Jim Kyle and Hilary Sutherland
This project was made possible by grants from BBC Children in Need and The Deaf Studies Trust
Extensive research has agreed that deaf children have problems acquiring English language - in both written and spoken forms. At the same time we can see that deaf children in deaf homes are able to acquire and use a natural sign language which has all of the same functions as spoken language for early interaction. However, as the majority of deaf children have hearing parents, there is a predictable mismatch in communication needs at home. In order to develop most effectively, deaf children need to be bilingual from as early an age as possible. This bilingualism will involve English and British Sign Language.
When a child is diagnosed as having a hearing problem, the hospital refers the family to pre-school services in education, and the peripatetic teacher then contacts the family. She provides counselling, information and support to the family. However, it is rarely the case that these teachers of the deaf are deaf themselves and rarely are they native signers.
The Deaf Children at Home project started in September 1990 initially for one year, funded by the BBC Children-in-Need appeal and by the Deaf Studies Trust. It was a first attempt to tackle early bilingual development in deaf children.
Deaf parents were trained to work in the homes with the hearing families. A schedule of visits was drawn up and the deaf consultants visited each week to carry out a programme of activities which involved playing games with the deaf child and the family, instructing the family in sign and discussing communication with the family.
Evaluation of the process was carried out and measures of satisfaction among parents and teachers were collected in interviews and the continuous reports of the deaf consultants were evaluated. The results indicated general success in the aims of the project, change in parental expectations and greater involvement of family members.
On the basis of these findings a number of changes were made to the programme and to the schedule. A new modular approach has been adopted.
The full report is available from the Forest BookShop.