Deaf educational policies in Sweden

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The following was contributed at 23 Jan 1995 by:
Kristina Svartholm
Ph.D., Associate Professor
Dept. of Scandinavian Languages
Stockholm University
S-106 91 Stockholm

Sweden here! The assumptions and misunderstandings about Sweden seem to be many. I hope that what follows will clear out some of them. Someone wrote something about our hearing parents being more or less forced to learn Swedish Sign Language. I wish to emphazise that we don't force anyone to do anything. Instead, we inform the parents: they get information about what Swedish Sign Language is like, what their deaf child will gain from it, what it is like to be deaf etc.

It is out from this information that the parents get eager for learning Swedish Sign Language, as well as eager about securing their child's opportunities to get a normal linguistic development in this language, i.e. to acquire it in normal interactional settings. It is out from this that the children get a normal social, emotional and cognitive development.

Shawn Davies at Gallaudet has pin-pointed some of the main ideas behind this in one of her articles about Sweden:
'Attributes for success' in: Bilingualism in Deaf Education. Eds.: I. Ahlgren & K. Hyltenstam. SIGNUM, Hamburg 1994. ISBN: 3-927731-54-4.

She writes something like the following: we look upon our deaf children as - children. We know that they will develop just as any child will do if they have a language available in the surroundings which they can perceive in full.

I also wish to point out that we look upon our parents as - parents. We don't expect them to be teachers or trainers or linguistic models to their child. We just expect them to be parents and as such enjoy their child and its development. Hence, they communicate with their child with whatever means they have available and feel comfortable with.

Like any parents confident in their role as parents, they adapt their way of communicating to the child's needs in order to meet the child. In this perspective, there is really nothing strange about their choice of Swedish Sign Language as the first language of their child.

"Swedish parents have no choice" - well, in a way this is true since we have a uniform, national school system. In this, the educational goals are the same for hearing and deaf children, except for the circumstance that deaf children are to attain bilingualism.

To achieve the educational goals, deaf children need Swedish Sign Language from as early on as possible; they need to get their instruction in this language and they need to get adequate training in Swedish. The emphasis is on written Swedish, but those who wish speech-training get it. (But we can't promise the parents that their child will be successful as to speech abilities.)

In short: we know that our deaf children can become fluent - and confident - in their two languages, Swedish Sign Language and (written) Swedish and we know what the prerequisites are for this.

These two languages supplement each other. Neither is a threat to the other. Together, they will provide the deaf child with the linguistic means for full and active participation in society. This means full participation in the family and its life as well. The parents don't lose their child - quite the contrary.

Last update date: 
2005 Nov 28