No one-size-fits-all approach to education of deaf children

No one-size-fits-all approach to education of deaf children

I commend Mrs Emilyn Heng for ensuring that her sons had access to the best opportunities, so they could achieve their full potential (" 'I was worse than a Tiger Mum' "; July 13). Her success story sends a clear message that deaf children can indeed do anything except hear.

Concerns, however, arose in my mind when I read that her two boys had to "read aloud every night; they had to speak instead of relying on sign language".

The question is: Will an oral approach to education work for every deaf child?

I know Mrs Heng has no intention of discussing what methodology works best for deaf children, but I worry that parents with deaf children would assume that the oral method is the only way to success, after reading the article.

If this method were to be employed for every deaf child, it would be detrimental to the language development of those who have difficulty with or cannot access speech.

From my experience as a teacher of the deaf in Australia, I noted that deaf children having access to sign language from birth were academically ahead of those using the oral method and many of their hearing counterparts.

The deaf children who could access speech with supportive families also did well. Those who adopted a bilingual approach, where equal importance was placed on sign language and English, did exceptionally well. And those who received little or no input in sign language and had difficulty accessing speech were the most delayed academically.

Cochlear implants and hearing aids do not always provide adequate auditory input. These devices ensure identification of sound but not necessarily clarity of speech.

Therefore, every deaf child can benefit from sign language, but not all can access speech.

I am deaf. I grew up using the oral method. I learnt to sign only when I trained to become a teacher of the deaf in Australia. Sign language and involvement in the deaf community opened up a world of possibilities for me. They enriched my life, helped me embrace my identity and developed my confidence.

All parents with deaf children should ask what is best for their children's needs.

To quote deaf actress Marlee Matlin: "When I learnt to sign and speak at the same time, the whole world opened up to me. That's the beauty of encouraging kids who are deaf to use whatever it takes to communicate."

Phoebe Tay (Miss)

This article was first published on July 27 2014.
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