The Importance of Early Literacy Development in the Deaf Community
At the time of birth, our brains immediately begin to develop. We begin to make neural connections at a rapid rate (700 new neural connections are made every second from birth to five years old). By five years old, 90% of our brain capacity is already developed (Nyle Demaraco Foundation).
However, without the introduction of language, the brain will not develop naturally. Too often we see a lack of language introduction in children who are born deaf or hard of hearing. In fact, even children who are born deaf, who have cochlear devices implanted may never develop language. This is due to the regular brain plasticity changes in early childhood. When a child has not acquired a first language in the early years (0-5), that child may never be completely fluent in any language. Subsequently, missing this critical period of exposure to natural language results in a lack of development in cognitive activities that rely on a solid first language. These areas include:
- Memory Organization
- Number Manipulation
This language deprivation will impact a child for the rest of his or her life.
A great method of language acquisition for a child who is deaf or hard of hearing is sign language or American Sign Language (ASL). ASL provides the same time constraints of spoken language development and acts as the perfect language for a child who is born deaf or hard of hearing.
Learning language is a critical component of the growth and health of every child, without it long-term effects carry into adulthood:
- Cognitive activities are stunted or highly underdeveloped (i.e mathematics)
- Organization of memory is disordered
- Diminishes one’s educational and career possibilities
- Psychosocial problems due to isolation and frustration
- Self-expression is diminished
- Ability to understand others is compromised
How Can You Ensure Children Receive Language
- Early intervention is key. Begin signing with your child as early as possible (preferably as infants).
- Take sign language classes. Parents should not be the only members of the family who can communicate with the child. It is important for each member of the family to learn sign language.
- Classes in Nashville:
- On-line learning tools
- Enroll in After-School Programs and Camps
Educators and Adults:
- Push Policy Makers/Schools to provide after-school programs for Deaf or Hard of Hearing students
- Advocate for sign language (ASL) as part of early education in schools
- Provide accessible spaces for students, coworkers, individuals who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing
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