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 Claresta, Jakarta Indonesia

I have a four year old profound hearing loss son. he is attending special school for the deaf since he was two. since the first day of his school until now, he did not show any improvement in spoken languange while it’s mandatory in his school. He prefers to communicate with sign language in a daily conversation. My husband and I are both working and only have weekends to teach him the spoken language. what should we do so he can improve his spoken language and pay more attention to his teacher?

Question from Claresta, Jakarta Indonesia. Posted August 12, 2009.
Response from Patricia E. Spencer

Research has shown that it It is difficult to predict how an individual child’s language development will progress.  For SPOKEN language, however, we know some things:

(a) It is easier to learn spoken language if a child has some hearing experience (for example, was born hearing and became deaf later, or uses a cochlear implant.).

(b) Even with hearing experience, it takes a large amount of experience with spoken language in conversations, plus regular speech-training sessions, for a child with a profound hearing loss to learn spoken language

(c) Knowing signs can actually help your child learn spoken language IF he also gets enough hearing experience, too.  It is important that parents know and use signs at home with the child so he has a strong basis for learning the meaning of each sign and can learn about the things that happen at home and in the world around him.  Many children find it easier to learn a spoken word for something after they already know a sign for it.

(d) Although there is no promise that your son can learn to speak clearly, he CAN learn language in sign language.  This will allow him to communicate with other people and learn what other children learn. With specialized teaching at school, he can use sign language to help him learn to read and write, and this is the most important skill he will need to get more education and get a good job later.

I know your time with your son is limited.  I do not know whether he is at home in the evenings during the week or only on weekends.  But every day that he is with you, there is something you can do to help his language and his education.  You can read small and easy children’s books with him.  Learn the signs to use for the words in the books, and when you are reading with the signs give him time to look at you or your hands and then at the book’s pictures.  Don’t try to sign all the words right now, but sign the important things.  Sign what he chooses to look at on each page, and let him turn the pages sometimes.  Don’t try to do this for long periods of time, just short times.  After he becomes interested, you can start speaking the words either while or after you sign them. Maybe your son’s teachers will help you learn the signs for the pictures in books if you need some help with that.  There are also free online sites you can use to learn some signs.

If your son’s teacher is complaining that he doesn’t pay attention in school, perhaps you can carefully observe at home when he pays attention and when he does not.  Then you can tell the teacher what kinds of things help his attention.  You can look at an article on http://clerccenter2.gallaudet.edu/KidsWorldDeafNEt/e-docs/visual-conversations/appendix.html to get some ideas about how to help get his attention.  If he learns more sign language, he will probably pay attention better.  But if he never seems to pay attention, you might want to see a doctor or get some additional testing to see if there are other ways to help him.