News Video | Policy | GPs | Hospitals | Medical | Mental Health | Welfare | Search


Deaf Children Denied Full Access To Language

March 2006

DANZ CI Press Release

Deaf Children Denied Full Access To Language

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.


[1] TV3 6PM “3NEWS” Saturday 25 February 2006 Carolyn Robinson with Dr Colin Brown, Starship Hospital surgeon, Robin King, mother of James, and Dr Pat Tuohy, Ministry of Health. RNZ “Nine to Noon” Tuesday 28 February 2006, Linda Clark with Dr Colin Brown and Robyn King. Both radio and television interviews were not accessible to Deaf people as TV3 news is not captioned.

[2] Researchers recently discovered a 12-point IQ gap between a group of second-graders who had been trained to sign as babies and a group who had not. "We were astonished," says one of the researchers, Linda Acredolo, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of California at Davis. ,3170,75121,00.html See also UM psychology professor, Lynne Koester’s 10 year research into hearing mothers with deaf infants.


© Scoop Media

Culture Headlines | Health Headlines | Education Headlines


Reuben Moss' Property is Theft! & Kaitani at The Physics Room

Property is Theft! continues Moss’ interest in the contemporary urban environment as a space controlled by pulsing and unequal flows of capital and labour. Kaitani features work by the University of Canterbury Fijian Students Association and Kulimoe’anga Stone Maka. More>>

Handcrafted Form: Rare Treasures From Japan

This unique exhibition at Expressions Whirinaki represents 90 everyday objects made by contemporary Japanese artisans who employ various traditional craft techniques made in regional workshops. The works used in daily life are crafted from raw materials with techniques appropriate to bringing out the best of its medium, balancing ease of use with aesthetic appeal. More>>

Howard Davis Article: A Musical Axis - Brahms, Wagner, Sibelius

Brahms' warm and exquisitely subtle Symphony No. 3 in F major, Wagner's irrepressibly sentimental symphonic poem Siegfried Idyll, and Sibelius' chilling and immensely challenging Violin Concerto in D minor exemplify distinct stages of development in a tangled and convoluted series of skirmishes that came to define subsequent disputes about the nature of post-Romantic orchestral writing well into the following century. More>>

Scoop Review Of Books: A Pale Ghost Writer

Reviewed by Ruth Brassington, Richard Flanagan's new novel is about a novelist hastily ghost-writing the biography of a crook about to go to trial. The reader is kept on a cliff-edge, as the narrator tries to get blood out of his stone man. More>>

New Zealand Wars Commemoration: Witi Ihimaera's Sleeps Standing Moetū

The second of several articles to mark Rā Maumahara, remembering the New Zealand Land Wars. The first was a Q&A with Vincent O’Malley, author of The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800–2000. More>>




  • Wellington
  • Christchurch
  • Auckland