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Clinical Pediatrics
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DOI: 10.1177/0009922815616891
The principle of respect for autonomy in modern medi-
cal ethics1 leads doctors to avoid persuasion and aim for
neutrality when discussing language choices regarding
deaf infants. However, at times persuasion to overcome
biases is necessary and ethically mandatory.2
Many parents and health professionals have faith in the
ability of cochlear implants (CIs) to allow deaf children to
“hear” and achieve normal language and speech develop-
ment. While it is good to encourage parents’ hope for their
children’s future, to avoid bias, medical professionals
must acknowledge the reality that CIs do not replace nor-
mal hearing. As of 2006, 80% of deaf infants in Northern
Europe were receiving CIs,3 and as of December 2010,
roughly 40% worldwide.4 Parents need to know that CI
may not guarantee their child’s language acquisition.
While a CI is usually given only to a child who will not
benefit from a hearing aid, it is important to recognize that
CIs are not “super hearing aids”; even hospitals that per-
form CI surgery make statements such as: “For most
patients, a cochlear implant will not work as well as a
hearing aid” 5 and studies support that statement.6 That’s
because a hearing aid (HA) simply amplifies sound,
whereas with CIs sound is transformed into electrical
impulses delivered directly to the cochlear nerve. The
CI-child must undergo long-term extensive training to
interpret those electrical impulses.7 Unpredictable indi-
vidual variation in outcomes is pervasive even with great
effort and dedication from caregivers and the deaf child8;
some deaf children receive little to no auditory benefit
from CIs in acquiring language.9
The neuronal plasticity of the brain with respect to lan-
guage acquisition is maximal before the age of 3 years10; if
a child is not fluent in a language by the age of 5 years, that
child may never achieve full fluency in any language.11 At
the same time during this critical period, the increase in
synaptic density occurs earlier and more rapidly in the
occipital cortex than in the auditory12; so the deaf infant’s
brain is primed for visual input. Sign languages provide
this visual input; access to signing can ensure language
acquisition for deaf children and avoid cognitive deficits
associated with linguistic deprivation.13-16 The deaf child
who signs well does better academically than the deaf child
who doesn’t, regardless of all other factors,17 and most
attribute this to the fact that the signing deaf child is not at
a linguistic disadvantage. Given evidence such as this, a
recent panel of specialists concluded that all children born
deaf should be taught a sign language immediately.18
We are a team of specialists in education studies, lin-
guistics, pediatric medicine, and developmental psy-
chology; our work focuses on deaf individuals. In order
to help the practicing pediatrician, we offer here
responses to common family questions. Our responses
respect families’ autonomy while bearing in mind the
difficulty that many parents have coming to terms with
children who are different. The evidence-based informa-
tion related to deaf children’s language and speech
development here should help enable parents to better
be involved in making the relevant decisions.19,20 Our
intention is for the advice below to go directly to parents
or indirectly via those involved in the educating of deaf
What Will Give My Child the Best
Chances of Learning to Talk?
The starting point is acquiring a language, not speech per
se. Languages can be spoken or signed, and both modali-
ties are “equal citizens” in a cognitive sense21; that is,
they fully support all human communicative needs in
daily interactions and academic endeavors. A child must
understand what language communication is about
616891CPJXXX10.1177/0009922815616891Clinical PediatricsHumphries et al
1University of California at San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA
2Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY, USA
3Gallaudet University, Washington, DC, USA
4Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA, USA
5Universität Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany
6University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, NY, USA
Corresponding Author:
Donna Jo Napoli, Department of Linguistics, Swarthmore College,
500 College Avenue, Swarthmore, PA 19081, USA.
Language Choices for Deaf Infants:
Advice for Parents Regarding Sign
Tom Humphries, PhD1, Poorna Kushalnagar, PhD2, Gaurav Mathur, PhD3,
Donna Jo Napoli, PhD4, Carol Padden, PhD1, Christian Rathmann, PhD5,
and Scott Smith, MD, MPH6
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2 Clinical Pediatrics
before a child can communicate with language in either
modality. As a child participates in accessible language
communication, the child begins to understand and use
language in sign and/or speech. Sign languages are
accessible to all deaf children while spoken languages
may be fully accessible only to some, via HA or CI.
