Researcher Ann Geers, (Pediatrics, June 2017) published some very compelling data about children with cochlear implants and sign language use. Specifically, no advantage existed for parents to use sign language before or after an infant underwent cochlear implant surgery.
Overall, deaf children with implants who never learned sign language had better language, reading and spoken language scores than children who mixed manual and spoken language.
Summary of Geers’ Study:
- Children without early sign language exposure had better speech recognition skills, the first 3 years post-implant with a statistically significant advantage in spoken language and reading near the end of elementary grades over children exposed to sign language.
- Over 70% of children without sign language exposure achieved age-appropriate spoken language compared with only 39% of those exposed for 3 or more years.
- Early speech perception predicted speech intelligibility in middle elementary grades.
- Children without sign language exposure produced speech that was more intelligible (mean = 70%) than those exposed to sign language (mean = 51%).
A Growing Basis For Policy And Practice
An accompanying editorial in Pediatrics by Karl R. White, PhD, of Utah State University, and Louis Z. Cooper, MD, of Columbia University, observed that (source: MedpageToday):
Instead of relying on anecdote and argument as the basis for policy and practice, [we] can help end the passionate but debilitating debates between advocates of signing and non-signing, while offering useful guidance to families with children who are [deaf or hard of hearing] and their healthcare providers.
Parents Want Their Deaf Children To Talk
Parents campaigning for the right to spoken-language use for deaf children worldwide will welcome the Geers report, with one mother, Carol Katarsky, repoted in EdWeek as saying.
If the only deaf person in the family doesn’t want to sign, I don’t see a lot of benefit to spending a lot of time with it.
Lots of literature has come out saying that if you can get sign in very early, it will help bootstrap spoken-language acquisition. It just didn’t come out that way in practice. ~ Anne Geers, a research professor and developmental psychologist at the University of Texas in Dallas