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The Debate Over Language Deprivation In Deaf Children

Abigail Previlon, 13, takes part in remote distance learning with her deaf education teacher Diane Gamse in Stamford, Connecticut. The eighth grader has a translator for in-class learning and often while distance learning on a Chromebook. A first generation American citizen with Haitian parents, Previlon is fluent in four languages.
Abigail Previlon, 13, takes part in remote distance learning with her deaf education teacher Diane Gamse in Stamford, Connecticut. The eighth grader has a translator for in-class learning and often while distance learning on a Chromebook. A first generation American citizen with Haitian parents, Previlon is fluent in four languages.

When a new baby is born in the United States, they are usually given a newborn hearing screening. If the baby is found to be deaf, parents are presented with a choice for their child: sign language or cochlear implants.

Cochlear implants communicate with the user’s auditory nerves directly and allow some users to speak and communicate with people who can hear. But as Christina A. Samuels wrote for EdWeek, “unlike putting on a pair of eyeglasses, using a cochlear implant does not confer an instant benefit—it requires continuing speech and auditory therapy for children to make the most out of the devices.”

Some advocates warn that by relying solely on technology that may not work, without the use of sign language, babies and children may be deprived of access to language during critical, early developmental years.

Sara Novic wrote about the problem of language deprivation in an opinion piece for The New York TimesNovic is a writer and professor who is deaf, and does not use a cochlear implant.

bimodal bilingualism, a methodology that uses A.S.L. as the primary language and neurolinguistic framework through which to learn subsequent ones, the same way most hearing people learn multiple languages.

language deprivation results, and one’s capacity for intellectual development is diminished substantially and permanently.

Children with a cochlear implant and no access to visual language may be unwittingly engaged in a race against the clock as they learn to interpret the electrical signals provided by the implant. Some children are successful in this pursuit, while others aren’t.

Two deaf guests — one who uses hearing aids and implants and one who does not — join us to discuss this issue.

Read the Transcript

We live-streamed this show on our Facebook page, but we’ve had to unpublish the video here while it is moderated by Facebook. We’ll put it back up as soon as we can, but for now, you can find it here.

Copyright 2021 WAMU 88.5. To see more, visit WAMU 88.5.