Introducing 2 languages does not interfere with
acquisition of either,22-26 whether spoken or signed.27
To the contrary, many studies show signing aids
development of spoken language and reading skills in the
CI-child.28-31 In a study of CI-children who had been
learning to sign since birth, they performed in English on
par with hearing peers.32 CI-children exposed to sign and
speech tend to show rapid learning in both.33 CI-children
with deaf parents often outperform CI-children with
hearing parents on spoken language skills, presumably
because of sign competence.34 Children aged 4 to 7 years
implanted at age 12 to 24 months and educated through
oral-aural combined with signing are capable of achiev-
ing “age appropriate language levels on expressive
vocabulary and receptive syntax.”35(p1274) Signing deaf
children use their phonological awareness skills in sign-
ing to help them read a spoken language.36
How Can I Teach My Child Signing if
I Don’t Sign Myself?
Immigrant children who go to school with peers speaking
the surrounding language become fluent and speak like
their peers and the native speakers outside their home. In
particular, while their parents usually continue to use lan-
guage that is recognizably nonnative, the children do not
replicate their parents’ language use; they replicate the
language use of native speakers. So parents do not have to
be perfect language models or even very good language
models. What matters is that the child be exposed to good
language models frequently and regularly, and models
outside the home can serve that function very well.
However, even if not fluent, the parents’ language use
is still important to the language development of the
child. Children need to interact directly through language
with their family members in order to develop healthy
relationships with those members; the alternative leads to
feelings of isolation and frustration. When a hearing
mother signs with her deaf child, the child shows early
language expressiveness on a par with hearing peers37
regardless of her signing abilities. And deaf children who
have good family relationships have a better chance of
developing healthy psychosocial identities.38
In sum, when deaf children are placed into environ-
ments with good sign language models, they learn to
sign fluently, even if their family does not.39 Most cities
have deaf and hearing communication centers that offer
sign language classes for families and that can help fam-
ilies make ties with deaf community members. (A list of
useful websites is offered at the end of this article.)
Won’t There Be Less Family
Disruption and Less Work if I Raise
My Child Strictly Orally?
The presence of a deaf child changes family dynamics
regardless of language(s) used.
If your child has HA or CI, it might be possible for
him or her to become linguistically competent and happy
using speech only. The training necessary for having a
chance at speech competence requires daily commit-
ment of time and effort on the part of all those involved
in raising and educating the child. But, importantly, it
also requires enormous persistence on the part of the
deaf child. If oral language skills enable the child to
communicate with hearing strangers, these skills might
open up additional social and professional opportunities,
to be sure. However, there is no assurance that any of
this will happen, no matter how much time and effort are
devoted to training. And if it doesn’t happen, not only
will the child have wasted great amounts of time that
could have been spent in play (important to learning)
and more fruitful activities, but the child may well expe-
rience a sense of failure.
On the other hand, sign language skills ensure the
child’s cognitive health and avoid family frustration.40
Furthermore, the deaf child will have a language in
which to be comfortable, where the child can acquire
knowledge, catch jokes, and appreciate nuances of lan-
guage necessary to socialize, relax, and be eloquent.
Learning a sign language will definitely require time
and effort of the family, but for the deaf child it is a natu-
ral process that does not require extra effort.
Won’t Signing Adversely Affect My
Child’s Academic Achievements?
After All, Bilingualism Is Confusing
Knowing a sign language does not impede a deaf child’s
academic achievements. In fact, good signing skills pro-
mote the acquisition of literacy, both reading and writ-
ing, as study after study has shown.41-49 It’s actually
simple: A child needs a solid foundation in a first lan-
guage in order to understand what literacy is all about,
and a sign language is the best way to give a deaf child
that foundation.50
So deaf children need to be raised bilingually—in
both their local sign language and the ambient spoken
language, at least the written form of it. Bilingualism
might be considered a luxury for hearing children in
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Humphries et al 3
some places, but bilingualism is necessary for a deaf
child, to ensure intact language capabilities and social-
cultural development.
