The Child First Campaign/Alice Cogswell Act, Read About It And Vote

By Jean F. Andrews

Mr. Conservative (School Punishes Deaf Child for Using Sign)
Mr. Conservative
(School Punishes Deaf Child for Using Sign)

Dr. Ron Stern, superintendent of the New Mexico School for the Deaf, spoke to the Texas Association of the Deaf in Galveston, Texas on August 3, 2013 about the Child First Campaign. This is a national movement that is working toward ensuring that deaf and hard of hearing children receive full access to educational, language, communication, and socially appropriate programming through multiple pathways of language learning. Fundamental to the Child First campaign, is that at the IEP (Individualized Education Program) meeting where each child’s unique needs are determined, parents need to be informed of educational options for their child that include multiple pathways of learning.

Readers may wonder why such a movement is necessary. Wasn’t IDEA or Individuals With Disabilities Act supposed to do just that?

Unfortunately, IDEA has failed to deliver its promises of accessible education for deaf and hard of hearing children. Indeed, the concept of “inclusion” has been misinterpreted and misapplied to deaf and hard of hearing children.

Inclusion has become a big illusion, a bigger delusion and the biggest exclusion for many deaf and hard of hearing children in the history of Deaf Education.

Baltimore Sun
Baltimore Sun

As part of its Child First campaign, the Conference of Educational Administrators for
School for the Deaf (CEASD) has developed a proposed bill called the Alice Cogswell Act of 2013. If passed, this bill would amend the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to “promote and better ensure delivery of high quality special education and related services to students who are deaf or hard of hearing.”

Parents, devastated with finding out their child is deaf, are prey to promises by uninformed doctors, audiologists, super-funded organizations who say that if the child get early implants and engages in rigorous, monolingual English oral only training by early childhood their deaf child will no longer need special education services.

While these professionals are filled with well-intentioned fervor their position lacks science.

Daily Health Report
Daily Health Report

Studies in the science of language learning (psycholinguistics), language rules (linguistics), cognition (thinking skills), emergent literacy, and social emotional development (social skills) have demonstrated that deaf and hard of hearing children need multiple pathways for language learning, academic achievement and socio-emotional growth. To limit the child to just one pathway, is simply not supported by science.

This is not to say implants and hearing aids don’t provide some benefit to speech production. In some cases they do. But it is only one pathway and rarely is this pathway fully opened because of the hearing loss. Even with the best cochlear implant surgery and outcomes, and the best speech and auditory training, still many children fail to develop speech or language.

Indeed, speech is speech. Speech is not language. Speech does not ensure thinking skills. Speech does not ensure emotional and social happiness. Nor does speech ensure academic achievement. Speech, language, thinking, emergent literacy, academic achievement and social emotional growth come about through multiple pathways of language learning.

Speech is only one avenue. Deaf and hard of hearing children need multiple avenues.

Kids Book Club - Tesco Magazine
Kids Book Club – Tesco Magazine

Deaf adults know this. They have “lived the journey down multiple avenues.” Any program involving deaf and hard of hearing children should always include deaf adults at every stage of development from early intervention to higher education. If they don’t contain deaf adults, parents should be suspicious that important information is being held back from them.

Indeed, to exclude the Deaf community in educational programming is losing a major resource.

What the Child First Campaign wants to ensure is that parents are informed that there are multiple pathways to language and emergent literacy learning for their deaf and hard of hearing child. Educational programming that reflect the multiple pathways of language learning need to be brought to the table at the IEP meeting. Sign for prison. Sign for prison.

Why would readers be interested in the Child First campaign? In my assessments of Deaf inmates, I have found that many are victims of poor educational practices that limited their access to both signing and English. Consequently, when jailed or imprisoned, it is difficult for them to get their Constitutional Rights. They are not able to read legal documents like Miranda, the Guilty Plea Questionnaire, and Inmate handbooks that describe the rules and their rights. Deaf inmates have difficulty understanding interpreters because of their impoverished sign skills as well as they have difficulty working with their lawyers. Most of these Deaf inmates have language and literacy histories where they were limited to only one pathway to language learning in their homes and in their early schooling.

To learn more, go to Consider voting for the Child First Campaign/Alice Cogswell Act on the website to ensure that parents are informed of the multiple pathways for speech, language, emergent literacy, thinking and social skills for their deaf and hard of hearing child.

