Sign Language and Multimodality as Indicators of Health for Deaf Newborns and Young Children: Guidance for Families and Medical Professionals

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Tom Humphries Gaurav Mathur Donna Jo Napoli Christian Rathmann


Sign languages are complex and intact human languages essential to the development and health of deaf children and adults. Yet, still, many families and medical professionals think the optimal option for deaf children is to be raised with spoken language, usually including a cochlear implant. Cochlear implants, however, have variable outcomes with language acquisition. Medical professionals, especially pediatricians, need to update their knowledge and understanding of best practices to ensure they more appropriately support families to protect the overall health of their deaf child. The child who does not have a firm first language foundation is at risk of poor (neuro-) cognitive, psycho-social, and socio-emotional development. Developmental delays and life-long, irreparable damages can and should be prevented. Ultimately, securing a firm first language foundation is a matter of health. It is essential to back away from the concept of one-choice-fits-all and, instead, begin with exposing the deaf child to a visually accessible sign language in a multimodal and multilingual environment as soon as it is known that the child is deaf. With a sign language as the linguistic foundation, other practices automatically make more sense –including hearing aids and/or cochlear implants – and those other practices have a greater chance of success, even the development of spoken language(s) (including speech) and written language(s), which has been shown to be supported by the presence of visually accessible sign language(s) in the child’s environment.


In order to aid pediatricians in advising parents, we have prepared a list of factors on which families of deaf newborns or newly-deafened young children need guidance, complete with discussion and citations of relevant recent work. We have been working as a team in this area for the past dozen years. Thus, we also list our publications. The goal here is to ensure deaf individuals’ right to inclusion in society in terms of education, employment, health, cultural life and all other aspects of being human and of societal participation. The use of a sign language(s) allows deaf people to be included; the preclusion of a sign language carries the risk of low quality of life and of language deprivation.

Keywords: cognitive and psycho-social health of deaf children, language acquisition for deaf children, guidance for parents of deaf children and for doctors, sign language as a base for cognitive development, multilingual, multimodal education of deaf children

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HUMPHRIES, Tom et al. Sign Language and Multimodality as Indicators of Health for Deaf Newborns and Young Children: Guidance for Families and Medical Professionals. Medical Research Archives, [S.l.], v. 11, n. 1, jan. 2023. ISSN 2375-1924. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 23 sep. 2023. doi:
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