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Special Education in the 21st Century: Chapter Eleven

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By 1975, a remarkable shift had taken place in classroom instruction modes. Approximately two-thirds of deaf children were being taught through some form of manual communication and one-third through oral-only instruction (Jordan, Gustason, and Rosen 1976, 1979). Children taught in oral-only classes tended to be younger and have more residual hearing.

The umbrella term total communication was used to describe the systems that were introduced in the 1970s. The term was popularized by Holcomb (1970), the first Deaf professional to head a public school program for Deaf children, who used it to describe a philosophy that would incorporate all means of communication—use of speech, speechreading, audition, reading, writing, the manual alphabet, manual codes on English, and ASL. In practice, this interpretation frequently was not the case, and the term Total Communication was often used interchangeably with Simultaneous Communication (or Sim-Com), which involves coordinated speaking and signing.

Recent developments and issues

The use of signing in education programs has led to a general improvement in academic achievement for Deaf children (Caccamise, Hatfield, and Brewer 1978; Delaney, Stuckless, and Walter 1984; Goppold 1988; Mitchell 1982; Moores 1985,1996). Because it has opened up options, it may also have helped the effectiveness of oral-only programs for those children who could benefit from them. Generally, all but a minority of educators agreed that the introduction of manual communication to instruction was an improvement over the inflexibility of the past, with its insistence on only one mode of instruction and communication—speech.

The development and acceptance of English-based sign systems represented significant advances. However, an element was usually missing—American Sign Language. In many cases, it was ignored. Whether this neglect was through ignorance of the nature of ASL or was deliberate is unclear.

Two questions have been raised about the effectiveness of English-based sign systems. First, can English be represented adequately through signs? Second, can coordinated signs and speech be presented and understood adequately? Kluwin (1981) reported that teachers’ signing skills using Sim- Com improved over time, and as they became more fluent, they tended to incorporate elements of ASL into their signing. Studying a class of elementary school Deaf children, Supalla (1992) reported that young Deaf children who had been instructed through manual codes on English had basic problems expressing English Syntax. Supulla argued that manual codes on English are not natural languages and that children exposed to them change them into more efficient systems that resemble natural languages such as ASL. His position is that manual codes on English cannot represent English adequately. In contrast, Schick and Moeller (1989), studying the expressive English usage of Deaf public school children using a manual code on English, reported that the students produced English to a high degree and that they had internalized the rules of English.

For the most part, the criticisms of various manual codes on English have been that they are awkward, that they are artificial, that they do not correspond to English grammatical elements on a one-to-one basis, and that the academic achievement of Deaf children using these systems is still below that of hearing children.


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