Parents can rest assured that bilingualism will not
harm their children, but, instead, bestow “the bilingual
advantage.”51 The bilingual brain is quick, focused, and
flexible. Bilinguals are “mental jugglers” with enhanced
executive function.52 Frequent juggling between lan-
guages increases cognitive benefit—and this goes for
bimodal bilinguals too53—whether one is a “balanced
bilingual” or not, although the more nearly balanced one
is, the more benefit for spontaneous cognitive flexibil-
ity.54 Bilinguals show enhanced sensitivity to language
distinctions,55 which is an advantage in language pro-
cessing.56 Bilingualism retards the onset of dementia.57
Being raised bilingual improves language functioning
and higher level cognitive skills in children with lan-
guage impairments.58
Can’t We Wait to See if Our Child
Succeeds with a CI Before Working
to Learn to Sign?
The earlier children are exposed to a language, the
greater guarantee of fluency. Infants with an intact audi-
tory system differentiate sounds of the surrounding lan-
guage from sounds of unfamiliar languages,59 and a
child’s ability to distinguish between articulations (audi-
tory or manual) of her surrounding language in the first
year of life predicts language abilities in the second and
third years of life.60 Early intervention services deliv-
ered before 6 months of age result in better receptive and
expressive language.61 If the CI does not provide the
deaf child this critical early language access, as it often
does not, waiting to introduce signing runs the risk that
she might miss the window for language fluency.
But Won’t I Lose My Child to Deaf
Parents who sign are not more likely to “lose” their chil-
dren. In fact, logically, parents who sign strengthen the
bond with their deaf child. Children who associate with
other deaf people are not lost to their hearing families.
Deaf children’s experience will always be different from
their hearing parents, but they will also share much with
them if the family signs. Acceptance and love build
strong family bonds, not whether someone speaks or
signs. Having a strong sense of self supported by others
with the same experience gives deaf children, just like
hearing children, a sense of purpose and happiness,
important for future success.62
Useful Websites
For families:
For both families and professionals:
(This is an article: Early Beginnings for Deaf and
Hard of Hearing Children: Guidelines for Effective
For introduction to sign:
Author Contributions
All authors substantially contributed to the concept and design
of this article, helped in drafting and revising it, and approved
this final version for publication.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with
respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this
The author(s) received no financial support for the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article.
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... Unfortunately, although contemporary literature highlights this scientifically based fact, surprisingly, few families have been encouraged to explore it [100]. However, evidence clearly indicates that ignoring the achievement of communication competence in DHH children, including children with CIs, and insisting on the development of spoken language carries a high risk of failing to acquire any language (language deprivation), which negatively affects cognitive development, academic success, socio-emotional health, and overall quality of life (for details see [20,101,102]). Today, we know that a precondition for neurocognitive development, and everything else that follows it developmentally, is language, but not necessarily spoken. ...
... The emphasis must be on early learning, since later learning of sign language, when it is clear that poorly developed spoken language skills do not allow effective communication (when sign language becomes "plan B"), does not allow the achievement of the highest levels of fluency [105]. Children with CIs who learned sign language from an early age achieve significantly better language and speech results than children who relied only on listening to speech in language learning [106,107], and have higher chances of achieving other developmental milestones [20,101,102], such as the development of self-esteem and good social skills [108]. Data on the quality of life of children with CIs and spoken language alone showed a positive impact of implantation on their communication, social relationships, self-reliance, confidence, and family well-being. ...
... Therefore, it can be safely said that bilingual habilitation provides optimal conditions for the development of DHH children. The advantages of bilingualism are numerous [101]: it increases executive function (the brain is faster and has a stronger focus), enhances cognitive function and flexibility, improves language processing, and enables proper language and cognitive functioning. It is likely that parents, to whom the real achievements of CIs are explained, will finally be able to shift the focus of care from the imperative of speech development to the overall quality of life of their children, that is, towards building a healthy, respectful mutual relationship through which their children can develop into happy and self-confident individuals with full educational potential, capable of productive independent living. ...
