University of Edinburgh

Language and Deaf Education: Into the 21st Century

March, 2006

Susan Gregory -

Language, social interaction and the family


Families of deaf children, the majority of whom are hearing, are faced with a number of choices including the language and communication to use within the family. Recent developments appear to have extended the possibilities for language and communication for the deaf child.  Increasingly, sign language is being used with deaf children as evidenced by the growth in the availability of sign language classes, some addressing the particular needs of parents. At the same time, the use of cochlear implants with deaf children has become more widespread, with a focus on developing the child's ability to hear and thus to acquire and use spoken language.

Both developments seem to be motivated by similar concerns, the improvement of the language and communication of deaf children leading to positive consequences for the child’s family and social life.  However, sign language and cochlear implantation are rooted in different models of deafness, cochlear implants being located within a medical paradigm, while the recognition of sign language is based within a linguistic and cultural minority view of deaf people. This paper will consider these developments and the implications that they have for families and social interaction. It will also review parental perspectives on communication within the family.