Raising and Educating a Deaf Child

International experts answer your questions about the choices, controversies, and decisions faced by the parents and educators of deaf and hard-of-hearing children.

Latest Questions and Answers

My granddaughter is 19, she is hearing impaired and has just come to live with me. She went to school in the Caribbean. She would like to attend college but I don’t know where or how she should start: whether she should go to high school and do the high school diploma or get her GED and move on from there. What do you think she should do? So far, there is no high school in the area with a program for deaf students.

Question from J.C., Florida. Posted September 29, 2016.
Response from Cara Wilmot - Florida Department of Education

The Florida Department of Education has a dedicated page for finding information about services for school age students who are deaf or hard of hearing (DHH) in the State of Florida. Here is the link: http://www.fldoe.org/academics/exceptional-student-edu/ese-eligibility/deaf-or-hard-of-hearing-dhh.stml Every county has a DHH Coordinator Contact which can be found here: http://app4.fldoe.org/EESSContacts/ . Every county must offer students who are DHH a full continuum of services from ages 3 to 21. Some of the smaller counties must collaborate to provide services. An explanation of the continuum of services can be found in the “Florida’s Education Opportunities for Students with Sensory Impairments” http://www.fldoe.org/core/fileparse.php/7690/urlt/0070161-edoppsensory.pdf.

As for the age of the student, I would recommend they start with the guidance counselor at the local high school to see if any school credits will transfer from the Caribbean. At 19 she may still have time to earn a standard diploma, but it depends when her birthday is because she only has until she is 21. Florida does have a 3-year diploma option. Only a guidance counselor can determine if it is possible to earn a standards diploma.

The young woman should also apply for Vocational Rehabilitation: http://www.rehabworks.org/. They can help guide the student to post-secondary options. If the student wants to attend college, then they would need to speak with the college about what programs are available for students with disabilities to earn their GED and then a postsecondary program. http://www.stateofflorida.com/colleges-in-florida.aspx I am most familiar with North East Florida where there is Florida State College at Jacksonville and St. Johns River State College have bridge programs and are experienced at working with students who are DHH.

Another resource is Florida Centers for Independent Living, http://www.floridacils.org/. They have 15 centers statewide. They provide resources, training and support.

The final resource that may assist the family is the Family Network on Disabilities (FND), http://fndusa.org/. They provide support and information sharing for children ages birth to 26.

I have a son who is deaf…or so we thought. We had an ABR done recently, and he has no permanent hearing loss. Great news! I still feel that he has hearing issues. Small ear canals, frequent ear infections, but no permanent hearing losses. He also has oromotor issues that are congenital. He can’t drink, can’t eat more than purees, drools, right sided weakness, low tone, etc. He’s had 4 oral surgeries. It makes sense that he can’t talk. He did say his first word this summer, “Go!” So, I want him to learn ASL. He started at 30 signs 6 months ago, and now he has a vocabulary in excess of 250 signs.

We had an IEP meeting last week. brought 3 doctor reports and a speech therapist report that all indicate that he needs to be taught sign language in his classroom. The school “accepts” but will not teach ASL. They want him to use an iPad with pictures. I feel that all of his gains in speech are linked to his sign language acquisition.

I did reach out to the school for the deaf. We are signed up to do some of their outreach programs. He’s not deaf, so they won’t/can’t help us. I want my son in a Total Communication class. There is one about 20 minutes from our house.

How can we get what (we feel) our son needs?

Question from M.G., New York. Posted September 7, 2016.

If a finding of special needs is found (which clearly is the case) then the child is eligible for special education. At that point, it does not matter how the school “feels” about the recommendations, the school has to provide services based upon the assessments to provide access to the curriculum. Rejecting sign language because he is hearing is not an appropriate determination if the assessments indicate that as an adoption that will facilitate access to instruction and social interaction. This is a child with multiple needs and the recommendations that were cited do not come close to the extensive level of support the child will need to be able to be successful. Pull out services will not suffice at least not during his early childhood years and the need to intervene comprehensively to promote development is necessary.

So, first, the school should assess the child’s language level, both receptively and expressively. This is the starting point. Then goals should be developed based on the needs identified during the assessment. The overall goal should be achievement of age-level language skills. Age level skills will enable him to access the general education curriculum. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act emphasizes age appropriate skills and access to the same educational material that other children receive, that is the general education curriculum. In other words, the school should be attempting to get the child’s skills to the same level of his peers so that he can participate in the classroom similar to his peers, to the extent possible. Will using an iPad with pictures do that? It’s hard to see how. The fact that you can show that he is succeeding using sign language is helpful.

Once goals are developed, then the services should be determined, such as teaching sign language by a trained teacher. After the services are agreed upon, then placement is made. The placement must be based on the child’s needs and services. If there is a total communication class that would fit the method used in the class, that would seem to be a more appropriate choice. If there is any capacity for spoken language, a simultaneous communication approach may be better in the long run.

Sounds simple, but I know when you are advocating for your child it is not easy. In the end, litigation may be the only way forward, with the experts lined up prepared to make recommendations based on their findings and to have the school system respond on how they will fulfill the requirements. Hopefully, it will not come to that. Meanwhile, a few tools you can use:

First, if you believe that the school has not done an appropriate assessment of his language skills you should request they do (or re-do) that right away. Also, are his goals consistent with getting him to the level of his peers (and helping him continue to progress)? They should be.

