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date: 18 March 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Hearing loss affects over 1 billion people around the world and is the fifth leading cause of disability. In the United States, approximately 10,000 babies are born each year with significant hearing loss. Although assistive technologies such as cochlear implants (CIs) are available to restore hearing, deaf children who receive CIs on average show significantly poorer language skills and academic outcomes than their normally hearing peers. At the same time, a relatively small percentage of deaf children are born to deaf parents and learn sign language as their first language, and grow up to be excellent, fluent communicators who are bilingual in signed and spoken language. Historically, there has been significant tension between advocates of sign language and “oralists” who discouraged sign language use. This chapter provides a critical review of language development in deaf children, including those with CIs and those exposed to different kinds, and amounts, of signed language. The linguistic and educational outcomes of deaf children are considered in light of current understanding of neurodevelopment, sensitive periods, and neuroplasticity, while highlighting areas of controversy and important directions for future research. The chapter concludes with evidence-based recommendations in favor of sign language exposure for all deaf children.

Keywords: language, cochlear implants, hearing, deafness, auditory, development, sign language, neuroscience, neuroplasticity

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