June 13, 2011

Language Issue Not Cognitive

Sometimes I will have to explain to some people that being deaf or hard of hearing is not a cognitive issue, that is of course if the deaf or hard of hearing person understands language and has access to fluent and consistent language like everyone else. I don't necessarily think that deaf and hard of hearing people think or learn differently from everyone else. If they are taught in a language that they understand and have equal and full access to, learning should not be a problem. I don't think many deaf and hard of hearing children struggle with reading because of cognitive problems, but because of lack of exposure to sounds and perhaps language (if spoken language is clearly not working or a visual system or sign language is not used with them or used inconsistently). Think about it, how is the average profoundly deaf child supposed to learn language, if their family and teachers are unable to effectively communicate with this child? Then how is a child suppose to learn and do well in school with little understanding of language?

Some of the deaf and hard of hearing students I work with struggle in academics. Some have learning disabilities and intellectual disabilities, some lack motivation, and some have difficult personal lives, making it hard for them to do well in school. Plenty of their hearing peers struggle with academics for a variety of reasons as well. From what I have seen and experienced, the deaf and hard of hearing students usually struggle more than their typically hearing peers due to accommodation issues and lack of understanding from their teachers.

For the deaf and hard of hearing students who are bright, highly motivated, have not been diagnosed as having a learning disorder, or come from stable families, it seems as if the lack of exposure to consistent natural language, during their early years (0-5 years or older), plays a big role in how they do in school or in learning certain academic subjects.

If you do not have the luxury of consistently and naturally picking up ongoing conversations around you from day one, you are going to struggle with learning language later in life. Language is important. If you do not understand language or do not have strong language skills, taking in new information and understanding what is being said or read is going to be a task. For example, if you do not know the names for each season (fall, winter, spring, and summer) and the meaning of each, you will have a difficult time answering reading comprehension questions from a reading passage about the four seasons. If you do not understand how past tense works in the English language, you will have a hard time writing a short essay in English about what you did during summer or what you did last night. If you do not know how past tense works in American Sign Language, you are going to have a hard time understanding someone explaining to you what they did last week in ASL.

Language is important.