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Deaf children need language, not (just) speech

By October 14, 2020February 16th, 2024Academic, Articles, Resources

Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) children need to master at least one language (spoken or signed) to reach their full potential. Providing access to a natural sign language supports this goal. Despite evidence that natural sign languages are beneficial to DHH children, many researchers and practitioners advise families to focus exclusively on spoken language. We critique the Pediatrics article ‘Early Sign Language Exposure and Cochlear Implants’ (Geers et al., 2017) as an example of research that makes unsupported claims against the inclusion of natural sign languages. We refute claims that (1) there are harmful effects of sign language and (2) that listening and spoken language are necessary for optimal development of deaf children. While practical challenges remain (and are discussed) for providing a sign language-rich environment, research evidence suggests that such challenges are worth tackling in light of natural sign languages providing a host of benefits for DHH children – especially in the prevention and reduction of language deprivation.