Full-text available
Cochlear implants are a standard rehabilitation option for children with severe hearing loss or deafness, allowing access to speech sounds necessary for the development of spoken language. However, the speech-language outcomes of pediatric cochlear implant users vary widely and are not directly or exclusively linked to technology but to combinations of individual audiological, personal, technical, and habilitational factors. These combinations may not favor spoken language development, which may further be linked to the issue of prior insistence on spoken language learning and associated with a high risk of language deprivation. Here, we discuss the outcomes of cochlear implantation from a habilitative perspective and lay down the efforts and resources necessary for the development of communication competence after cochlear implantation rather than the achievement of specific hearing, language, or speech skills that have limited socioemotional and educational contributions and do not guarantee an independent or productive life.
... Many parents are led to believe that if they want their child to learn to speak, they must avoid the use of sign language because-even though the of use sign language will help stimulate their child's linguistic development and foster parent-child attachment and bonding-it will also put their child's spoken language development at risk (Humphries et al., 2015(Humphries et al., , 2016(Humphries et al., , 2017Humphries, Kushalnagar, Mathur, et al., 2014a). Despite the fact that there is no empirical evidence suggesting that use of a sign language prevents acquisition of spoken language-to the contrary, there is growing evidence to suggest that the development of sign language supports the development of spoken language and literacy (Allen, 2015;Allen et al., 2014;Chamberlain & Mayberry, 2008;Dammeyer, 2014;Freel et al., 2011;Harris et al., 2017;Harris & Beech, 1998;Hermans et al., 2010;Hrastinski & Wilbur, 2016;Humphries, 2013;Humphries et al., 2017;Humphries, Kushalnagar, Napoli, et al., 2014;Jasińska & Petitto, 2014;Knoors & Marschark, 2012;Kovelman et al., 2009;Padden & Ransey, 2000;Petitto et al., 2001Petitto et al., , 2016Scott & Hoffmeister, 2017;Strong & Prinz, 1997;Tomblin et al., 2018)-and despite the fact that parents of hearing children are actually encouraged to use sign language to stimulate language development in their infants and toddlers, parents of deaf and hard of hearing children are told by the experts they turn to these early months that they must decide between speech and sign, and that the choice they make will have significant consequences for their child's future. ...
... This is comprised of a set of techniques, referred to broadly here as auditory training (AT), that focus on optimizing sound recognition and perception, particularly for the purposes of developing spoken language, and speech therapy to improve speech production. In a multipronged approach, AT is typically paired with the expectation to provide near constant amplification (i.e., wearing the CI at all times) and often to avoid exposure to sign language (Clark, 2003;Geers et al., 2017;Humphries et al., 2015). Professionals set "expectations of persistence" for families and advise them to stick with it even if child's progress is slow. ...
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This chapter was written by an interdisciplinary group of authors representing the disciplines of deaf education, speech-language pathology, marriage and family therapy, and educational leadership; and including parents of children with disabilities, including one parent of hard of hearing children. While the contents of the chapter are applicable to professionals working in any area of special education, the chapter specifically focuses on working with children who are deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind, or deaf-disabled, and their families. The authors take readers on a family engagement journey that begins with learning about one family's experience raising children who are hard of hearing, then moves to discussions about strengths-based counseling and intervention approaches, acknowledging the difficult conversations that may arise during family engagement, and culminates in readers' awareness that becoming a skilled family-engaged practitioner is a lifelong process.
... Research has typically compared bilingual signing and speaking DHH children to those learning a single (spoken) language, often finding the signing-speaking children to be deficient (i.e., that the bilingual DHH children scored below monolingual English-speaking DHH children on standardized tests of spoken English, as in Geers et al., 2017; but see Fitzpatrick et al., 2016 for a systematic review finding that there is insufficient high-quality evidence to be conclusive). The results from these lines of research, in combination with other problematic scientific arguments and long-standing biases against sign languages, have been used by professionals to discourage sign language use with DHH children (as discussed in Hall, 2017;Hall et al., 2019;Henner & Robinson, 2023;Humphries et al., 2016;Mauldin, 2016). In contrast, if we recognize that a child exposed to both a signed and a spoken language is bilingual, we can learn from the immense literature about speech-speech bilinguals and set realistic expectations for language development in two languages. ...
