Language Development & Deprivation: Part 5 – Deaf Children

~ Interview with Petra and Kester Horn-Marsh



Why is early access to sign language so vital?

Kester: We still see many children arrive with no language.  They may be 3, 4, or 5 all the way up to 7; sometimes even in high school.  And they miss the things that are being spoken, or they can’t read or write at the right level.  And so they have so much to catch up on.  This is the problem of language deprivation.  The parents have not provided them the important communication that they need at a very young age before they even arrive at school.  So they miss any explanation or things that are going on on a daily basis.  So when they arrive at school they have so much to catch up with.

Petra: And also recognizing that we don’t want children to be behind, but the older they are the bigger the gap is.  And so it takes a lot more encouragement, a lot more teaching.  And we hope that they will be able to develop that language and be able to catch up.  But many of them end up going home and just sitting and watching TV or playing video games.  They don’t read or write or practice their vocabulary.  They don’t get out.  It would just be simple.  It doesn’t have to be something expensive.  They could get out and walk to the library, interact with people, meet people one on one, and do different things in the community to be able to catch up to get to that level.  But we do see students from hearing families whose parents have learned signed sign language and understand the importance of social interaction with other families and other children outside of the academic environment.  They’re providing them those resources.  Similar to what we see in Deaf families.  And so there is proof right there. 

Kester: There was some research done about two years ago that looked into the use of ASL and its expression.  There are different levels of conversational skill, and the tests showed this.  It counted by the age of each child.  It had categories.  And Petra was involved in this language analysis program, preparation program to see if by the age of 9 if they would arrive at the correct appropriate language level.  So they studied age 6 to see if they would be on track at the age of 9.  And the study did show that the children were not language deprived, and they were right on track in their language development.  Seventy-eight percent of the children, who were from Deaf families, were right on track and not delayed.  Twenty-two percent of the children who were looked at had hearing parents and they were the same.  They did not have a language delay.  Eighty-nine percent of these students who were looked at used sign language.  And so we’re excited to see here when they enter at the age of Kindergarten, they don’t have a language delay.  And so it’s important no matter whether the parent is hearing or Deaf.

Petra: They have that communication access.

Kester: We even have some Deaf parents who use sign language but their children do not develop language as they should because they’re neglected.

Petra: They’re not provided that interaction on a daily basis.  And so they do experience language delay.  Not language deprivation, but language delay.  And that can be a struggle for them and impact their academic experience as well.  It’s the exact same with hearing children.  Hearing parents who ignore their hearing children because they’re out at work or doing other activities, their children will also experience neglect.  They don’t have that one on one time, or the quality time, quality language interaction with their parents and will experience the same language delay.  They need quality support over time.

How does the future look for Deaf children?

It’s interesting to see now that 20, 30, 40 years after testing was begun, educators are forced to look at language and the reduction of language deprivation.  And it appears that the teaching of children at the right level, even starting as early as Kindergarten, is happening.  We are excited to see a bright future for our Deaf children.


Additional Resources:

Language Acquisition and Deprivation (PDF)

The Value of Deaf Children Learning Sign Language

Research: Getting the Word In


Photo Credit:

MT & Associates | Sign Language Interpreting Practice BBB Business Review