Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

The Influence of Early Manual Communication on the Linguistic Development of Deaf Children

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

The Influence of Early Manual Communication on the Linguistic Development of Deaf Children

Article excerpt

Part I


Educators of the deaf for centuries have been preoccupied with the modes of communication in the classroom that will best serve the deaf student's education and general social adjustment. The concern of many has centered on whether a method of instruction that is strongly orientated to vocalization or a method of instruction that leans toward manual communication is most favorable to the deaf student. In brief, are deaf students best served by the "oral" or by the "simultaneous" method?

Each position is logically defensible. The one maintains that the handicap is minimized with the attainment of functional speech, speechreading, and acoustic skills; the other maintains that for many students these skills are presently unattainable, so manual communication represents the best alternative. Controversy has centered primarily on the preadolescent and adolescent deaf student.

The prevailing recommendation made to parents of the deaf infant and preschool child has been that they communicate orally with their deaf child, primarily to give him an awareness of language and basic vocal communication skills; yet rarely do the skills become highly developed at this age.

Five percent or more of deaf children have deaf parents, many of whom routinely communicate manually in the home. The children of such parents acquire manual communication skills very much as the hearing child develops vocal communication skills. The effect of the communication system learned by any child, regardless of the communication mode, seems pronounced and permanent. Since manual communication (fingerspelling excepted) and vocalized language have little congruency, the child who learns manual communication early may have increased difficulty in shifting to the grammar and lexicon of the English language. On the other hand, the deaf child with early manual communication may have an increased awareness of the significance of language and concepts contingent on language, and an increased resource of knowledge and experiences facilitated by communication.

Many teachers of the deaf, on the basis of their empirical information, relate the success of some deaf children in written language and reading to the fact that they have deaf parents who communicate manually in the home; the same teachers attribute poor development of speech and speechreading to the same observation. If, in fact, early manual communication influences the development of linguistic skills in deaf children, whether it be in a positive or an inhibiting direction, then the implication is clear that the establishment of a communication system in the deaf child before he enters school is pertinent to the linguistic success manifest while he is in school.

The investigators wish to underscore two points at the outset of this report. First, this investigation was not designed to reveal information on the relative pedagogical merits of the various methods of communication employed in educational programs for deaf children. It limits itself to a study of the influence of a particular communication system learned by some deaf children before they enter school.

Second, it is recognized that manual communication might not be the only functional communication system a deaf child can learn before entering school. It may be that children can be taught to vocalize and speechread language with such skill that these communication media become highly functional very early in life. Manual communication was isolated as an independent variable because young deaf children do learn this method of communication with reasonable ease and without formal tutoring. The investigators would encourage additional research on subjects who develop a systematic communication system through speech and speechreading or through fingerspelling alone. Indeed, such research is currently being conducted by other investigators.

III. PROBLEM Definitions

The term manual communication refers to the systematic use of manually produced symbols and signs to convey and receive information. …

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