ASDC Snapshots: "I Just Found Out My Child is Deaf"

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: My child is the first deaf person I have ever met in my life. Will she have a normal life?

A: Yes! Your child can have a good relationship with you and other family members, obtain a good education and later a good job, and lead a rich, fulfilling, contributing life. People who are deaf are found in a wide array of professions, such as law, medicine, drama, research, education, computer programming, accounting, and entrepreneurial enterprises. People who are deaf are found in all sorts of interesting activities, including travel, writing, sports, religious activities, social clubs and more. But your child's success won't happen without your involvement and support. Some things that you should do are:

Q: I am considering using sign language with my child, but I have been told that if I do it will interfere with his speech development. Is this true?

A: There is no evidence to indicate that using sign language interferes with speech development. In fact, research shows that a higher degree of language-including sign language-is correlated with better speech production. Research also shows that hearing children benefit from learning sign language as well, and that their spoken language develops appropriately.

Q: How well will my child be able to speak?

A: The degree to which a deaf child is able to speak depends on a variety of factors including age of identification and intervention and degree of hearing loss. Hearing aids and other forms of assistive technology can provide a high degree of access to speech sounds. Combined with speech therapy, technology can help many children who are deaf develop some levels of speech, with some becoming fluent speakers. However, the ability to hear sounds, discriminate among them and then articulate them is quite complex and not every deaf child will master these skills. The degree to which an individual child will learn how to speak and understand other speakers may be difficult to predict.

Q: Shouldn't I try to have my child learn how to talk instead of sign? It's a "hearing world," isn't it?

A: While it is true that most people are hearing and use spoken language for face-to-face communication, it is important to remember the distinction between language and speech. Language is a means of communicating ideas or feelings using conventionalized signs, sounds, gestures or marks. Language is necessary for cognitive, academic and psycho-social development. Speech is the communication or expression of thought in spoken words. Speech is a mode of communication-a means of expressing language-not language itself.

Deaf children with normal vision and cognitive ability who interact with individuals who use sign language can themselves learn sign language. Deaf children's degree of success mastering spoken English varies. Further, such factors as background noise and distance from the speaker can have an impact on a child's ability to understand a speaker. As a result, many parents choose to provide their deaf children an opportunity to learn both spoken English and sign language.

Parents should never be forced into choosing one mode of communication and rejecting others. Parents should work with their child's service providers-teachers, audiologists, and therapists-to ensure that the child is developing language-whether signed, spoken or both-at the same rate as the child's hearing peers.

Q: I want my child to learn American Sign Language (ASL) and be part of the Deaf community, but I am afraid that my child's learning ASL will prevent her from learning English. Will this happen?

A: ASL is a language of its own with a structure and grammar different from that of English. However, as do children in cultures all over the world, deaf children can become bilingual, using both ASL and English. Research shows that characteristics that are found in good deaf readers are:

  • They had their hearing loss identified early.
  • They had early access to language (usually sign language).
  • They were exposed to English.

Q: Which is better-signed English or ASL?

A: When it comes to languages there is no "better" or "worse." The question is: for what purpose is the language being used? Generally, Deaf adults use ASL with each other. When they are signing with a hearing person who does not know much sign language, they might sign in an order that is more like English. If they have understandable speech, they might use that either instead of or in addition to their signs. Generally parents whose first language is English and are learning to sign tend to sign in English word order, because that is the language with which they are most familiar.

Q: I am afraid that if my child joins the deaf community he will reject the rest of our family, which is hearing. Will that happen?

A: As with any family, families with deaf children that have the strongest bonds are those where there is love, respect, understanding and communication. Regardless of what our child's primary mode of communication is, we must make sure that clear and open communication exists. Deaf persons value the efforts their parents made to communicate with them throughout their lives. Clear and open communication with our children-not whether their peers are deaf or hearing-will help establish healthy relationships with our children that will last throughout our lives.

The information on this web page come to our site courtesy of the American Society for Deaf Children (ASDC). ASDC would like to share this information with all parents of children who are deaf or hard of hearing.

The American Society for Deaf Children can be reached at:
P.O. Box 3355, Gettysburg, PA 17325
717/334-7922 Business
717/334-8808 Fax
800/942-ASDC Parent Information and Referral