How deaf parents can track their child's language development

Speech and language development is a huge part of early childhood. However, tracking and supporting this skill area may feel difficult for parents who are deaf. 

Our understanding of how hearing children can develop with deaf parents is relatively new. There simply haven’t been many resources available to families made up of deaf parents and speaking children in the past as there is today. Thankfully, research efforts have been made in recent years. 

 

Can deaf parents have a hearing child?  

Yes. It’s very possible for two parents who are deaf to have a hearing child. In fact, previously around eighty-eight per cent of children born to deaf parents have full hearing. [1]  However, that figure is now thought to be closer to ninety per cent. [2] These children are commonly referred to as CODA’s, which stands for Children of Deaf Adults. [2] 

 

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What is bimodal bilingualism? 

Bimodal bilingualism is a term used to describe those who use both speech and sign language with competency. [3] Bimodal bilingualism is a fairly recent term, which was only coined after sign language was recognised as a language itself in the later half of the 20th century. CODAs will often utilise bimodal bilingualism. 

 

Will teaching my child sign language affect their speech development?

On the contrary, teaching sign language to children is thought to have a positive effect on their speech and language development. Researchers have actually recommended that children should learn a form of sign language in their first two years of development, as infants exposed to sign language typically acquire speech at an earlier age. [4] 

Further studies have supported this, suggesting that learning sign language and using gestures alongside spoken language can also support the development of spoken and receptive language in young children. [5]  

 

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Our advice for tracking a CODA’s language development

There are many ways in which CODA’s speech and language development can be supported and tracked by their deaf parents. Some parents may find it helpful to seek out the support of local services (which will vary depending on the area). 

 

National services 

There are also many national services that can help deaf parents, and CODA’s. For example, Deaf Parenting UK, which was founded by a deaf mother of two, and CODA UK and Ireland, are both websites worth visiting.  

 

Hearing relatives 

Enlisting the help of hearing relatives is also recommended to help track the speech development of CODAs. Hearing relatives can provide vital speech exposure for CODA’s, which is especially useful in the time before children start attending school or nursery.  

Hearing relatives can also support the parents themselves – they can model and correct language for CODA’s, and also ‘check in’ with parents, discussing their children’s skills and progress.  

 

Interpreters 

Interpreters can be accessed to work with families of deaf children and hearing parents. An interpreter can support the communication between family members, and can also aid deaf parents when accessing services, and also during times when they may need to communicate with those who are not able to sign, for example meetings at school and nursery, or medical appointments.  

 

For further information around how parents can support the language and speech development journey of their children, we have plenty more dedicated online content to read. Additionally, our My First Five Years app (available both on Google Play and in the App Store) contains a wealth of further insights and is ready to download now.

 

 

References

[1] Mary T. Weiner Ph.D.. (2002). Understanding Deaf parents with hearing children. Available: https://www.disabledparent.org.uk/research/understanding-deaf-parents-with-hearing-children. 

[2] CODA UK and Ireland. (2021). We Are CODA. Available: https://www.codaukireland.co.uk/. 

[3] Jubin Abutalebi and Harald Clahsen. (2016). Bimodal bilingualism: Language and cognition. Available: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/bilingualism-language-and-cognition/article/bimodal-bilingualism-language-and-cognition/489B8BBBFDE44EF491DE6E3EC3BCBB0B. 

[4] Bonvillian, John D., Michael D. Orlansky, and Lesley Lazin Novack. “Developmental Milestones: Sign Language Acquisition and Motor Development.” Child Development 54, no. 6 (1983): 1435–45. https://doi.org/10.2307/1129806. 

[5] Goodwyn, S.W., Acredolo, L.P. & Brown, C.A. Impact of Symbolic Gesturing on Early Language Development. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior 24, 81–103 (2000). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1006653828895