Two boys who both had a profound bilateral hearing impairment met at a specialized sign preschool. Their preconditions were quite different, since in one of them the hearing impairment was detected in the maternity ward with the aid of otoacoustic emissions, and habilitation had begun at age 4 months. The other boy's impairment was not detected until age 2 years; habilitation was thus much delayed. Data were collected on the two boys using interviews with parents and teachers, observation, and video recording in the children's own environment at home and in the specialized sign preschool. Characteristic differences between the boys are described regarding their social and linguistic development relating to the time of detection of the hearing impairment. This illustrates the importance of early detection and habilitation so as to avoid separation of individuals into different groups with differing social and academic prospects, depending on the lack of early linguistic stimulation and consequent poor language acquisition. Giving children the possibility of developing a language is the primary consideration.