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Three crucial interventions to support deaf children’s language acquisition

Published Date: 15 Mar 2021

A guest post by Lorraine Wapling

Language is fundamental to our lives as social beings.

Most deaf children are born into hearing families. If the language around them is not accessible then the child will miss vital milestones in the development of their own first, natural language.

Deaf children born to deaf families, who share accessible language do not experience such delays and will develop language at the same rate as their hearing peers.

These gaps in language development have significant and ongoing implications. A lack of access to adult and peer conversations, to radio, TV and social media mean the opportunities deaf children have for learning about the wider world, and for developing social relationships is seriously restricted.

This means that by the time they start school they are at risk from limited language skills, poor social skills and limited knowledge and information about their world. As a result, they will find school extremely challenging with particular issues in learning to read and write.

It does not have to be like this however, being deaf is not a barrier to learning language. Here are three crucial interventions which support a deaf child:

1.) A deaf child needs language role models that are accessible. This means homebased interventions, working with families to identify hearing impairment early and supporting them to develop accessible communication skills.
2.) Teachers, especially in early childhood education, need to be trained to support the development of the children’s first language. Resources should be made available to ensure there are plenty of materials available to support deaf children as they expand their language skills.
3.) Governments should recognise the need to support first language development in young deaf children and provide space in curriculums to ensure they are afforded the time they need to do this. Deaf teachers and teaching assistants need to be recruited and supported so that deaf children have role models they can both understand and aspire to.

Lorraine Wapling is a deaf professional who has over twenty years’ experience working in international development. Most of her work has focused on improving access to education and health for children and adults with disabilities in countries around Africa, Asia and the Pacific. She has a particular interest in deaf education and is currently finishing a PhD looking into the language challenges faced by deaf children in Kenya when they first start school.

Lorraine will be delivering the keynote speech at Deaf Child Worldwide’s Language & Communication webinar on 30 March. Click here to find out more.