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Using deafness an example, discuss how psychological knowledge has influenced the support provided for children with disabilities and their families.

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ED209 TMA 05

Using deafness an example, discuss how psychological knowledge has influenced the support provided for children with disabilities and their families.

Psychological and professional advice is pivotal to the development of deaf children, according to their parents. In the latest study conducted by The National Deaf Childrens Society one parent was noted to say 'that it is easy to forget that you know your own child best', with so much professional advice available, (Young et al, 2003). However, a proportion of psychological literature presents deaf people in a negative way utilising labels such as insensitive, unsociable and aggressive which in turn is utilised in how the professionals approach and advise the familles and deaf children, (Rodda and Grove, 1987). For example in the latter part of the last century deaf people such as David Heap, director for the Welsh Office was told by the education professions that he would be 'lucky to achieve a reading age of 9 when he left school and as for qualifications forget it!', (Prasad, 2003). Even today there still appears to be evidence of prejudice against deaf people by professionals. This is clearly noted in the case of a 19 year old deaf girl who was refused entry into Oxford collage even though she obtained all As at A level, (Smithers and Ward, 2002). Although historically psychological intervention could be criticised for its detrimental effects upon people with hearing disability, recent psychological research as shifted from focusing on the deficiency of deafness towards a more positive stance. Now the emphasis is much more on researching the different approaches deaf children utilise in their development and how best these can be utilised rather than manipulate deaf people to conform to the rest of society, (Gregory, 1995). This advocates what Sharon Ridgway, a deaf mother of a deaf child believes 'Deafness is a cultural identity not a handicap', (Mills, 2002). The new professional approach follows a similar manner to work involved with deaf and blind children in Russia, which utilises an integration of psychological knowledge and teaching rather than psychological knowledge dominating and shaping teaching practices, (The Open University, 1995) The essay will investigate how psychological influence has provided support for deaf children and their families focusing particularly on aspects of language, education and self-identity development.

All historical and contemporary efforts and advice by psychological experts and other professionals have left a majority of deaf people unable to achieve their full academic potential, which in turn affects the deaf person's self esteem. One of the major debates concerning this lack of fulfilment has been the policy not to utilise British Sign Language and concentrate on listening, speaking and lip reading. Sign language was criticised by professionals because they felt that it would inhibit speech development which has been in place since the Milian Congress of 1880, (Gregory, 1995). However, many case studies carried out indicate that deaf people found sign language crucial. Nevertheless, deaf children and their families were discouraged from using it. Although oralism did not appear to be very successful, it was suggested it would become more effective as the technology of hearing aids became more advanced. However, the lack of success of oralism has led to many deaf children not acquiring a good spoken language, which is crucial not just for communication development but also affects social and cognitive development. Many parents also believe that slow development of language leads to frustration, which then shows itself as challenging behaviour, (Gregory, 1995).

In the 1980's research was carried out to investigate deaf children's language development. The researchers found that vocabulary development is slower with deaf children because words are systematically taught rather than just emerging, (Gregory and Mogford, 1981). However, subsequent studies found the acquisition of sign language occurred in parallel with spoken language of hearing children, (Voltertra, 1996). Also research indicated that communication between deaf mothers and deaf children in the pre-linguistic stage was much smoother in terms of turn-taking and joint references than that of hearing mothers. Although the visual channel was required for communication and play, deaf children were able to develop ways of dividing their attention. Further investigation found that deaf mothers intervened less in the interaction than hearing mothers, (Kyle and Ackerman, 1989). If we accept the social interactionist views that successful preverbal exchanges are pivotal in the development of language, (Bruner, 1975) it is essential that whatever factors account for the successful interaction between deaf mothers and babies are isolated so that they can be implemented by hearing mothers. Also it could be argued that possibly the best teachers for deaf children could be the ones that are deaf themselves and fluent in sign. However current governmental policy's is trying to mainstream children away from specialist schools which could be detrimental to deaf children, (Mills, 2002)

Considering the above information, it might be profitable for deaf children and their parents to use sign language as soon as possible because this appears to be very crucial in the more successful interaction between deaf parents and their children. However, critics suggest that additional investigation should be undertaken to isolate sign language as the significant factor responsible for the greater communication. The research indicated that input from mothers supported and promoted the development of children's speech, thus teachers believed it was up to the parents to increase the speech of their children (Gregory, 1995). This gave rise to an increased responsibility on the parents for the development of language in their children, (Riley, 1983). Nevertheless, what was highlighted is language development follows a social interactionist view who advocates that preverbal exchange is so important for development, (Bruner, 1975). Bates supports the social interactionist position and the importance of the preverbal stage, which involves the child as being an active participant in its own development of language. It is during this period that turn taking and topic sharing are developed, (Bates, 1975). Thus, it could be argued that the advice for mothers to take a more active role could be harmful advice, rather the child should be encouraged to be more active in the interaction as utilised by deaf mothers.

