The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) applauds you for your July 2015 article, “Ethics Rounds: Should All Deaf Children Learn Sign Language?” The article addresses an ongoing debate in the education of deaf children, and rightfully examines the evidence regarding delayed language and cognitive development in deaf children.
Most families with deaf children are persuaded by misguided professionals to pursue listening and speaking only and exclude the use of American Sign Language (ASL), and the evidence shows that many of these children do not acquire language and cognitive development at age-appropriate levels. Even with cochlear implants, the most advanced listening technology, the best estimate is that only 40% of children with implants get some benefit for language learning from the technology1; in that 40%, many show effects of early language deprivation.
Today, we have studies that show the effects of language deprivation at this early age. These effects are not shown when children learn ASL from birth. These studies are readily available to those who would deprive children of learning a sign language in early childhood, and we encourage an opening of minds to look closely at what newer research of the past 10 to 15 years has revealed.2 In the Ethics Rounds discussion, most of the participants agree that emerging research shows that ASL reduces the risk that deaf children will have delayed language and cognitive development.
Those who attempt to portray the choice as being between speech and listening or signing are perpetuating a myth. This is not the choice. Many families choose both, and, in fact, there are many research studies that show a strong correlation between fluency in ASL and reading ability in English.3–5 Both languages are needed to reduce the risk of harm to deaf children when many are unable to fully acquire spoken language through speech and listening alone.
As an organization composed primarily of deaf and hard-of-hearing adults who have experienced every kind of educational methodology, we are united in expressing our support for the use of both ASL and English for all deaf children. We also want to affirm our love and respect for our parents, and communicate with them fully as a family. With a solid education in both ASL and English, we are not segregated from society but are fully empowered to engage as equal partners. The NAD has many parents and professionals as our members and allies, and we welcome everyone who supports our mission of preserving, protecting, and promoting the civil, human, and linguistic rights of deaf and hard-of-hearing people in the United States.
Thank you again for this Ethics Rounds.
Conflict of Interest:
- Humphries T,
- Kushalnagar P,
- Mathur G,
- et al
- Mayberry RI
- Mayberry R,
- del Giudice AA,
- Lieberman A
- Prinz P,
- Strong M
- Copyright © 2015 by the American Academy of Pediatrics