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Early language acquisition is critical to a child’s success in school. Historically, Deaf children have been deprived of language during the most critical period of time in their lives, when they are between the ages of zero to five. The impact of language deprivation alters the child’s cognitive and social development in more ways than one including neurological development, behavioral, mental health, and language dysfluency. The LEAD-K bill is a nationwide campaign to push for community accountability to ensure our Deaf children are ready for kindergarten which starts with early language acquisition. Language development milestones are clearly outlined, giving parents a tool to ensure their child is on the right track. With resources made available as a result of the LEAD-K bill, parents and educators of Deaf children can utilize the whole child approach.
Keywords: language acquisition, language deprivation, Deaf children, cognitive development
Impacts of Language Deprivation
The Language Equality and Acquisition for Deaf Kids (LEAD-K) bill was established to push for accountability for language acquisition nationwide of our Deaf children to ensure they are ready for kindergarten. As a child enters kindergarten regardless of their hearing loss, they are expected to start reading and writing. If one is deprived of language which often seems to be the case with Deaf children, how can one learn how to read and write? In addition to academic challenges, language deprivation contributes to delayed social and cognitive skill development. With the LEAD-K bill, the state’s department of education is required to release language assessment reports showing the language development outcomes of our Deaf children. In addition, to support parents of Deaf children, language milestones are clearly outlined, and appropriate intervention support will be provided as needed.
Importance of Early Language Acquisition
For a child to succeed in their educational career, they start with being able to read and write. Deaf children need language whether it is American Sign Language (ASL) or English between the ages of zero and five. Spellun (2018) have found that research demonstrates early implementation of language-based interventions in Deaf children result in greater improvement in language development, which helps position them for successful cognitive development, literacy skills, and educational attainment. Earlier acquisition of language has a positive impact on brain development which is linked to higher linguistic proficiency and one’s morphological and syntactic abilities increase allowing for comprehension of language to take place (Mayberry, et al., 2011). Currently in California, preliminary results of the LEAD-K bill have shown that 70% of Deaf children are not kindergarten ready in comparison with hearing children. The results clearly indicate the dire need for LEAD-K and further changes to how we support parents of Deaf children to prepare our Deaf children for kindergarten.
How Language Deprivation Happens
Through the early identification and intervention programs, infants are screened for hearing loss. Upon identification, parents are overwhelmed with many different options to address their child’s hearing loss. More often than not, there is a strong focus on audiological intervention and treatment instead of language development. What parents may not realize by focusing on the audiological development instead of the language development of their child, there is a higher chance of language deprivation and language delay. This in turn will have a greater impact on cognitive development according to Hall, et al. (2017). Language development milestones are not always clearly outlined for parents of Deaf children as they are not sure how to track their child’s language development due to their deafness. Parents may not know exactly what to look for and what may be a positive or negative indicator in language development and growth. Lack of or limited family involvement in a child’s life will have a negative impact on language development and growth. As a result, the child may have incomplete access to language, for instance those parents who may choose to focus on speech development instead of sign language for language development. This contributes to deprivation of language because Lederberg, et al. (2013) reminds us those Deaf children who may have access to spoken English simply do not perceive speech in the same way people with normal hearing do. As a result, the child’s educational performance and quality of life is impacted according to Werfel & Hendricks (2016).
Spoken vs Signed Language
When Deaf children have early exposure to language through visual, tactile and kinesthetic input, according to MacGlaughlin (2018) their “brain system allow them to acquire any language to which they are exposed, whether it is a vocal or visual language as long as the language is fully accessible and acquired early in infancy. More simply put, the brain does not care if the language comes in through the ears or the eyes. What the brain needs, however, is frequent and consistent language input” (MacGlaughlin, 2018, p. 4-5). Language processing requires phonology which exists in both spoken and signed language. As a result, children are capable of developing different aspects of cognitive learning and growth including but not limited to working memory, executive function ability, memory flexibility, attentional control which in turn allows for continuous enhancement of cognitive development (Kroll, et al., 2017). Through research it has proven through early language acquisition leads to reading fluency which in turn promotes academic achievement because of the development and enhancement of their cognitive, social and literacy skills. (MacGlauglin, 2018).