Although as mentioned above the advice to use an oral approach was not proven to be successful, professionals still advised parents and teachers to adopt this approach without too much scepticism. The parents of deaf children did not have a wider peer group such as the extended family and friends who are in the same situation as them to evaluate the advice of professionals. The current advice given today by the professionals still does not fully advocate the utilisation of sign language, (Gregory, 1995). Nevertheless, Sharon Ridgeway believes that having a shared language such as sign, allows deaf people to have a sense of identifying with a particular culture and allows a family to communicate in a parallel to hearing families. Sign language she believes should be seen as no more disabling than any other foreign language (Milles, 2002).

Thus, historically it could be argued that professional advice in language development has not been of much benefit to deaf children, which could be supported through the lack of potential achieved by deaf children. With more recent knowledge on the subject this area still appears to be confused and the advice of professionals is slow to change. Crucial to the argument is whether we accept the underlying theories of development. If we accept a social constructivist position we should adapt intervention and assistance as proposed by Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Learning, (Butterworth and Harris, 1994). Alternatively we could adopt a transactional process and allow the child to utilise innate dispositions as proposed by Chomsky to flourish through transactional interactions, where the child plays an active part in their own development, (Oates, 1995).

Language is fundamental for learning and gleaning knowledge and as mentioned many deaf children do not achieve a high level of language development, thus restricting the acquisition of education. Many parents of deaf children are often upset because of the attitude of the schools who infer that deaf children cannot achieve the same standards as hearing children, particularly with attainments in literacy which are especially important for deaf people because it is their fundamental access to information and a means for communication (Gregory, 1995). This under achievement was supported by (Gains, Mandler and Bryant, 1981) who found that only 1% of 16 year old deaf children had their own age level of reading. In a large study (Conrad, 1979) found that most of the deaf children leaving school only attained a reading age of 9. Although this research was reported almost 25 years ago, there's been little improvement to address the problem (Wood et al, 1986).

Oakhill (1995) has proposed that deaf children will have difficulty with many of the stages of learning to read that hearing children do not. For example, in the second stage of reading development, he proposes that children utilise sound to letter mappings which a deaf child would have difficulty with. Training in analysing words in terms of their sound has been shown to improve the reading of deaf children, however severely deaf children will rely almost totally upon lip reading patterns which at best can be ambiguous. Although deaf children learn to read in the early stages similar to hearing children using word recognition, later when phonological coding is utilised by the hearing children, deaf children begin to decrease in their development. It is also indicated that the more severely deaf children suffer the most when it comes to reading abilities (Wood et al, 1986). Goswami and Bryant suggest that the use of phonological skills is a crucial aspect of learning to read because it is a powerful tool for self-teaching. This would suggest that possibly the deficit in development is due to the lack of ability for deaf children to teach themselves (Goswami and Bryant 1990). However deaf children who are native sign readers are often the best readers (Harris and Beech, in press), which could indicate that sign language can be utilised possibly as a substitution for their lack of phonological coding

However, the results for the importance of phonological skills are ambiguous and only speculative because much of the research utilises correlations, which can only give us relationships rather than causation (Oakhill, 1985). Nevertheless, (Woods et al, 1986) suggested that it may be advantageous for deaf children to compensate for their lack of phonological abilities by teachers and parents trying to develop linguistic knowledge prior to reading. Ewoldt, notes that educationalists have rejected the reading for meaning approach for a phonological approach. As mentioned above, currently there is a policy of mainstreaming children with disabilities, which begs the question are deaf children going to suffer due to an inappropriate approach to reading development being offered (Ewoldt, 1990). This universal approach to learning appears to contradict the programme which is undertaken in Russia, that advocates a successive working relationship between development theory and educational practices, (The Open University, 1995). Head, notes that many bilingual teachers believe that 'direct access to text is the key' for deaf children through techniques of silent reading (Head, 1992). However, (Oakhill, 1956) notes that there is little conclusive evidence to indicate whether children who receive training to improve their awareness of words helps them to read.