Some studies have concluded that sign language hinders spoken language development for deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHH) children even though sign language exposure could protect DHH children from experiencing language deprivation. Furthermore, this research has rarely considered the bilingualism of children learning a signed and a spoken language. Here we compare spoken English development in 2-6-year-old deaf and hearing American Sign Language-English bilingual children to each other and to monolingual English speakers in a comparison database. Age predicted bilinguals' language scores on all measures, whereas hearing status was only significant for one measure. Both bilingual groups tended to score below monolinguals. Deaf bilinguals' scores differed more from monolinguals, potentially because of later age of and less total exposure to English, and/or to hearing through a cochlear implant. Overall, these results are consistent with typical early bilingual language development. Research and practice must treat signing-speaking children as bilinguals and consider the bilingual language development literature.
... This phenomenon is called language deprivation, and it is so rare among hearing children yet so common among DHH children and adults (Hall, 2017). Language deprivation is the condition of impairing the DHH children's acquisition and proficiency of languages they are exposed to with significant consequences to their developmental domains, such as cognition, social-emotional skills, and academic outcomes (Glickman & Hall, 2018;Hall et al., 2019;Humphries et al., 2016aHumphries et al., , 2016b. Hall et al. (2019) further elaborated that language deprivation reduces access to spoken and signed languages, particularly during early childhood. ...
This chapter prepares pre-service teachers to work with immigrant families with Deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) children. Immigrant families are families with children with at least one immigrant caregiver who resides in the United States and is not a U.S. citizen at birth. The chapter highlights a case study showing the unique experience of this vastly growing population of families in the US as they navigate engaging in the education of their DHH children. The chapter also focuses on theories and practices in preparing preservice teachers to work with immigrant families with DHH children. Family engagement often glances over in teacher preparation programs, but this is a detriment since family engagement is a predictor of school success.
... Such situations can be devastating when you consider that most deaf children are born to hearing parents who have not met a deaf individual prior to the birth of their child, nor have they had any exposure to sign language (Benedict & Stecker, 2011;Hermans et al., 2010). Following their child's identification, parents are often provided information regarding their child's hearing status from medical professionals (Eleweke & Rodda, 2000), and this information tends to emphasize hearing technologies and the learning of a spoken language (Humphries et al., 2016). Neither the successful use of hearing technology nor spoken language therapy can guarantee aural-oral language development among deaf children (Clark et al., 2021). ...
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Little is known about the earliest language acquisition of deaf children who have a variety of different experiences. Cochlear implants tend to be implanted between six months to 12 months and often become active around 18 months. In addition, Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs) tend to evaluate articulation rather than language acquisition. In terms of evaluating sign language, there are few normed assessments developed explicitly for this modality. Therefore, a joint research project was established with an early intervention program and Lamar University's Deaf Studies and Deaf Education department to evaluate the earliest language milestones acquired by deaf children between birth and five years of age. The project used language assessments developed for parents and teachers in both American Sign Language (ASL) and English, with norms derived from native users of each language. All languages reported as used by the family were assessed. Results found that most families selected spoken language and those results varied across participants. It was found that younger children using spoken language were more likely to demonstrate age-typical language acquisition when compared to older children. As more linguistic complexity developed, older children using spoken language tended to show delays. Future research suggests investigating bidirectional interactions between children, their families, and the broader systems with which the deaf child interacts. Doing so would create a further understanding of the child’s language acquisition and help families understand how to determine if their child’s language acquisition is progressing in a typical manner.
In promoting family engagement, we must first analyze the initial entry into the world of early intervention by families with children recently identified as deaf or hard of hearing. What is the framework in play? With deaf and hard of hearing children, the framework is usually based on language acquisition, namely which communication approach the families want to pursue. This chapter will discuss how current practices, supported by systematic and individual bias embedded in laws, have led to the development of a false dichotomy of parent choice, resulting in severe disconnection between the child and the parents/family, thus reducing the chance for authentic engagement.
