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Tragedy of deaf children on the waiting list

Tragedy of deaf children on the waiting list for cochlear implants

The tragedy of deaf children on the waiting list for cochlear implants (CI) was in the media recently.[1] The news items focused on the need for increased funding so that more CI operations could be financed to increase the current total of 28 operations a year.

Dr Colin Brown, CI surgeon at Starship Hospital, expressed dismay that deaf children are losing the opportunity to acquire oral language skills: "every month of delay sets the child back in vital brain stimulation. If the hearing nerves aren't stimulated early, they will never work."

Robyn King, mother of 1 year old James, diagnosed 2 days after birth, described her plight in being unable to communicate with James and the year-long delay before his scheduled CI operation in July.

Robyn said "we went to the supermarket yesterday and all he did was squeal the whole time; we're walking around the supermarket, a real high pitched squeal, and that's all he does and everyone just turns around and looks at you. There's no vocal speech there at all , , , they say he can't even hear himself screaming."

James is almost one year old. He has no language development whatsoever. This is a tragic missed opportunity. If the medical profession had given Robyn and James access to New Zealand Sign Language, Robyn and James would be able to communicate with one another while they are waiting for their CI operation.

The deaf child needs access to language at the earliest possible opportunity. Sign language can be taught to the deaf child before oral language. International studies have demonstrated that babies who learnt sign language before learning to speak show a 12-point difference in their IQ to babies who did not learn sign language.[2]

It is currently fashionable to teach hearing babies to sign, but to deny deaf babies any language development until they are fitted with

CI.

Deaf Association New Zealand (DANZ) states that language development is essential to the growth of the deaf child. Internationally, sign language has been shown to be the earliest demonstrable language a baby can learn before their larnyx can form complex sounds. A deaf child can access sign language before oral language. They can begin to acquire concepts and their uptake of oral language is greatly improved. Sign language and spoken language are complementary. A sign language is completely accessible to a deaf person, a spoken language is not. A sign language is the only language which a deaf child can learn in a natural and easy way. It is moreover imperative that Deaf children benefit from the use of sign language at an early age, and this helps them in forming their linguistic, educational and social skills.

The recent news demonstrated the tragedy of deaf children who are lacking the opportunity to learn language skills because of a lack of funding for CI operations. The medical and educational community has denied deaf children full access to language.

As of 23 February 2006, The New Zealand Sign Language Bill has passed its second reading. As Hon Ruth Dyson proclaimed last week, by declaring New Zealand Sign Language to be an official language of our country, this House is acknowledging the Deaf community's presence, its rights, and its equal value in our society. No submission opposed the Bill.

DANZ urges the medical and educational community to work in partnership with DANZ to integrate New Zealand Sign Language into their programmes so that parents of deaf children can fully engage with their children. There can be no equality for deaf children until the Deaf community is seen as part of the solution. The more options our deaf children have, the richer their lives and ours will be.

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