Using Language (Signed or Spoken) in Social Contexts: Pragmatic Strengths and Vulnerabilities among Deaf Children (Session 3C)
Main Topic: Deaf Community
Session Type: Paper
Pragmatics is commonly referred to as the “social use of language” (ASHA, 2020). Pragmatics consider how individuals use language in social contexts, yet encompasses aspects of communication that are outside the bounds of formal expressive/receptive language. Employing pragmatics includes following cultural/contextual rules that govern exchanges, drawing on knowledge about the communication partner to understand what is being conveyed in the absence of “full information,” making inferences about what is not included in the conversation, and understanding sarcasm and humor, to name a few pragmatic tasks (Matthews et al., 2017). The foundations for pragmatic development are laid early in life and are built through the infant/toddler’s relationship with caregivers (Mood et al., 2020). Research suggests that D/deaf children are at risk for pragmatic development, even in the presence of solid overall language abilities (Goberis et al., 2018). The implications of having reduced pragmatic abilities can be far-reaching (Paul et al., 2020), and thus warrant attention, monitoring, and intervention when necessary (Szarkowski et al., 2020). This presentation by two psychologists – one hearing and one Deaf – will delve into pragmatics and explore the strengths as well as the vulnerabilities that D/deaf children may face with respect to pragmatics. Both are important to understand, as behaviors may be perceived differently in different social contexts, including differences among the D/deaf and hearing worlds. (Note, however, that it is also possible for D/deaf children to have pragmatic difficulties interacting with D/deaf communication partners as well). This presentation draws on recent work in the area of pragmatics among D/deaf children, including a workshop on this topic, funded by the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University (awarded to the first author; the second author was a contributor to the workshop), and a subsequent supplement on the topic published in Pediatrics. Together, the presenters have over 30 years of professional experience working in clinical and educational settings, supporting D/deaf children. They are intimately aware of the many strengths that can be found among members of the Deaf community; they are also highly knowledgeable about the challenges that can arise when D/deaf children struggle with pragmatic development. This presentation will provide a thought-provoking examination of D/deaf children’s pragmatic development, highlight pragmatic needs of D/deaf children, propose areas where further research of pragmatics is needed, and offer suggestions for promoting these abilities.
At the end of this session, participants will:
- Describe a minimum of two “defining features” of pragmatics and what they may look like among D/deaf children.
- List two or more ways that vulnerabilities in pragmatics can place D/deaf children at risk socially.
- Compare and contrast behaviors and ways of communicating among D/deaf children that can be perceived as either a strength or a vulnerability, depending on the social context.
- Highlight two or more pragmatic strengths that many D/deaf children possess.
- List at least two reasons why parents/caregivers, teachers, specialty service providers, and health care professionals should attend to pragmatic development in D/deaf children.
Keywords: Deaf, pragmatics, social communication, relational factors, positive psychology, language
Dr. Amy Szarkowski Children's Center for Communication/Beverly School for the Deaf - Director, The InstituteDr. Amy SzarkowskiChildren's Center for Communication/Beverly School for the Deaf - Director, The Institute
Children’s Center for Communication/Beverly School for the Deaf
Amy Szarkowski, PhD, is a psychologist who specializes in working with children who are deaf or hard of hearing and their families, as well as with children who have other communication challenges. Dr. Szarkowski is Director of The Institute at the Children’s Center for Communication/Beverly School for the Deaf, a newly formed entity whose aim is to conduct research, provide professional development, and partner with invested stakeholders to bridge the research-to-practice gap in the areas of Deaf Education and Special Education, particularly with a focus on supporting learners with communication challenges. At Boston Children’s Hospital – and in conjunction with the Institute for Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts, Boston – Dr. Szarkowski also serves as Core Faculty for LEND (Leadership and Education in Neurodevelopmental and related Disabilities) and is affiliated with the Division of Developmental Medicine. As an adjunct Associate Professor at Gallaudet University, Dr. Szarkowski teaches in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Infants, Toddlers and their Families: Collaboration and Leadership Interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate Program. Dr. Szarkowski holds an academic appointment as Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Szarkowski was an editor of the Supplement on Pragmatics in Deaf Children, published by the journal, Pediatrics (November, 2020).
Dr. Michelle Eisan-SmithHorace Mann School for the Deaf - Secondary Director/School Administrator
Horace Mann School for the Deaf
Dr. Michelle Eisan-Smith has been working with Deaf individuals and their families for over 15 years. She is a graduate of Gallaudet University and received her doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology. Her previous research focused assessment of interpersonal relations and at-risk behavior in deaf adolescents. Dr. Eisan-Smith is a licensed psychologist with over 15 years of clinical experience working with D/deaf and hard of hearing individuals across ages and settings. Dr. Eisan-Smith’s expertise spans education, mental and behavioral health & trauma-informed care from a strength and asset based perspective. Dr. Eisan-Smith currently is a school administrator at the Horace Mann School for the Deaf in Boston, which is the first public school to have district and state approval at the Dual-Language (ASL/English) program in Massachusetts.