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American Sign Language:  Communicating with Deaf Students:

Date: July 10, 2006
Name: Christina M. Poe
The pros and cons of three main communication methods for Deaf and hard-of-hearing students

            Over the years there have been many debates and studies done on how to communicate and educate the Deaf and Hard-of-hearing child.  At first, people believed that Deaf children were [incapable of learning] and so didn't bother trying to communicate or educate them.  But, over the years it was proved that Deaf children were [capable] and could learn to communicate and wanted to communicate, just like other people.  Today, the issue has become; what is the best way to try and educate and communicate the Deaf?  There are three main methods that have been developed and are used in the United States, they include; the Oral method (oralism), the Manual method (manualism), and Total Communication.  Each of these methods had various pros and cons; all should be carefully examined by the parents of a deaf child.  The ultimate method for communication should be chosen based on how the child can be empowered and function in society, sadly hearing people don't always consider what is best for the Deaf.

            The Oral method is a method for communication and educating deaf and Hard-of-hearing children using only the spoken language, lip reading, and voice training.  The goal of this method is for Deaf child to be able to overcome their deafness and learn how to speak and "hear" (whether hearing is from a hearing aid or lip reading or both).  Training begins at an early age and begins with children learning to match pictures and objects with a word that is spoken and shown on a printed card. 

This method works well for children who have only mild -- moderate hearing loss.  The explanation for this is that they usually can learn to hear with a hearing aid and it is easier for them to learn how to use the voice.  Also, this method works very well for children who for some reason loose their hearing later in their childhood, after they have learned to speak and have heard sounds.  Older children are more likely to be able to redevelop the language skills they had before they lost their hearing and so this method can work very suitably.  The Oral method is strongly advised by hearing people who don't want children to have to rely on Sign language and/or interpreters to communicate with others.  Also, some supporters of the Oral method feel that if a child is allowed to use Sign language that they will stop trying to learn to lip read and speak.  It is understandable that hearing parents of Deaf children would consider this method the best for communicating and teaching their child, but there are several cons to this method of communicating/educating.

Children who have moderate -- severe hearing loss or are what is known as profoundly deaf tend to struggle with using the Oral method.  Since the Oral method is based on only using spoken language, children who have severe hearing loss, might not be able to "hear" even with a hearing aid.  Also, it will take a lot of patience, work, training, and time before a child will be able to lip read well enough to understand conversations and even then they might not have developed their vocal skills to be able to be understood.  Thomas Spradley in his book "Deaf Like Me" puts the struggles into perspective; "We desperately needed to talk to Lynn in words she could understand.  To have her communicate in words we could understand.  The common routines of dressing, taking a bath, cleaning up her room, taking turns in children's games, and a hundred others, were daily struggles to try and communicate with Lynn." (Pg. 209)  These thoughts were thoughts that Spradley and his wife had when, Lynn was already five years old, she could only lip read about three hundred words and speak maybe about three words that were barely understandable.

The Manual method or manualism is based totally on Sign language and using the hands or physical ways to communicate.  The goal of this method is to provide a way for Deaf people to interact with others without the use of spoken language.  Children taught using this method don't need to worry about learning to speak or develop lip reading skills.  This method is considered the natural way that deaf children learn to communicate.  Furthermore, it encourages a sense of pride in being Deaf.

If a child is moderately -- severely deaf the Manual method will probably be the easiest way for the child to learn and communicate. Children who are deaf use their vision to compensate for their lack of hearing, thus making Sign language an easy, visual way to understand and communicate with others.  Manualism puts no pressure on a child to struggle to understand sounds and how to forms words.  The Deaf community uses the Manual method a lot and as a result, provides a sense of belonging, inclusion, plus a feeling of being normal and not being weird just because of not being able to hear.

However, the Manual method does have some severe limitations.  For example, a child taught with this method will never be able to participate in a conversation with a hearing person, without the aid of an interpreter.  The Manual method tends to exclude hearing people from the Deaf world, and the only way to communicate is either by writing things down on paper or by knowing Sign language.  Hearing parents with Deaf children may also find this method of communication frustrating, since they will have to learn Sign language in order to communicate with their child.  The Manual method is a very useful way to educate and communicate with Deaf and Hard-of-hearing children, but many people feel it's not the best way.

  Total Communication is a fairly new method for educating and communicating with Deaf and Hard-of-hearing children.  The goal of this method is to incorporate lip-reading, speech, and Sign language so that a child can communicate effectively in almost any setting.  Children taught using this method are given an opportunity to develop their voice as much as possible, as well as allowed to use the more natural, manual/visual way of communicating.  The results are amazing, since children are taught how to interact in both the hearing and the Deaf world.

Total Communication works well to educate Deaf and Hard-of-hearing children, since it doesn't matter if a child has a mild hearing loss or is profoundly deaf.  This method works with the child, the parents, and the educators, so that everyone can learn and communicate to the best of their ability.  Children are allowed to be themselves and learn in a way that suits their needs.  Total Communication includes everyone -- the hearing world and the Deaf world.

So, what is the best way to try and educate and communicate the Deaf?  The three main methods; the Oral method (oralism), the Manual method (manualism), and Total Communication have all been briefly described.  The ultimate method for communication should be chosen based on how the child can be empowered and function in society. 

Meadow -- Orlans, Kathryn P., Mertens, Donna M., & Sass -- Lehrer Marilyn. (2003) Parents and
their Deaf Children, Washington D.C.; Gallaudet University Press.
Munoz-Baell, Irma M. & Ruiz, Teresa M. (2000) Empowering the deaf; let the deaf be deaf.
Journal Epidemiol Community Health, 54:1, 40 -- 44.
Knight, Pamela & Swanwick, Ruth. (1999) The Care and Education of a Deaf Child, Great
Britan: Multilingual Matters LTD.
Oliva, Gina A. (2004) Alone in the Mainstream, Washington D.C.; Gallaudet University Press.
Spradley, Thomas S. & Spradley, James P. (1987) Deaf Like Me. Washington D.C.; Gallaudet
University Press.
Stinson, Michael S. (1999). Considerations in educating deaf and hard-of-hearing students in
inclusive settings. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education. 4:3, 163 -- 173.



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