Early Learning

Hello to all you follower!

Despite appearances, I am indeed still alive. I just haven’t been blogging. Hectic times + going out of town + my computer getting a super insidious Trojan which requires wiping my system down to scratch and building it back up (hopefully Sunday…) and wouldn’t let me turn my computer on for a week = bad blogger. :-(

But I’m back bay-bee!

I spent last week with a good friend of mine who lives out in the middle of nowhere. My trip involved hanging out with her family and visiting her horses (I got to ride!!). She has a very adorable 13 month old son, who I spent a lot of time with.

And who blew. My. Mind. He is 13 months old. He can’t talk yet (though he can sign a handful of words). And yet, his receptive language is incredible. You can tell him to go get the bag outside the door next to the cabinet…and he’ll go and get the right thing! It really hit home for me how very, very much children absorb just by listening to chatter in their first year of life.

And it hit home for me how very, very much deaf children of hearing adults miss out on.

Typically, deaf children of hearing adults are born to parents who don’t sign. Even if the parents do sign, or have picked up some sign for the benefit of their child, it is a second language. And most parents aren’t going to babble to their kids in a second language.

My mom used to say that when we were babies she felt like a voice-over narrator, describing what she did in every moment of her day. “OK, let’s go over to the sink and wash the dishes! First I’ll grab the plate! Here we go, putting the plate under the water, scrub scrub scrub with the sponge! Oops, can’t forget the soap! OK, we’ll put that in the dishwasher now! Let’s do the cup next!” And so on.

Not to mention all the conversations my mother had with other people (like my father) that we overheard.

That is how my brother and I picked up language. That is how all babies pick up language. By listening to the non-stop babble and all the conversations around them that don’t involve them.

Deaf kids don’t get that when they are born to hearing parents. In fact, they get pretty much what they can give back. So my friend’s son could sign a handful of nouns. Most deaf kids his age born to hearing parents would be getting only those basic signs given to them in the first place. Rather than the narration above, maybe (maybe) mom would say “Plate. Water. Cup.” And how many conversations with other people would parents sign for their kids to watch?

It’s no wonder deaf kids are often so far behind in school. It’s not that ASL is an inferior language, or that sign is holding them back. It’s that they miss out on that year (or more!) of non-stop language acquisition. Often, they almost never get anything beyond random nouns and verbs until they go to school where someone can sign fluently.

(It’s also why deaf kids born to deaf adults aren’t behind in school! The get to “hear” their parents speak during that critical time, since they can absorb their parents’ first language.)

This is something I’ve known for a long time.

But until I spent a week with my friend’s 13 month old, I didn’t realize how very, very much information was taken in in that first year. And how very, very much an infant who didn’t get the opportunity would be missing out on.

Really made me think.

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