Rethinking Child Language Disorders: Insights from Sign Language Research

Friday, February 12, 2016: 10:00 AM-11:30 AM
Coolidge (Marriott Wardman Park)
Because most children speak and hear, research on developmental disorders has been confounded with the manifestations of those disorders in spoken languages. Until recently, there was little research on atypical development of signed languages. Obstacles included the small size of the deaf population and the lack of adequate diagnostic instruments for use with signing children. Three strands of research on atypical development in deaf children will be discussed in this session. The first explores one consequence of the different demographics of signing and speaking communities: most deaf children are born to nonsigning parents and may have limited access to language in early childhood. The effects of linguistic deprivation on cognitive development are explored. The second and third research strands examine the implications of differing properties of the two language modalities for our understanding of linguistic and cognitive disorders. Signed and spoken languages share fundamental properties, but differ in ways that may be due to properties of their respective transmission channels. For example, signs—unlike words—look different from different angles of regard, placing demands on children’s perspective-taking abilities. Comparisons of linguistic and cognitive disorders in signing versus speaking children are shining new light on those disorders. This research may shape our understanding of their fundamental properties, and will have important clinical implications.
Richard P. Meier, University of Texas
Jenny Singleton, Georgia Institute of Technology
Peter Hauser, Rochester Institute of Technology
Cognitive Sequelae of Atypical Sign Language Development
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