Deaf children experience language deprivation at alarmingly high rates. One contributing factor is that most are born to non-signing hearing parents who face insurmountable barriers to learning a signed language. This Element presents a case for developing signed language curricula for hearing families with deaf children that are family-centered and focus on child-directed language. Core vocabulary, functional sentences, and facilitative language techniques centered around common daily routines allow families to apply what they learn immediately. Additionally, Deaf Community Cultural Wealth (DCCW) lessons build families' capacity to navigate the new terrain of raising a deaf child. If early intervention programs serving the families of young deaf children incorporate this type of curriculum into their service delivery, survey data suggest that it is both effective and approachable for this target population, so the rates of language deprivation may decline.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused some educators of preservice teachers of deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) students who had been using a face-to-face instructional delivery platform to abruptly change their methods of teaching. This affected preservice teachers who had been thriving in professional preparation and learning through traditional pedagogy. This study discusses the revision of programming to improve preservice teacher practices in an online format, and examines participation in prescribed activities in the following areas related to DHH education preparation: 1) American Sign Language acquisition 2) vocabulary development 3) QR code development 4) closed-caption development, 5) children's literature applications. Participants explored instructional strategies and activities designed to aid in their learning and professional preparation, and rated the effectiveness of activities in reference to their professional growth. Data showed the need for personal mentoring, even in a virtual environment in order for continuity of professional learning to be most effective.
Drawing on cultural and linguistic models of Deaf people and culture, this article focuses on educational media and teaching practices that foster children’s learning.
The term homesign has been used to describe the signing of deaf individuals who have not had sustained access to the linguistic resources of a named language. Early studies of child homesigners focused on documenting their manual communication systems through the lens of developmental psycholinguistics and generative linguistics, but a recent wave of linguistic ethnographic investigations is challenging many of the established theoretical presuppositions that underlie the foundational homesign research. Sparked by a larger critical movement within Deaf Studies led by deaf scholars, this new generation of scholarship interrogates how researchers portray deaf individuals and their communication practices and questions the conceptualization of language in the foundational body of homesign research. In this review, we discuss these contested issues and the current moment of transition within research on homesign.
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The objective of this chapter is to provide research support for the use of natural sign languages in the early education of deaf children, especially when the aim is to develop sophisticated language, literacy, academic, and social skills. To achieve this objective, the reader needs to understand several conceptual and terminological distinctions. The remainder of the chapter addresses the benefits to all deaf children of early sign language acquisition. The literature indicates that early learning of sign language benefits cognitive and memory development, overall socioeducational performance, and reading and writing ability by providing a complete language base. Also, it does not interfere with learning English or limit speech potential. A longstanding research conclusion is that knowledge of American Sign Language (ASL) is invaluable in the education of deaf children (Johnson, Liddell, and Erting 1989; Charrow and Wilbur 1975).
"I am deaf." What a seemingly simple phrase! But in actuality, "I am deaf" is a complex phrase, with various meanings depending on the background and experience of the individual making that statement. The person diagnosed as audiologically deaf from birth, the person who navigates a progressive or late-life hearing loss, and the deaf person growing up in a culturally Deaf family: Each one has a different self-perception of deaf. Whatever deaf means to each deaf individual has great salience for that person's identity evolution. While the concept of identity has long been explored in the psychology, sociology, and anthropology literature, its relevance has exploded in recent decades, as evidenced by increased publications on the topic. This explosion has been fueled by the increase in cultural diversity and subsequent interest in cultural or ethnic group membership and social identity within the United States and other countries (Sue and Sue 2003). Because of the present acknowledgment of a longexisting Deaf culture (Padden and Humphries 2005), researchers interested in the implications of diversity and deaf people have begun to move from the traditional focus on self-concept and self-esteem toward developing studies that explore deaf identity, how it evolves in deaf individuals, and its role in the psychological health of deaf individuals. The role of group perspectives in the reinforcement of deaf identity evolution is also of interest to researchers. As we know, people have multiple identities, depending on their environment and what is most salient at any given point in time. These identities, which help individuals define and understand themselves as well as align with social groups, tend to be forged through perceptions of differences and classifications, including gender, ethnicity, educational levels, career categories, sexual orientation, hearing status, and so on (Corker 1996; Waterman 1992; Woodward 1997). Healthy identity development is a critical component of positive psychological adjustment (Erikson 1980). Exactly what is identity? Identity consists of self-perceptions that evolve out of social constructions (Baumeister 1997; Holland, Lachicotte, Skinner, and Cain 1998). These social constructions are based on interactions with others in multiple ongoing social contexts (Baumeister 1997; Grotevant 1992; Harter 1997; Kroger 1996). As new information about oneself emerges, mostly through lifelong, ongoing experiences and the responses of others toward the self, there is often a process of identity restructuring (Grotevant 1992). In turn, as Woodward (1997) indicates, identities influence how people select their self-representations and behaviors, depending on social context.
