Deaf multilingual children: Professionals’ perspectives on supporting families

Kathryn Crowe, University of Iceland, Iceland; Charles Sturt University, Australia (
Mark Guiberson, University of Wyoming, United States of America (

Background: With increasing levels of transnational mobility, the cultural and linguistic heterogeneity of D/deaf and hard-of-hearing learners has never been greater. Along with this, these learners have more opportunity to develop skills in one or more spoken languages than at any time in the past, due to advances in neonatal hearing screening, early education, and hearing technology. Currently little research exists describing D/deaf and hard-of-hearing learners who are acquiring more than one spoken language (also called Deaf Multilingual Learners). In previous research, parents have stated that advice from professionals was important in making decisions about language use and management for their children who are Deaf Multilingual Learners.

Aim: The purpose of this phenomenological study was to gain insight into professionals’ perspectives and experiences working with such families, particularly in relation to supporting parents in decision-making about multilingualism and language choice in the early childhood years.

Method: Nineteen professionals discussed their experiences working with DMLs and their families, the role of professionals in decision-making about multilingualism and language choice, and the factors that they considered were important when supporting DMLs and their families. Professionals included educators, specialist educators, speech-language pathologists, and psychologists.

Results: Inductive thematic analysis yielded three themes about factors that were important to professionals when supporting multilingual families with D/deaf and hard-of-hearing children: child characteristics (language, development), negotiating and supporting language (information, parents’ language, role of language, timing, leadership, language management), and professional issues (knowledge, resources).

Conclusions: This paper provides important insight into professional considerations in supporting Deaf Multilingual Learners and their families, such as the role and practicalities of evidence-based practice.

Implications for children: It is good to know more than one language. Your family, teachers, speech-language pathologists and other people can help you.

Implications for families: Children with hearing loss can learn to speak and sign more than one language. Professionals will be able to assist you.

Implications for practitioners: You have an important role in supporting parents and Deaf Multilingual Learners in their current and future language needs. Knowledge about multilingual language acquisition, a strengths-based focus, and access to resources will support you in this role.

Key words: professionals’ voices, workforce issues, speech and language, education, qualitative methods, deaf and hard-of-hearing, hearing loss, multilingual

This presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: