Elsewhere on this site, there is information about the impact of significant early life deafness on the development of language and communication.  As well, we have talked about the impact that this has on literacy and numeracy [more to come].

To recap briefly, significant early life deafness – prior to the deaf child learning language – results in the need to consciously deaf child language and communication skills.  This is because unconsciously learning cannot occur because the child cannot learn passively by overhearing what goes on in the world around him or her; that is, not only can’t overhear family members’ conversations, cannot overhear the television or radio and so forth.

What the deaf child can do is observe what is happening around him or her, but by and large this is insufficient information to create full understanding and knowledge.

The end result of this is that deaf learners have gaps in their general knowledge.  Each individual’s gaps are different and it is impossible to predict what your deaf student’s gaps will be.  However, it is possible to say that there will be gaps and that they will become apparent as you teach your deaf student.

Like the issues that your student may have with literacy, the knowledge gaps are not an indication of lack of intelligence or an inability to learn.  They are a direct result of your student not having full and complete access to the world around him or her.

Sometimes the gaps are relatively inconsequential and other times, the gaps may mean that your deaf student requires additional tutoring support to provide information that is foundational to the current area of study.

Often the gaps are the direct result of something that is unseen; in other words, something the deaf person cannot hear and does not know is there as a noise, as no one has thought to tell them up to that point in time.

A simple, true life example of this is a 40 year old, profoundly deaf man who had been born and raised in Melbourne, but had no knowledge of the fact that trams have bells and that tram drivers will sit behind a car waiting to turn right, dinging their bell at the driver in an effort to move them along.

As an example, this gap would not severely impact upon learning.  However, another simple, true life example possibly would.

In this example, a young, profoundly deaf student enrolled in a psychology subject is unfamiliar with the mainstream understanding of Freudian theory.  She is starting her learning from a very different place to the other students who are very aware of Freud and how his theories are seen – and often joked about – within the wider community.  Therefore, how her lecturer often frames material first in mainstream understanding, then moving to a deeper understanding makes no sense to her.

As the teacher of a deaf student, it is important that you are aware of these potential gaps in knowledge and are prepared to provide foundational context to support your deaf student’s learning.  It is not necessary for you to try to predict the gaps; rather to manage them as they emerge.