The typical medical education curriculum does not address language development for deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHH) children. However, this issue is medical because of the frequency with which DHH children as a population face health complications due to linguistic deprivation. The critical period for language development is early; if a child does not acquire an intact language before age five, the child is unlikely to ever have native-like use of any language. Such linguistic deprivation carries risks of cognitive delay and psycho-social health difficulties. Spoken language is inaccessible for many DHH children despite assistive-technology developments. But sign languages, because they are visual, are accessible to most DHH children. To ensure language development, DHH children should have exposure to a sign language in their early years, starting at birth. If they also receive successful training in processing and producing a spoken language, they will have the many benefits of bimodal bilingualism. Undergraduate medical education curricula should include information about early language acquisition so that physicians can advise families of deaf newborns and newly deafened young children how to protect their cognitive health. Graduate medical education in primary care, pediatrics, and otolaryngology should include extensive information about amplification/cochlear implants, language modality, and the latest research/practices to promote the development and education of DHH children. Training in how to establish connections with local authorities and services that can support parents and child should be included as well. Further, students need to learn how to work with sign language interpreters in caring for DHH patients. We offer suggestions as to how medical curricula can be appropriately enriched and point to existing programs and initiatives that can serve as resources.
  • Author(s):
    Humphries, T., Kushalnagar, P., Mathur, G., Napoli, DJ, Padden, C., Pollard, RQ, Rathmann, C., & Smith, SR
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  • Journal:
    Medical Science Educator
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Humphries, T., Kushalnagar, P., Mathur, G., Napoli, D. J., Padden, C., Pollard, R., Rathmann, C., & Smith, S. (2014). What medical education can do to ensure robust language development in deaf children. Medical Science Educator, 24(4), 409–419.