Results of Language Deprivation
Various of areas of cognitive development can be severely impacted, including but not limited to: memory, planning, attention, relations, critical thinking, and conceptual thinking. There is a common misconception that visual language affects a child’s social cognitive skills which is why some parents choose to focus on auditory-based language acquisition (Lederberg, et al., 2013). Research has shown the correlation between language deprivation and the impact on one’s cognitive development. Hall et al. (2017) mentions that “language deprivation has permanent consequences for long-term neurological development. Neurological development can be altered to the extent that a deaf child “may be unable to develop language skills sufficient to support their fluent communication or serve as a basis for further learning.” (p.762). Language deprivation can also result in language dysfluency, fund of information or knowledge deficits, negative personality traits attributed by thinking, mood and behavior disruptions. As these children grow and become adolescents, they may suffer mental health issues associated with low self-esteem and peer rejection simply because they do not have access to communication. (Hall et al, 2017). Another impact of language deprivation is executive function in Deaf children which also show behavioral problems. It was originally thought it was a result of auditory deprivation however with further research Hall, et al showed it was a result of language deprivation because “roughly 95% of deaf children lack exposure to natural human language (spoken or signed) in their earliest months/years of life […] which could potentially be averted via early exposure to a natural sign language such as American Sign Language.” (p. 14).
Benefits of the LEAD-K Bill
With the LEAD-K bill, states can establish language milestones to help parents track their child’s language development and growth utilizing ASL, English or both. Deaf and hearing children are capable of learning language only if are in an environment where language is accessible to them. Parents just need to choose a language to start with whether it be ASL or English and track their child’s development and growth. If their child is not making progress in accordance to the language milestones outlined, parents and their child’s teacher can intervene and made immediate changes to promote their child’s language development and growth. Lyness, et al. emphasizes “the early years, including the first year of life, are crucial for the development of language, not just heard speech” as well as the fact that visual language is not detrimental to spoken language. Just because a child can communicate, it does not mean the child has achieved language proficiency as there is a common misconception that sign systems are languages when they are in fact systems of communication. With that being illustrated, it is critical to utilize true sign language because it “activates all linguistic foci in the brain in the same way as spoken languages and are completely accessible to the human visual system as opposed to sign systems (such as Total/Simultaneous Communication, Baby Sign, Signing Exact English, Sign Supported English, or Pidgin Sign) that do not contain the linguistic structure required to support language learning and were created by hearing educators for the use of supporting speech development.” (Spellun, 2018, p. 2).
The nationwide LEAD-K campaign is critical for the future of our Deaf children. Every parent wants their child to learn and to achieve goals they have set for themselves. For this to happen, a child needs to be immersed in a language-rich environment to promote their cognitive and social development. As Gerner de Garcia states, “language acquisition and literacy development are inextricably linked processes, … learning to read is a language process, and children don’t learn to read if they don’t have a language in place” (2003, p. 131). The resources made available to parents and educators to ensure their child is on the right language development and growth track along with tools to support intervention when necessary allows parents to focus on the whole child.
- Improving Education for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students in California. (2016, September 21). Retrieved from https://lao.ca.gov/Publications/Report/3498
- Language Equality and Acquisition for Deaf Kids. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.lead-k.org/
- What is Language Deprivation? (2017, October 06). Retrieved from http://dex.org.uk/what-is-language-deprivation/
- Gerner de Garcia, B. (2003). Acquisition of English literacy by signing deaf children. Ponto de Vista, Florianópolis, 5, 129-150. Retrieved from https://periodicos.ufsc.br/index.php/pontodevista/article/download/1248/4252
- Hall, M.L., Eigsti, I., Bortfeld, H., & Lillo-Martin, D. (2017). Auditory Deprivation Does Not Impair Executive Function, but Language Deprivation Might: Evidence from a Parent-Report Measure in Deaf Native Signing Children. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 22(1), 9-21.
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- Kroll, J. F., Takahesu Tabori, A., & Mech, E. (2017). Beyond typical learning: Variation in language experience as a lens to the developing mind. Applied Psycholinguistics, 38(6), 1336-1340. doi:http://dx.doi.org.pearl.stkate.edu/10.1017/S0142716417000315
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- Mayberry, Chen, Witcher, & Klein. (2011). Age of acquisition effects on the functional organization of language in the adult brain. Brain and Language, 119(1), 16-29.
- MacGlaughlin, H. (2018). The Role of Fingerspelling in Early Communication, Language, and Literacy Acquisition of Deaf Children, ProQuest Dissertations and Theses.
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- Werfel, K.L., Hendricks, A.E. (2016). The relation between child versus parent report of chronic fatigue and language/literacy skills in school-age children with cochlear implants. Ear Hear. 37:216-224.
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