Jean F. Andrews is a Reading Specialist and Professor of Deaf Studies/Deaf Education at Lamar University.

4 thoughts on “The Child First Campaign/Alice Cogswell Act, Read About It And Vote

  1. If speech is not language as you say Ms. Andrews, then sign is not language either. Since there is no written form of ASL, it appears your logic is flawed. Can’t have it both ways.

    Are you able to to tell us what the English language grade level average upon graduation from high school for CI kids vs ASL-only kids?


    1. Jean Andrews is on vacation, but thank you for your comment. Let me see if I can field some of your questions. First off, there is a written form of ASL. We’ve done a couple of posts mentioning it. It is called Stokoe notation. I think what Dr. Andrews was trying to say is that simply learning vocabulary, is not the same as learning language. Language is a complex system by which we communicate ideas. In English – and most other oral languages – there are things like inflection, metaphor, idiom, body language and of course grammar and usage. The same holds true for ASL.

      Your last question intrigues me greatly. We have talked at length on about the reading deficiency problem within segments of the Deaf community. Myself – and Google was of no help to me here – I could not find a statistical answer, but I will definitely research it further, and get back to you.


  2. Ms. Cannes:
    I’d like to respond to your concerns. Your questions have been brought up by students in my language acquisition classes, so you are not alone in your queries!

    Speech and language are often confused, but they are not the same.

    Speech deals with verbal communication. Speech is a motor skill. It relates to how children articulate or form the speech sounds in their mouths, with their teeth and lips. Speech relates to how the vocal folds work (voiced and voiceless sounds) along with how we use our breathing. Speech also relates to rhythm or fluency as it relates to intonation, pauses and stress.

    While the hearing child acquires speech effortlessly, noticed by parents when the child says their first word, the deaf child requires hours and hours and hours of tedious drill and practice. And even after 20 or more years of speech training, most deaf adults do not have intelligible speech and prefer to use it only to support their signing communication.

    Just because a child can speak does not mean he or she has internalized the rules of English. This is where language learning comes in.

    Language deals with the rules of communication. It deals with the meanings of words, how words are combined to form sentences, how new words are formed by adding endings like -ly or -ness or -s. Language also deals with how we use language in social interactions. For instance, we talk to babies differently than we talk to our teachers, close friends, or our ministers or doctors. We use a different “register” or conversational style with each.

    ASL or American Sign Language is a language as it has all the language properties I mentioned above. It is not just gestures and miming although for the lay person unfamiliar with ASL, may think this. But ASL has linguistic rules like other spoken languages have.

    There have been efforts at developing a writing system such as Stokoe’s notation system and also a sign notation or glossing system developed by Sam Supalla to teach reading to deaf children. None of these systems are widely used.

    All deaf children should be given opportunities to learn to speak. But, more importantly deaf children need early language exposure through signing because its the only language that is fully accessible and visible to them.

    There are emerging studies that show that deaf children benefit from bilingual education. That is they can be exposed to two languages–both ASL and English (speech, reading and writing) from birth onward.

    The traditional form of deaf education today is to provide speech and then when deaf children fail, they are given sign language. This is tragic because it delays the deaf child’s exposure to language.

    Why hold them back?

    Why limit the deaf child to one avenue (speech) and one language (English)? Why not open all the avenues to them as early as possible and give them two languages?

    Pediatric audiologists often will use sign first then build speech skills on these skills what is called “piggybacking” speech on sign language. It works! The child is less frustrated and he or she can develop their minds, ability to express themselves, they learn how to read and write and also learn to speak.

    I do not know if there is data on reading grade levels of deaf children with CIs (cochlear implants) compared to those without CIs. There is much variation on ages when children are implanted and this can make a difference. From my work in schools I see many young deaf CI children who are struggling to learn to speak, read, and write and sign. The reason is because the home and school’s language environment is very poor. There is simply not accessible visible signing communication happening and the chid suffers.

    I also know there are many deaf children of deaf parents who do not have CIs who are reading on grade level or near grade level.

    When we delay the exposure to sign and focus only on speech, we are creating environments where the deaf child is isolated, alienated and unhappy. We are also creating a high risk factor for the development of social/emotional and behavioral problems. Deaf children become so frustrated that they act out and create a disruptive home and school environment. Then we blame the deaf child and not our poor language environments!

    The most important factor in the development of reading skills is early exposure to language. It is more than the presence or absence of CIs.


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