception and expression; whereas medical harm can occur from undergoing an invasive medical procedure with decidedly less than moderately successful results. Humphries and his colleagues conclude with the recommendation that Deaf children be bimodal, using sign language and written and/or spoken language. Speech skills are encouraged, as are the use of hearing aids (2012).
I feel that it is exceedingly important for those providing direct services to families with Deaf infants to know more about the options available to families, and to understand the importance of incorporating sign language into the earliest interventions. Doctors, audiologists, D/HH teachers, and other professionals should be educated and aware of all of the options and potential outcomes available and be able to provide concise and unbiased information. The medical community frequently has first contact with families when they learn that their child is Deaf, and they need to know more about the culture of the Deaf community and the linguistic, cognitive, and cultural importance of including sign language in any Deaf child’s early intervention plan.
Humphries, T., Kushalnagar, P., Mathur, G., Napoli, D. J., Padden, C., Rathmann, C., et al. (2012). Language acquisition for deaf children: Reducing the harms of zero tolerance to the use of alternative approaches . Harm Reduction Journal, 9(16), 1-9.