Erik Drasgow discussed in his article how important early exposure is for deaf children (Drasgow 1998). Unlike hearing children who are exposed to language early in the womb, deaf children get their exposure to language at birth (Drasgow 1998). Drasgow explains that studies show the earlier language is developed the higher children excel in language skills (Drasgow 1998). Deaf children born to deaf parents will acquire language as easily as hearing child born to hearing parents develops a spoken language (Drasgow 1998). It is vital for a child receive complete exposure to a natural language within their first twelve months (Drasgow 1998).
Suppose a child does not have access to language until the age of six or seven, that child may never acquire a natural language (Drasgow 1998). Parents. Parents are the biggest influence for children, hearing or deaf. A deaf child born to deaf parents adapt language normally, because the parents know how to relate to their child. However, a deaf child born to hearing parents, who have no prior exposure to the deaf culture, struggle to learn how to communicate with their child.
The absence of communication will interfere with a child’s development (Easterbrooks & Baker 2002). Hearing parents do try their best, but there are things a deaf child needs. The knowledge of visual and spatial relationships is a skill most hearing parents do not understand, however their child will need that understanding (Easterbrooks & Baker 2002). Also, we have learned that the signed language relies heavily on facial expressions and non-manual markers.
If hearing parents choose manual communication they are so focused on the signs the parents lose the important facials that make up the signed language (Easterbrooks & Baker 2002). Deaf culture requires eye contact for a conversation to take place, because hearing parents are accustomed to calling out to children, peers, and family, the parents do not realize how necessary eye contact is for their child and have difficulty gaining their child’s attention (Easterbrooks & Baker 2002). Children, whether hearing or deaf, must have exposure, understanding, and support from family to truly adapt a language. b. Nanci Scheetz defines pragmatics in her book, Psychosocial Aspects of Deafness. She defines it as:
“Pragmatics address how language is used to communicate in social contexts. It examines the rules that govern the exchange of language, and focuses on the reasons why individuals converse with each other. It delves into the realm of discourse and analyzes how speakers organize their thoughts into coherent conversations. Further more, it takes into consideration the speaker’s word choice, the recipient’s knowledgebase, and the choice” (Scheetz 2004).
My understanding is that pragmatics takes a look at where a person stands in their social development. Society has social norms that must be followed. As we develop, we learn what is allowed in day-to-day conversation, but we also learn what is considered taboo. Christine Yoshinag-Itano makes an important point in her article. She explains those pragmatics are going to change for each developmental stage and the pragmatics for the spoken languages and the manual languages are going to be different (Itano 1997). In my opinion this is true.
Deaf children should not always be compared to hearing children. Their development is not going to match a hearing child’s stage for stage. Hearing children have an opportunity to hear new words spoken by adults and can ask what they mean. While deaf children, especially in a mainstream setting, miss that chance because one sign has many different meanings. In the mainstream environment, an interpreter hears the new word and switches it to the signed language; the deaf child then misses what the educated word. In this scenario hearing children add a new word to their vocabulary and the deaf child sees the same signs he or she already knows. Instances such as these are why I believe hearing children have a higher pragmatic level and deaf children fall behind.
c. Researchers Elizabeth Keating and Gene Mirus conducted a study on how deaf children relate to hearing children in a mainstream setting (Keating & Mirus 2003). These researchers observed deaf and hearing students at two Texas schools over a five-month span (Keating & Mirus 2003). They had never met the principles, teachers, or students prior to their observation (Keating & Mirus 2003). Their method was to get video surveillance of the deaf and hearing students interacting with each other (Keating & Mirus 2003).
While reading this article, I was concerned that these researchers would not be able to understand the deaf children signing. However as I continued through the article they explained that Mirus is deaf, a native American Sign
Language (ASL) signer, fluent in English, and was taught in a mainstream setting as a deaf student (Keating & Mirus 2003). Keating is hearing, a native English speaker and is a skilled ASL signer as well (Keating & Mirus 2003).
These two authors had some helped from their research assistant Chris Moreland (Keating & Mirus 2003). He, like Mirus, was part of a mainstream deaf program, and is a fluent in ASL and English, but is not a native signer (Keating & Mirus 2003). These authors believed that having people who knew the cultures and languages was critical to the study (Keating & Mirus 2003). The authors discussed a point that I think is important, the difference between a hearing conversation and a deaf conversation.
For the Deaf community, eye contact is key. If the signer trying to start the conversation does not have the desired recipients attention, then the conversation cannot take place because the signs would not be seen (Keating & Mirus 2003). Also, deaf require feed back during a conversation to ensure the other person understands and is attentive (Keating & Mirus 2003). Interruptions are common in conversations between two deaf persons and the understanding of space and time (Keating & Mirus 2003). Hearing conversations are different. Hearing conversations do not require eye contact or even be in the same room, also interruptions are considered rude in the hearing culture. These differences separate interaction with the hearing and deaf worlds.
While deaf people have adapted ways to communicate with the hearing, hearing people still lack their resources (Keating & Mirus 2003). I think this area should be studied closely. Keating and Mirus’ study gives examples of conversations between children in a school setting. The researchers saw hearing children ignore the attempts of the deaf students to take part in the conversation by mimicking a hearing child’s actions or not knowing understanding why the deaf child is not paying them attention (Keating & Mirus 2003).
However, when the deaf child was interacting the video showed gesturing to help the hearing child understand what was needed but the researchers also saw a deaf child misunderstand an incident with hearing children on a see-saw (Keating & Mirus 2003). A hearing child fell off the seesaw and fell, the deaf child thought another child knocked the other off on purpose (Keating & Mirus 2003). The researchers found that deaf-hearing relations never went past what was going on at the present moment and was much shorter than deaf to deaf relations and hearing to hearing conversations (Keating & Mirus 2003).
I think this alone is cause for more research. It is not fair for children who are in the same classroom all day to not have anyway to interact with each other outside of gestures and lip reading. If a child is going to be placed in a mainstream setting other children should have the opportunity to learn ways to communicate with the deaf students. Chances are the same students are going to have classes together until they graduate; kindergarten to twelfth grade is far too long for children to go without learning signs or ways to communicate with the deaf students.
Drasgow, E. (1998). American sign language as a pathway to linguistic competence. Exceptional Children, 64(3), 329. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/201213704 Easterbrooks, S., & Baker, S. (2002). Language learning in children who are deaf and hard of hearing: multiple pathways. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon. Itano, C. Y. (1997). The challenge of assessing language in children with hearing loss. Language, Speech & Hearing Services in Schools, 28(4), 362. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/232585838?accountid=14800 Keating, E., & Mirus, G. (2003).
Examining interactions across language modalities: Deaf children and hearing peers at school. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 34(2), 115. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/218136755?accountid=14800 Martin, D. S., Craft, A., & Sheng, Z. N. (2001). The impact of cognitive strategy instruction on deaf learners: An international comparative study. American Annals of the Deaf, 146(4), 366. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/214468209?accountid=14800 Scheetz, N,. (2004). Psychosocial aspects of deafness. Boston: Pearson.