Raising and Educating a Deaf Child

International experts answer your questions about the choices, controversies, and decisions faced by the parents and educators of deaf and hard-of-hearing children.

Question from S.M., London

My 11 year old son has only become deaf over the last two years, the result of a neurological condition. He has good vocabulary, great speech and rounded communication skills following 10 years of growing up in the hearing world. His reception method is primarily speechreading, supported by some residual hearing. (His deafness is Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder – which for him particularly impacts speech perception).

Some professionals are recommending that he fully embraces Total Communication, becomes more integrated with Deaf peers and in particular learns British Sign Language. I am not sure. He has no experience of signing (other than basic alphabet), and has a preferred an oral/aural approach. I want to help him learn more about Deaf culture, but I’m keen that we take advantage of his 10 years of open communication to make sure that he doesn’t lose the ‘advantage’ he’s had.

Is anyone aware of any research on “late” presenting deafness in children, and the pluses and minuses of investing in BSL at this age.

Question from S.M., London. Posted October 21, 2013.
Response from Ruth Swanwick - University of Leeds

It might be useful to separate out the two issues in this questions, that of diversity of language support and Deaf culture.

In terms of the language issue, the first thing to stress is that  there are no ‘minuses’ of learning some BSL or Sign-Supported English (SSE)  at any age. Nothing will be lost; there can only be gains if you opt for this type of environment.  Your son may find BSL useful for learning or for socialising at some point (or a bit of both)  or, more likely, find that  SSE is a useful mediating  tool for mixed deaf and hearing interactions and some support for listening and also literacy development (now or in the future). In either case, learning BSL and meeting and learning with other deaf children will be supportive and will not  change his spoken language trajectory, only add  a layer of support.  Most children that he meets will probably also be using a mix of sign and spoken language for different purposes at  different times and you will find in any TC setting that this flexibility  is normal and  expected and managed by the hearing and deaf adults.

With regard to the other question, about Deaf culture,  entering into some sort of TC environment  will immediately offer your son  access to diverse deaf children and adults. In itself this will extend his understanding  of deafness  as he sees other ways of being and interacting in an environment where deaf and hearing  children and adult rub along together. This is perhaps a more natural way to  engage with Deaf community and culture which is entirely contextualised and nowhere near as overwhelming as seeing Deaf culture as a very separate land.

Given, as you say,  the advantage that your son has had, I would suggest that keeping his communication options open would be linguistically and culturally positive and enriching if this would sit comfortably with family routines, practices and  preferences.