Deaf Children: Linguistic and Social DevelopmentIts important in a discussion of this type to differentiate between the
early language and socialization of a "deaf child of Deaf parents"
and that of a "deaf child of hearing parents." The deaf child of
Deaf parents is going to have a radically different experience in terms of
early language input and socialization. His language development in terms of
vocabulary acquisition, syntax, and pragmatics will be very similar in
amount and scope to that of a hearing child of hearing parents. The only
difference is that the deaf child will be using ASL (or if in some other
country, that country's signed language) instead of spoken English.
The linguistic and social development of a deaf child of hearing parents
is a whole different story and will depend greatly on such factors as early
intervention, access to the deaf community, access to a visually-oriented
language (ASL), and peers with whom he can communicate.
Most of a child's language development occurs because of social
interactions with others, particularly with older siblings and/or adults.
(I'd love to know how much of today's children's linguistic development is
due to television.) As a hard of hearing child I missed out on much of
typical communication that occurs between youngsters on the playground and
in the halls. At one point, (around second grade) the school administration
kept me after class for a meeting with my parents. Much of the discussion
centered around "what to do" with me and the problems I was having
at school. I was somewhat of a loner at school. I was fortunate though that
my parents, particularly my mother, invested many hours teaching me about
words-how to pronounce them and what they meant.
My wife, Belinda, is Deaf. Her early language use and socialization could
be considered fairly typical of someone with a bilateral sensorineural
hearing loss of 70 (left) to 90 (right) decibels. She attended a day school
program in Bakersfield, California during the school year and attended a
Deaf camp each summer. She didn't speak more than a couple words at age
five. When she entered the day program she started learning "sign
language" --mostly contact signing and/or sim-com. On the playground she
began picking up ASL from the other Deaf students. After learning to sign,
her language blossomed and she started stringing together sentences, both
signed and spoken.
At an annual Deaf summer camp she was surrounded by Deaf adults and peers
with whom she could communicate fluently and easily. Of all her childhood
memories, that camp stands out. This is typical of most Deaf children of
hearing parents who attended state residential schools for the Deaf. Hearing
people have a hard time wondering why many of these kids cried when it was
time to go home for the weekend. Deaf adults remember that it was at the
Deaf school that they could communicate freely about any and everything with
their deaf peers. At home they were often bored and had no one with whom to
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