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American Sign Language Within the Speech Language Pathology Field



Rachel Squyres

May 21, 2016


American Sign Language Within the Speech Language Pathology Field

As a recently graduated Speech Language Pathologist, my interest in the Deaf and hard of hearing community relates greatly to the role Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs) play in treating this population. While studying Deaf culture over the past few months, I have learned a great deal about the beliefs and customs that make up the Deaf community. However, until I researched the topic of the role SLPs play within this community, I was still unclear of how the two worlds interconnected. Much of the research, which relates to both Speech Language Pathology and American Sign Language (ASL), is targeted at speech production. That is to say, many SLPs are of the opinion that using a signed language to communicate with children who are slow to talk will actually encourage those children to use spoken language as well. This view is quite different from the perspective of the Deaf community who would prefer to use ASL as a sole source of communication. While most Speech Language Pathologists focus more on speech production, there are a minority of SLPs who work with deaf people to treat signed language disorders.

Dr. Harriet Kaplan of Gallaudet University wrote an article about Deaf culture pertaining to speech and hearing professionals. In her article she explains in detail some of the values within Deaf culture, including the desire for deaf and hard of hearing people to participate in day-to-day communications using ASL. Dr. Kaplan states , "Even though speech is not compatible with ASL, culturally Deaf people may be interested in spoken English because they realize they must interact with hearing people."  Speech Language Pathologists may play a role in aiding deaf persons who have a desire to use spoken language outside of the Deaf community. In order for SLPs to serve the Deaf community it is important that they have a thorough knowledge of Deaf culture and are respectful of the values of the people they serve (Kaplan,1996).

The second article I chose, Speech-Language Pathologists in Schools for the Deaf: A Survey of Scope of Practice, Service Delivery, Caseload, and Program Features pertains to SLPs working in schools for the Deaf. The article points out the necessity for SLPs to be fluent in sign language, as do the other articles cited in this paper. The focus of SLPs in deaf schools tends to be on written languages, sign language, and functional communication. The article also points out that while some SLPs do work in deaf schools, the majority of deaf and hard of hearing children attend public schools, therefore the need for SLPs in public schools to know ASL is also on the rise (Seal, Rossi, &Henderson, 1998).

In the field of Speech Language Pathology most language diagnoses and treatments focus on spoken language. There is, however, a fairly new concept of language impairment within signed language. Cripps, Cooper, Supalla, and Evitts (2015) propose that deaf people face the same medical possibilities as hearing people do and, therefore, can face language production impairments. While hearing people typically exhibit language impairments in spoken language, deaf people may exhibit signed language impairments. People who suffer from strokes often times lose optimal language functioning. This is true not only for hearing persons, but deaf persons as well. In order for SLPs to treat patients in this area they must have an extensive knowledge of ASL, which would include far more training than a simple college level sign course. Cripps et al., (2015) note that nearly 1,000 deaf stroke survivors in the United States suffer from aphasia due to strokes. To this date there is no evidence-based instruction for professionals to aid in improving these disorders, which means that SLPs are currently unqualified for such an endeavor. However, with more research, the field of Speech Language Pathology within the ASL/Deaf community holds promise.

After researching the role of Speech Language Pathologists within the Deaf and ASL community, I have found that little research exists. In the future more research should be conducted in order for SLPs to better provide evidence-based practice within the Deaf community.  The two overarching themes from the research that does exist are: the importance for SLPs to be familiar with the culture and beliefs of the Deaf community, and the importance of fluency in ASL when working with the Deaf community.


Cripps, J. H., Cooper, S. B., Supalla, S. J., &Evitts, P. M. (2015). Meeting the Needs of Signers in the Field of Speech and Language Pathology: Some Considerations for Action. Communication Disorders Quarterly,37(2), 108-116.doi:10.1177/1525740115576955

Kaplan, H. (1996). The Nature of Deaf Culture: Implications for Speech and Hearing Professionals. Journal of the Academy of Rehabilitative Audiology, XXIX. 71-84.Retrieved from,%20%20JARA,%20%201996.pdf

Seal, B. C., Rossi, P., & Henderson, C. (1998). Speech-Language Pathologists in Schools for the Deaf: A Survey of Scope of Practice, Service Delivery, Caseload, and Program Features. American Annals of the Deaf,143(3). Retrieved from


Also see: Sign Language in Early Intervention Programs


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