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 Darlene A. Orange County, CA

Is there any evidence that providing or exposure to sign language to cochlear implanted children could hinder speech development?

Question from Darlene A. Orange County, CA. Posted August 31, 2009.
Response from Marc Marschark - NTID

Actually, the research is very clear that sign language does not hinder speech development in children with cochlear implants…in fact it may facilitate it. Research from the Nottingham Cochlear Implant Centre has shown that three years after cochlear implantation, deaf children’s spoken language skills are independent of whether they started out signing or utilizing spoken language only. With regard to language after receiving an implant, research has shown that parents and children move toward spoken language after implantation, at least to the extent that it works for the child. When it doesn’t, parents and children (appropriately) move toward sign language. There are a couple of older studies which indicated that deaf children with cochlear implants who were in “oral” settings had better spoken language than others in total communication settings. However, those studies were done back when the children who were received implants were the ones who already were showing particular facility for spoken language, and there is no recent evidence to support that view. In general, sign language can be acquired earlier than spoken language, and may provide a “framework” for early spoken language development. Future research will have to answer that question but, in the meantime, there is no evidence that sign language in any way has negative effects for children or young adults with cochlear implants. With regard to academic achievement, see Marschark, M., Rhoten, C., Fabich, M.  (2007). Effects of cochlear implants on children’s reading and academic achievement. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 12, 269-282, available at www.jdsde.oxfordjournals.org