We have all, at some stage, noticed how an infant reacts to sound. Then in time we’ve heard them mimic what they hear. And we have marvelled at how they learn to speak.
Not so for Deaf children.
Deaf children react differently, mimic differently and learn differently. How does this happen? They are naturally receiving language through their eyes rather than their ears. When they are exposed to a visual (signed) language, they follow a language and cognitive development trajectory equal to their hearing peers. Deaf children watch with their eyes, and mimic what they see. The condition for a Deaf child’s fully equal development is access to sign language from birth and throughout their education.
However, only about 5% of Deaf babies are born to Deaf parents and are therefore lucky to have access to sign language from the time they open their eyes. Most Deaf children grow up in hearing families, and need access to sign language as soon as possible.
For this reason schools for Deaf children need to be sign language communities, where children can naturally learn and socialise in their country’s sign language. In South Africa this is South African Sign Language.