University of Edinburgh

Language and Deaf Education: Into the 21st Century

March, 2006

Greg Leigh -

Early Identification, Cochlear Implantation, and Sign(ed) Language: Issues for a New Era


Since the advent of Universal Newborn Hearing Screening (UNHS) in New South Wales in 2002, the average age of identification of deaf children has fallen from 18 months to 1.6 months. The near universal availability of cochlear implantation, emphasis on inclusive education, and advances in aural habilitation have all served to raise expectations about spoken language development for these children.  Correspondingly there has been an increasing preference for exclusively auditory-oral approaches to early intervention.
Clearly, there continue to be children for whom auditory-oral approaches do not produce outcomes commensurate with these expectations.  However, a goal that receives scant consideration is that of earlier and more efficient identification of children for whom alternative communication approaches will be the most - if not only - viable strategy for linguistic, social, and emotional development.

This paper discusses the factors that account for diversity of communication needs, including the presence of auditory neuropathy/desynchrony. It is argued that commencement with exclusively auditory-oral approaches for all children will squander the opportunities presented by UNHS for some children and will perpetuate the disadvantages usually associated with later identification and delayed exposure to language. Alternative approaches are canvassed in terms of linguistic principles, teacher abilities, and parental expectations/preferences.