Language Deprivation: Deaf Versus Hearing Children

~ Authored by Heather Flynn

The discrepancy of language development in hearing and Deaf children entering kindergarten is staggering.  Why is that?  Ninety to ninety-five percent of Deaf children are born to hearing parents who do not know sign language.  (Weaver, Starner)  This can cause language deprivation.  The window for learning language is greatest from birth to 5 years.  This is when the brain is most receptive to learning a language.  (Morgan)

Learning Language Necessities

The key to learning a language is exposure.  Immersion in a language is best for fluency in that language.  For hearing children, language deprivation is not as prevalent due to the passive nature of learning a language.  Hearing is not a voluntary action.  The opportunity to learn a language is everywhere for a hearing child.  This is not the case for Deaf children.  Deaf children are visual learners and need to have access to a visual language.  The exposure to a visual language is intentional.

Window of Opportunitylanguage deprivation

Before hospitals started performing hearing screenings on newborn babies, parents often did not know their child was deaf until they were nearly two years old.  Even with current technology, the time it takes to discover a child cannot hear, diagnose deafness, and setup a treatment plan is a lengthy process.  All the while, that opportune window for learning language is getting smaller and smaller.  That is one reason for language deprivation in Deaf children.

Language Access Choices

Fortunately, now parents know before they leave the hospital if their baby can hear or not.  It gives them a little extra time to research how they are going to teach their children language.  This should make it easier for parents to expose their child to language early.  But there can still be a gap in language development.  Hearing parents are faced with the overwhelming challenge of choosing a communication method along with the new responsibility of being a parent.  The method of communication is viewed as an “either-or” scenario.  (Hall)  Parents feel like they have to choose one: sign language, hearing aids, or cochlear implants.  There is no one right way to provide language access.  In order to combat language deprivation, just give them language by any means necessary.



We Need to Communicate! Helping Hearing Parents of Deaf Children Learn American Sign Language” by Kimberly A. Weaver and Thad Starner, 2011
Critical Period in Language Development” by Gary Morgan, 2014
What you don’t know can hurt you: The risk of language deprivation by impairing sign language development in deaf children” by Wyatte C. Hall, 2017


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