Bilingual approaches in the education of deaf students have been in place for almost three decades and debate continues as to the merits of these programs, particularly with respect to the relationship between bilingualism and the development of text-based literacy. This chapter is divided into three parts. The first section examines the theoretical frameworks which that underpin the move to bilingual models of education for deaf students with a particular emphasis on the expectations with respect to the development of literacy. References are made to other bilingual contexts in which the research on this point has been more extensive and exhaustive. This is followed by a review of the literature within the context of deaf education beginning with the earliest studies from the 1980's. The chapter concludes with a summary and synthesis of what has been learned from the research to date and positions this review in the context of the outcomes suggested by the theory and by the research from other bilingual settings. Suggestions are made and questions posed as to directions for future study and research.
This paper reviews research on language development of deaf children, comparing those who have early access to natural sign language with those who do not. Early learning of sign language does not create concerns for the child's development of other languages, speech, reading, or other cognitive skills. In fact, it can contribute directly to establishment of more of the high-level skills needed for successful bilingual development. The global benefit of learning a sign language as a first language is that in the resulting bilingual communicative setting, teachers and learners can take advantage of one language to assist in acquiring the other and in the transfer of general knowledge. As part of this discussion, English and ASL are compared as representatives of spoken and signed natural languages to provide explicit examples of their similarities and differences.
Divergent hypotheses exist concerning the types of knowledge underlying early bilingualism, with some portraying a troubled course marred by language delays and confusion, and others portraying one that is largely unremarkable. We studied the extraordinary case of bilingual acquisition across two modalities to examine these hypotheses. Three children acquiring Langues des Signes Quebecoise and French, and three children acquiring French and English (ages at onset approximately 1;0, 2;6 and 3;6 per group) were videotaped regularly over one year while we empirically manipulated novel and familiar speakers of each child's two languages. The results revealed that both groups achieved their early linguistic milestones in each of their languages at the same time land similarly to monolinguals), produced a substantial number of semantically corresponding words in each of their two languages from their very first words or signs (translation equivalents), and demonstrated sensitivity to the interlocutor's language by altering their language choices. Children did mix their languages to varying degrees, and some persisted in using a language that was not the primary language of the addressee, but the propensity to do both was directly related to their parents' mixing rates, in combination with their own developing language preference. The signing-speaking bilinguals did exploit the modality possibilities, and they did simultaneously mix their signs and speech, but in semantically principled and highly constrained ways. It is concluded that the capacity to differentiate between two languages is well in place PRIOR to first words, and it is hypothesized that this capacity may result from biological mechanisms that permit the discovery of early phonological representations. Reasons why paradoxical views of bilingual acquisition have persisted are also offered.
Psycholinguistics has traditionally focused on language processing in monolingual speakers. In the past two decades, there has been a dramatic increase of research on bilingual speakers, recognizing that bilingualism is not an unusual or problematic circumstance but one that characterizes more language speakers in the world than monolingualism. Most critically, cognitive scientists and neuroscientists have come to see that understanding the way that bilinguals negotiate the presence of two languages in the mind and brain may reveal processes that are otherwise obscured in monolingual speakers. In this chapter, we review the new research on language processing in bilinguals. Our starting point is the observation that both languages are active when bilinguals intend to use one language alone. The parallel activation of the two languages creates competition across the two languages, which renders the bilingual a mental juggler. Surprisingly, the resolution of cross-language competition imposes relatively few processing costs to bilinguals because they appear to develop a high level of cognitive control that permits them to switch between the two languages and, at the same time, effectively select the intended language with few errors. The expertise that bilinguals develop in juggling the two languages has consequences for language processing, because both the native and second languages change as bilingual skill is acquired, and also for domain general cognitive processes, with the result that executive function is enhanced in bilinguals relative to monolinguals. We suggest that recent research on language and cognitive processing in bilinguals requires important revisions to models of language processing based on monolingual speakers alone. In this way, bilingualism is not only an interesting phenomenon in its own right, but an important tool for cognitive and language scientists.