Monday, August 24, 2009

Let our children hear — and learn to speak

Source Link - Let our children hear — and learn to speak

Never have the opportunities for deaf children been greater than they are today, thanks to advances in technology, medical science and psycholinguistics. — Nico van der Merwe snr and Dr Morag Clark, Pretoria

Today’s hearing aids are so advanced that almost every deaf child can hear and learn to speak — and then there are cochlear implants.

Thanks to this technology, it’s possible for a deaf child to follow the same pattern of language learning as those with hearing, but technological advances alone are not sufficient to ensure that young deaf children develop speech.

The environment is all-important.

It must be understood that spoken language is the basis for efficient reading: children who can’t speak have very low reading ages.

But deaf children educated from the start in how to listen and so to speak, have in many cases reading ages commensurate with their hearing peers. Increasing access to sign language is not the answer to the problem.

What is needed is an interactive approach that helps each child to develop spoken language: this then lays the foundation for skill in reading, which leads, therefore, to academic attainment.

In addition, the number of people who understand and use sign language efficiently is very small, and so those comfortable only in sign language are socially isolated and dependent on deaf culture.

It’s claimed by some that sign language is the generic language of a deaf child.

This is totally false.

The generic language of any child is the language of the home, and only 3% of all deaf children have two signing deaf parents.

It is therefore clear that spoken language is the way forward.

The answer lies in the environment in which the deaf child develops and is educated.

Parents need help in the early stages of a child’s development. They need to learn how to manage their child’s hearing and, at the same time, learn how to interact with their child in spoken language.

This necessitates programmes where parents can develop confidence and competence.

Thanks to technology it is now possible to identify children’s deafness in the first week of life, and children should be fitted with amplification as soon as possible after diagnosis.

From pre-school on, the children should be placed in an environment where they are surrounded by children who speak normally.

The ideal is for them to attend a regular school.

In South Africa there is a growing awareness of the benefits of inclusive education and a need for the training of teachers in regular schools in how to manage the special needs of a deaf child.