Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

The Modes of Communication Used by Children with Cochlear Implants and the Role of Sign in Their Lives

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

The Modes of Communication Used by Children with Cochlear Implants and the Role of Sign in Their Lives

Article excerpt

IN A MIXED-METHODS STUDY, which included surveys of 247 parents and 151 teachers, the researchers investigated the modes of communication used by children with cochlear implants and the role of signed communication in the children's lives. Findings indicated that 15%-20% of the children in the parent surveys and approximately 30% of the children in the teacher surveys were using some form of signed communication. Qualitative findings from interviews with parents, teachers, and children with cochlear implants elaborated on the quantitative findings. While the development of spoken-language communication was the main aim of their children's cochlear implantation for the large majority of parents, many valued the use of either Signed English or Australian Sign Language, which they felt supported their children's personal, social, and academic development. Young people who used sign switched comfortably between communication modes according to their communication partners, topics, and settings.

Generally, the primary goal of parents and cochlear implant programs is the provision of hearing sufficient to enable children with hearing loss to develop spoken language and to communicate through speech and hearing in their everyday lives; the expectation of most parents is that their children will not use sign language once they have a cochlear implant (Hyde, Punch, & Komesaroff, 2010). However, research from the field of general linguistics (Cummins, 1998) and from studies of young deaf children (Preisler, 2007; Preisler, Tvingstedt, & Ahlstrom, 2002; Vonen, 2007) suggests that bilingual approaches could lead to outcomes that, while they do not diminish the proficiency of children's spokenlanguage development, optimize their cognitive and linguistic development at critical stages in their language learning. In particular, while some advocates of auditory-oral and auditory- verbal programs have felt for many years that exposure to sign language reduces spoken-language development (reported in Hyde, 2005; Power & Hyde, 1997), recent research findings suggest that the opposite might in fact be true (Preisler et al, 2002; Preisler, Tvingstedt, & Ahlstrom, 2005; Yoshinaga-Itano, 2006).

While it may be a common expectation among parents and educators that cochlear implantation will enable deaf children to develop spoken-language abilities and attend school in regular classroom settings, this does not happen for all children who receive implants. The variability among children's outcomes with cochlear implants means that it is difficult to accurately predict outcomes for an individual child (Belzner & Seal, 2009; Hawker et al, 2008; Inscoe, Odell, Archbold, & Nikolopoulos, 2009; Pisoni, Conway, Krone nb erger, Horn, & Henning, 2008). In particular, the development of spoken language after implantation is not always achieved by children with additional disabilities such as autism and cognitive, behavioral, and language disorders (Donaldson, Heavner, & Zwolan, 2004; Edwards, Frost, & Whitham, 2006; Nikolopoulos, Archbold, Wever, & Lloyd, 2008).

Even when implanted children effectively develop spoken language, it appears that signed communication has the potential to be useful in their lives. Several research studies indicate that signed communication, whether in the form of a sign language or signs supporting spoken language, continues to be used with and by children with cochlear implants. The Gallaudet Research Institute obtained quantitative data from 439 parents' responses to a questionnaire, the "Survey of Parents of Pediatric Cochlear Implantees." These data, reported by Christiansen and Leigh (2002), indicated that the children were in a variety of educational settings: 58% of them were fully or partially mainstreamed in regular classes, 13% were in self-contained classes for deaf or hard of hearing children, 15% were attending special schools for deaf and hard of hearing children, and 14% were in other settings. …

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