Why Parents of Deaf Children Don't Learn Sign Language

Keywords: Deaf Education Information, Deafness Related Issues, Parenting

Submitted by: Cassandra Shaw and Rhonda Buie


Why hearing parents of deaf children don't learn sign language.


Many hearing parents are unable to communicate clearly and unambiguously with their deaf offspring. They are reluctant to learn sign language because they are denying their child's deafness, or attempting to mold their child into being normal (i.e. hearing). About 90%of the deaf population has two hearing parents and 88% of those parents do not know sign language.


Many factors contribute to the reason why hearing parents of deaf children don't choose sign language as their mode of communication: the degree of the child's hearing impairment, the literature comparing and evaluating competing communication modes during the preschool years, resources within the family to respond to the problem of communicating with a deaf child (i.e. socioeconomic status, parental education, or even family size and ethnicity), family attitudes toward the handicap, and expectations for the child's role in the family.


The process of selecting one mode of communication over another is often the decision of the mother because of her role in the care of the deaf child. She is frequently the initial point of contact between potential service providers and the child. The mode of communication used by the early intervention program directly influences the mode of communication used by the family in the home. In many instances, the mother provides communication between the deaf child and his/her family members. A sibling may also be likely to become the main communicator between the deaf child and the family.


There are a growing number of factors that cause families to turn toward learning sign language as their primary mode of communication with their deaf child: as the child's degree of impairment becomes more severe, there is greater pressure to use a form of communication other than speech; as more children remain in the home, rather than attend residential schools, more parents are learning sign language because they are around their children and interacting with them daily. Strategies for increasing the use of sign language among families with a deaf child include manual communication day care provisions for parents who want to attend sign language classes; itinerant services scheduled for evenings when working families are more likely to be together at home; public television programs in the evenings which teach family signing; or social events which are built on normal family events which can be vehicles for sign language instruction such as group trips to the zoo or baseball clinics featuring signing coaches.


1. Why don't hearing parents of deaf children take the time to learn more about their child's deafness, in order to choose the mode of communication that is best for the child?

2. The better the familial signing skills, the better the scholastic achievement of the deaf child.

3. The more skillful parents are in sign language, the better families interact.

4. The lack of an effective mode of communication between hearing parents and their deaf child, often results in feelings of isolation by the child.

5. How does lack of communication between hearing parents and their deaf child affect parents instilling their values and beliefs upon the child?

6. Is it reasonable to say that if hearing parents did more research on their child's deafness and the options available to them, they would start to become more accepting of their deaf child and be better able to make decisions?

7. If parents take the time to explore the Deaf community, it may help them to gain a better understanding of their child's deafness.

8. How can teachers integrate hearing parents into their classroom to help them understand their deaf child's mode of communication?


Kluwin, T.N., & Gaustad, M.G. (1991). Predicting family communication choices.American Annals of the Deaf, 136, 28-33. Meyers, J.E., &

Bartee, J.W. (1992). Improvements in the signing skills of hearing parents of deaf children. American Annals of the Deaf, 137, 257-260.


Greenberg, M. (1983). Family stress and child competence: The effects of early intervention for families with deaf infants. American Annals of the Deaf, 128, 407-417.

Hadadian, A., & Rose, S. (1991). An investigation of parents attitudes and the communication skills of their deaf child. American Annals of the Deaf, 136, 273-276. Henggeler, S.W., Watson, S.M., Whelan, J.P., & Malone, C.M. (1990). The adaptation of hearing parents of hearing-impaired youths.

American Annals of the Deaf, 135, 211-215.

Uploaded by: Jodi Gray/KSU/Deaf Education Major