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How And When Shall We Teach Speech To The Deaf?

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

THE duties of the present generation to the rising generation are being recognized and performed in the general study of the individual child, and the providing for it the opportunity for development of its individual powers to an extent that is most encouraging. . . .

Our deaf children have been more or less sharers of the improved opportunities, but the proportion of those who have had the chance for the best development of which they are capable has been distressingly small.

The oral method for their instruction is gradually supplanting the sign method, so that out of about five hundred and twenty schools in the world about two hundred and thirty of them are oral schools. While the training of children in and through the medium of communication used in the world in which they must live is an advantage over a training in an arbitrary sign-language which is not understood by others, they still have an additional handicap put upon them which hearing children do not suffer. With a very few exceptions, instead of their speech-training being commenced in babyhood, as ours was, it is delayed to the school age.

We have learned from a few mothers of deaf children that they can be taught and understand by sight if they are trained from infancy to look at the mouths and faces of people who are talking, and if further guided to imitate the speech they thus see, and if sufficient repetition of this is given them to make up for what hearing children get. I have known mothers who did this so successfully that their children were educated with those who hear, and have been able to mingle freely with the world without any difficulty in understanding other people's speech or making their own understood.

It would seem as though nothing more were necessary than to tell this to the mothers and friends of every deaf child to in-duce them to do the same, but we find that two things must be accomplished before this work can be generally done at home.

First. All mothers must be made to realize that it can be done and then they must be shown how to do it.

Second. The public must realize that instead of treating deaf children differently from other children, which makes them different, they must simply talk to them from infancy.

The most effectual way to do this seemed to be to establish a home for deaf children, with an environment which would se-cure to the children as nearly as possible and under every-day home conditions, while learning to talk, the same amount of repetition of the language through the eye that hearing children get through the ear. We have done this in Pennsylvania, and some of this early work is being done in Chicago and Massachusetts, but very little elsewhere, but all of our work together is nothing to what needs to be done to give all deaf children as fair a chance as hearing children. As scarcely any one who has not seen this work realizes what can be done, and as all thinking people when they do see it feel that it should be done for all, it seems reasonable to suppose that if we could establish such homes simultaneously in all our States and Territories they would, in the course of a generation, so instruct the parents, friends and the community as to what is possible for the children that after that they would be taught to talk in their own homes as naturally as hearing children there learn, and special institutions would be no longer needed. As there is only one deaf child in every fifteen hundred, the demand for homes for them could doubtless easily be supplied. This then seems to me the duty of the hour to little deaf children. With articulate speech, speech-reading and language, their happiness and independence may be said to be secure; without it they are more or less handicapped in every relation in life. If it is better for us to begin in infancy it is better for them.

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