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Adults deaf since birth see better than hearing people

Posted Nov 11 2010 1:23pm

Adults born deaf react more quickly to objects at the edge of their visual field than hearing people, according to ground-breaking new RNID-funded research. For the first time ever, scientists tested how peripheral vision develops in deaf people from childhood to adulthood.

The study, which was carried out by the University Of Sheffield and published in Development Science today (Thursday 11 November 2010), found that children born deaf are slower to react to objects in their peripheral vision compared to hearing children. However, deaf adolescents and adults without hearing since birth can react to objects in their peripheral vision more quickly.

Dr Charlotte Codina, from the University's Academic Unit of Ophthalmology and Orthoptics, who undertook the study as part of her RNID-funded PhD says: "We found that deaf children see less peripherally than hearing children, but, typically, go on to develop better than normal peripheral vision by adulthood. Important vision changes are occurring as deaf children grow up and one current theory is that they have not yet learnt to focus their attention on stimuli in the periphery until their vision matures at the age of 11 or 12. As research in this area continues, it will be interesting to identify factors which can help deaf children to make this visual improvement earlier."

RNID's Research Programme Manager, Dr Joanna Robinson, says, "This research shows that adults who have been deaf since birth may have advantages over hearing people in terms of their range of vision. For example, deaf people could be more proficient in jobs which depend on the ability to see a wide area of activities and respond quickly to situations, such as sports referees, teachers or CCTV operators.

"On the other hand, the findings suggest that parents of deaf children need to be aware that their child’s initially delayed reaction to peripheral movements may mean they are slower to spot and avoid potential dangers such as approaching traffic."

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