By William Vicars, Ed.D.
Oct 30, 2000
LANGUAGE DEPRIVATION AND ITS
THE SOCIAL AND INTELLECTUAL DEVELOPMENT OF DEAF CHILDREN
In the book Sibling
Society, Robert Bly, discusses a study of deaf persons in which one
group learned American Sign Language at a young age, and another group that
learned the language later in life. According to the study, "only those
who learned American Sign Language before the age of eleven could master the
complete syntax." Bly
explains that conversation with grown-ups provides verbal stimulation which
affects the growth and development of children's brains.
Deaf children of hearing parents tend to miss out on the
conversations that their hearing peers tend to have with their parents.
Participation in conversation arranges children's synapses and
enhances their intellect. He explains that the brains of young children are
flexible and able to change--dendrites can develop new branches.
When children reach puberty, their brains are less able to create new
connections. Language deprivation can stunt the growth of the brain
similar to the way vitamin deficiency can stunt the growth of the body. (1)
At a recent American
Association for the Advancement of Science Congress in Washington, D.C.
there were two presentations
which focused on the importance of early language acquisition.
Dr. Rachel Mayberry from
McGill University in Montreal explained that "the brain absolutely
needs language input during infancy and toddlerhood in order to learn how to
learn..." Findings from
the study she was reporting on showed that many little children who are
deprived of language when they're young grow up to have severe cognitive
problems for the remainder of their lives. (2)
According to Barbara Haskins,
M.D., an associate professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of
Virginia, language deprivation definitely affects cognitive function.
Dr. Haskins is a specialist in treating deaf patients on the deaf
ward of Western State Hospital in Staunton, Virgina.
There is a window of opportunity to acquire language.
If that window is missed, individuals tend to display cognitive
defects later in life. Many of
her patients were raised by hearing parents in rural areas who only
communicated orally or in simple gestures.
In an article in Psychiatric News she explained, "My patients
only saw talking heads and moving lips, which did not stimulate the left
side of the brain that sets up rules for language and thought." (3)
Alison Gopnik, a cognitive
psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley has pointed out that
babies need linguistic interaction with adults.
Parents need to spend time talking to their children.
The time spent interacting with adults helps children to figure out
how to deal psychologically with the world around them.
They are like mini-scientists conducting experiments.
They move through stages of development.
Language deprivation causes a baby to do worse at his experiments.
He is less able learn about emotions and psychology. (4)
The Prudential Foundation has
been providing financial support for a bilingual, multimedia initiative
titled "Sesame Street Beginnings: Language to Literacy."
This project is part of The
Children's Television Workshop. Pamela
Green, vice president of Outreach and Strategic Partnerships, has indicated
the program is based on compelling evidence that shows a baby's brain growth
is stimulated when the baby mimics the sounds he hears.
This research shows a baby's development is impacted by his first
According to Peter Hindley,
Senior lecturer in child and adolescent psychiatry St George's Hospital
Medical School, if children are to avoid negative consequences in all
aspects of their psychological development, they need early access to a
sophisticated language system. Hindley
goes so far as to indicate that a child's mental health will be impacted by
language deprivation. He
proposes that for children who are deaf, American Sign Language provides an
effective language base for psychological and social development. (6)
A different approach to
determining the cognitive impact of language deprivation on a child is to
take a look at what happens to children when they receive the opposite of
language deprivation--which is to say, "increased language
acquisition." A study of
140 families funded by the National Institutes of Child Health and Human
Development showed that hearing children who were exposed to signing (in
addition to speech) as babies have IQ scores averaging 12 points higher than
the scores of the control group that didn't have additional language input.
Increased language acquisition results in a measurable increase in
Bly, Robert. "Disdain and Contempt for Children in the Sibling
Society." Sibling Society. Addison Wesley. 23 Sep. 2000.
Swan, Norman. "Hearing Loss in Children." The Health
Report. 10 Jul. 2000. Radio National. 23 Sep. 2000. <http://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/8.30/helthrpt/stories/s150097.htm>.
Lehmann, Christine. "Clinical and Research News." Psychiatric
News. August 04, 2000. American Psychiatric Association . 23 Sep. 2000.
"Are babies smarter than adults." USA Today Magazine
Dec. 1999. 30 Oct. 2000. <http://www.findarticles.com/cf_0/m1272/2655_128/58037920/p1/article.jhtml>.
"Sesame Street Beginnings: Language to Literacy." PR
Newswire 7 April 2000. 30 Oct. 2000. <http://www.findarticles.com/cf_0/m4PRN/2000_April_7/61398566/p1/article.jhtml>.
Hindley, Peter. "Speaking sign language from birth can make deaf
children confident." British Medical Journal 29 May. 1999. 30
Oct. 2000. <http://www.findarticles.com/m0999/7196_318/54979338/p1/article.jhtml>.
Garcia, Joseph . "Scientific Research." Sign with your
baby (website). 30 Oct. 2000 <http://www.sign2me.com/science.htm>.