If we accept that the methods utilised to teach deaf children to read should be unique to them and not mainstream, it could be argued that low literacy attainment achieved by deaf children is certainly not due to a lack of ability. This is supported by the evidence that indicates an early knowledge of sign language can be beneficial to the deaf person. However, if current policy continues to insist that phonemics and the oral approach are the best approach to teach all children, psychological evidence indicates that this could be damaging to deaf children's development. Another important issue is that children with the ability to utilise phonological coding have the ability to self teach This phonological shortfall in deaf children could be addressed by a different teaching approach possibly through the utilisation of sign language or additional focus upon word recognition techniques.

Taking the argument against mainstreaming children in education further it could be argued that attempts to integrate deaf people into 'normal society', involves the very type of shaping and techniques adopted that has impeded and led to deaf people being perceived and labelled as disabled. This label of disability will certainly have an affect on the deaf person. For this reason it is argued that deaf people form their own community and society within mainstream society, which ultimately will have an effect upon their self-identity and 'natural' bonding with other deaf people (Gregory, 1995).

Professional positions and opinions concerning what they believe to be in the best interest for development of deaf children, influence the parents and society which ultimately shape their perceptions of their children (Das Gupta, 1995). There is a body of psychological literature that portrays deaf people in a negative manner, which will be detrimental to how some professional groups deal with the child and the family. For example deaf people are said to be unsocial, impatient and slow learners (Rodda and Grove, 1987). Lewis, even went so far as to stereotype deaf people as deviant in their understanding of morality (Lewis, 1968). The causation of this could be due to Piaget's theory of moral development, which stresses that there are two separate but parallel aspects to morality. One of which is verbal ability the other is equality with ones peers for moral development to be achieved (Faulkner, 1995). Obviously deaf individuals in the current constructed mainstream thinking and society would be at a disadvantage on both accounts. It is no surprise that some members of society could perceive deaf people as obtaining a deviant morality when some psychologists insist on labelling them inferior to 'normal' people. Thus, many parts of society utilise the labels produced by the professionals, which ultimately has a self-fulfilling influence which stereotypes deafness as disadvantage.

Thus it appears that psychological knowledge regarding deaf children is divers and in some cases detrimental, by labelling deaf people with abnormalities. Deafness as been utilised within psychology as a natural control group, however the assumptions by researchers was that deaf people have deficiencies linguistically and did not appreciate the competence of sign language (Furth, 1966) This in turn can influence some people's perception, which could ultimately lead to discrimination against deaf people. This discrimination can manifest its self as low self esteem and lower sense of self identify for deaf people and one of the reason why many deaf people don't reach their full potential. However, this highlighted difference can be utilised positively as Ridgeway states '...deafness is a cultural identity not a handicap' (Mills 2002).

Thus it appears that psychological knowledge regarding deaf children is divers and in some cases detrimental, by labelling deaf people with abnormalities. Deafness as been utilised within psychology as a natural control group, however the assumptions by researchers was that deaf people have deficiencies linguistically and did not appreciate the competence of sign language (Furth, 1966) This in turn can influence some people's perception, which could ultimately lead to discrimination against deaf people. This discrimination can manifest its self as low self esteem and lower sense of self identify for deaf people and one of the reason why many deaf people don't reach their full potential. However, this highlighted difference can be utilised positively as Ridgeway states '...deafness is a cultural identity not a handicap' (Mills 2002).

In conclusion, it appears that psychology knowledge has tried to investigate and make the world of the deaf person a better place to develop their full potential. The users of this knowledge often accept it as the 'truth' with little or no scepticism. Obviously considering the little criticism of professional knowledge what is offered is very potent and utilised in many aspects of the deaf persons world such as education practices. While research has indicated that different approaches and techniques should be implemented for the benefit of the deaf person these have either been slow to materialise or worse brushed aside in the interest of current political policy on education. This has been criticised for having more concern with financial aspects rather than the interests of the individual person. Pessimistically it could also be argued that psychological research has focused upon the deficiency and its consequence for 'normal' linguistic, cognitive and personality development, rather than trying to support deaf people by giving advice to support the individual, their families and the associations with other professionals. Often the very nature of contemporary psychological investigation is self regulating and any research produced follows strict guidelines and is open to criticism from fellow professionals. However as noted some of the research and conclusions appear to  be detrimental to the image of deaf people which can have a sever impact upon them. For this reason future policy concerning the interests of deaf people's development could benefit by utilising a multidisciplinary approach as utilised in Russia, with psychological knowledge being integrated and analysed along with other professional knowledge. The culture and knowledge of deaf people should also be integrated because after all only deaf people understand the real meaning of deafness and what ultimately works.

References.

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