Sign Language Use for Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and Hearing Babies: The Evidence Supports It
Drawing from a large body of research, there is a clear argument favoring the use of sign language with all children, regardless of their hearing status. This argument is based on three basic points:
- Early language learning experiences affect other areas of development and are critical to children’s future success.
- Sign language provides the earliest possible mode through which children can learn expressive language skills.
- All children can benefit from the use of sign language, with no risk to other language skills
- Hearing children
- Deaf children
- Hard of hearing children
- Any child benefiting from technological auditory assistance
Early language learning experiences affect other areas of development and are critical to children’s future success. Language is necessary to many other aspects of development, including cognitive, social and psychological development. A lack of language skills can have devastating effects. Poor language skills are often linked to academic difficulty, behavioral problems, poor self-esteem, and social immaturity. Researchers have long known that poor communication abilities can be linked to high levels of delinquency, violence, and incarceration. Even the “terrible twos” stage of child development is thought to be caused by children’s frustration at being unable to communicate with their caregivers. On the other hand, study after study has shown that early development of language skills brings many advantages. For instance, those who learn their first language early have an easier time acquiring skills in a second language. Also, children with strong language skills consistently outperform their peers on tests of intelligence and other measures of success. All this is true regardless of which language a child learns first, it can be English or another spoken language, or it can be sign language, and the research tells us the results will be the same. The earlier a child learns his first language, the greater his success will be in acquiring language skills and meeting other important developmental goals. Sign language provides the earliest possible mode through which children can learn expressive language skills. Use of sign language with young children, of any hearing status, is known to promote early communication. The reason for this is that children begin to learn language long before they are physically capable of reproducing speech. While the organs of speech are still maturing, children struggle to find ways of expressing themselves. Given exposure to a visual language of signs, children are able to master language at an earlier stage. Signing children can communicate, while their peers are still frustrated over the inability to tell caregivers what they want or need.
Key Findings on the Advantages of Early Visual Language:
- The brain is most receptive to language acquisition during “sensitive periods” early in a child’s development.
- Deaf and hard of hearing children who receive early intervention services have been found to have better language outcomes.
- High levels of family involvement have been found to produce greater language development outcomes in deaf and hard of hearing children.
- Acquiring a complete first language during early childhood is critical for later reading comprehension.
- Learning two languages (that is, American Sign Language and English) is advantageous for deaf and hard of hearing children.
- A child’s language foundation is an important factor in spoken language development.
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