Division of Audiology and Speech - Language Pathology

Oral Deaf Education: An important alternative in teaching deaf children


Parents of deaf and hearing impaired children are encouraged to view the one-hour video Dreams Spoken Here, available free from your physician or audiologist in the Division of Audiology and Speech Pathology, or by calling 1-877-ORALDEAF or visiting the Oral Deaf Education web site.

Learning Your Child Is Deaf or Severely Hearing Impaired

Every parent has dreams for their child. When they learn their child is deaf, these dreams can be shattered. Parents initially feel shock, grief, confusion and devastation.

But for parents who want their children to listen and speak, there is hope.

Deaf Children Can Learn to Listen and Speak

There are degrees of hearing loss, and many deaf and hearing impaired children have some residual hearing. Incredible advances in technology, in part achieved by research in this department, now build on this residual hearing so that children who wear hearing aids or cochlear implants can in fact learn to listen and speak.

Choosing Oral Deaf Education

Parents are increasingly choosing to teach their children to speak rather than use sign language as their method of communicating. This critical decision is perhaps the most important choice that parents of a hearing impaired child will make, as it sets the ground for the child’s future.

The most common reasons parents cite for choosing oral deaf education are their desires to enable their children to speak for themselves and communicate with the world at large. They want their children to have every opportunity to pursue their lives as they choose, and they believe that the ability to interact with everyone – hearing as well as hearing-impaired – is critical.

Young deaf adults who learned to speak as children overwhelmingly testify that oral deaf education was the right choice for them. Clearly, it has enabled them to integrate into mainstream schools, jobs, and all other parts of life. Dreams Spoken Here depicts dozens of deaf children, adolescents and young adults today speaking incredibly well (some so well it would be impossible to detect any hearing impairment), singing, playing musical instruments, sports, flying airplanes, and more. The parents of one deaf toddler, initially devastated at the time of her diagnosis, explained that after several years of oral deaf education, they now know that their daughter will be fully mainstreamed into the public school by first grade.

Alternatives to Oral Education

Alternatives to oral education are use of total communication and Cued Speech. In these methods, information is presented using a sign system, most prominently American Sign Language. Total communication emphasizes use of Sign as the main communication mode, although learning oral skills is encouraged as well. In many total communication educational settings, use of speech, oral language, and voice is given a strong therapeutic role. Generally, the use of oral language is not as highlighted in such settings as it is in oral programs.

How Oral Deaf Education Works

Beginning as early as possible, oral deaf education starts by bathing the hearing impaired child in language (by parents, teachers, and friends and family). This ongoing bath of language establishes communication patterns and focuses a child’s listening skills. It is hard work, and it requires much patience and persistence. But in time, the child eventually makes the connection between sound and meaning. For example the sound “MMM” meant “more” to one hearing impaired toddler, and “O” meant “open.” With continued positive reinforcement, teachers and parents build on these initial sounds until children learn to say whole words, then sentences.

In the Division of Audiology and Speech Pathology, our staff works with families to teach deaf children how to listen and speak, particularly after fitting with hearing aids or cochlear implantation. Children also attend other public or private schools or centers. The goal is for them to transition into mainstream classrooms. Usually speech therapy continues after mainstreaming in order to keep improving and enhancing speech abilities and to address any other needs related to the child’s hearing impairment.

The hard work pays off. Deaf and hearing impaired children not only learn to listen and speak, but sing, play musical instruments, act, attend top colleges, pursue any career goals, and in general enjoy friends and family with little, if any, difference from hearing individuals. As one parent described it, “expect miracles.” The joy this brings is beyond words, and it is possible for every deaf child to achieve the same.

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