Second, as for placement, when a school refuses to change the placement of a child (or for other purposes), it must inform the parents of the reasons. This is called “Prior Written Notice.” See the form developed by the U.S. Department of Education at http://idea.ed.gov/download/modelform2_Prior_Written_Notice.pdf. As you can see, the school must explain the reasons why it refuses the placement, based on evaluation procedures, assessments, and records. You can request that the school provide the information required on this form.

Another law that applies in this case is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Among other things, that law requires schools to ensure that students with speech disabilities can receive information from, and convey information to, others. This communication must be as effective as communication with students without disabilities. The U.S. Department of Education has issued guidance on the ADA and effective communication at https://www.ada.gov/doe_doj_eff_comm/doe_doj_eff_comm_faqs.htm. Under the ADA schools must give “primary consideration” to the request of the student or parent.

My son is 5 years old, with moderate hearing loss due to incomplete development of the cochlea. He attends kindergarten at our neighborhood school in a mainstream classroom. In addition to his hearing loss, he also has a tracheostomy. He is normal intelligence, and his speech and language are at close to age level, but he has some speech intelligibility issues due mostly to the tracheostomy but also due to him hearing sound poorly.

During his preschool years, my son had a single Oticon Ponto Plus worn on a soft band. The district issued him an FM system for use in school (Inspiro with Roger X plug in receiver) for preschool. His speech comprehension and sound articulation dramatically improved with the FM system, since he was able to pick out more of the soft letter sounds during “learn to read” lessons. My son upgraded to Phonak Sky V 70 P bilateral behind-the-ear hearing aids over summer vacation. Our insurance paid for the new hearing aids, but not for integrated FM receivers. The hospital audiologist advised that we should request for the school district to issue integrated FM receivers so that we could purchase and use a Roger Pen system at home. The cost of the Roger Pen system is about $1100, and we are willing to pay for it out of pocket because it seems really awesome and useful. My son has lengthy daily breathing treatments due to his medical conditions, which create a ton of background noise. He’s generally bored and annoyed during his breathing treatments, because even with hearing aids on, he can’t really hear or understand speech around him.

The district audiologist states that the district has a policy of issuing only plug-in Roger X receivers for use at school, and that they won’t pay for integrated FM receivers. Our current IEP didn’t request the use of an FM system for home use, because the old hearing aids didn’t have that capability. Now that the new hearing aids have the capability of home FM system use, we want to use it.

Does a DHH child have a right to use an FM system at home? If a child has the right to use an FM system at home, does the district have to provide integrated FM receivers? Do we have the right to demand one style of FM system (the newer Roger Pen with Roger 18 receivers) over another system (the older Inspiro with Roger X). If we end up having to purchase the integrated FM receivers out of pocket for use with our home FM system, is the school then obligated to use the technology we purchase? We’re willing to prioritize our purchases to spend some money on a home Roger system because we think it will help his hearing overall. If the school says we have to leave his Roger X receivers at school, then we will also have to purchase two integrated Roger 18 receivers for home/school use, which would add another $2000 to this scheme.

Question from J. M., California. Posted August 18, 2016.

I applaud your efforts in advocating for your child.

My background is in clinical audiology and I am not a legal expert, so please know that this response should not be considered legal advice.

The following website, although it is written for the State of New Jersey, addresses many of your concerns: http://www.drnj.org/atac/?p=63

To summarize, the school is only required to send the FM/Roger system home if it is specifically related to a goal on the IEP. You could work with the IEP team to try and add this. Additionally, the school is not required to purchase any particular FM system or receiver, if there is an alternative (i.e., cheaper or more universal) system that serves the same function or enables the student to successfully achieve their IEP goals.

If you do purchase the integrated Roger receivers on your own, you would need to discuss with the school audiologist whether your son would be able to use them at school or not.

I hope this helps and I wish you the best in navigating the IEP process.

My son was implanted at 2 years of age with a CI. He is now 3 years old. He was diagnosed with Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder and he is severely to profoundly deaf. They describe his disorder like a static radio most of the time it’s static but every once in a while he hears something but not enough to form speech or understand what a sound is. The CI was not a guarantee that it would work, but as my husband and I are both hearing and no one else in the family with hearing loss we figured we should give it a try. We have also been signing with him since he was 15 months old. Our son is now in school, and at his last IEP meeting we were told that they probably don’t have the funds for an interpreter or enough children to start a deaf class. I don’t know how to get my son the education he needs! I just don’t think it’s fair. He is very smart, very visual, and has an amazing memory. What can I do and how can I fight for my son’s education??

Question from C.D., Florida. Posted July 26, 2016.

You indicate that your son has auditory neuropathy and received a cochlear implant at age two. Some children with auditory neuropathy will benefit from cochlear implants, but most will need sign language for the very reason you described—auditory neuropathy produces static rather than a clear auditory signal, making it very difficult or impossible to access spoken language auditorily, even with a CI. It sounds like you have been doing everything right for your son by providing sign language since he was 15 months old.

I was sorry to hear that the school’s IEP team decided not to provide sign language for your son. Your son is entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)—the federal law which governs every public school district in the U.S. For deaf students, the IDEA specifically states that communication needs, including the need for sign language, must be considered by the IEP team when making educational placement and services decisions. Furthermore, an IEP team may not use “lack of funds” as a reason not to provide interpreting or any other special services required for him to obtain FAPE.

The IDEA grants parents of children with documented special needs, including deafness, the right to appeal an IEP team decision. Every IEP team must, by law, provide parents with written procedures for appealing an IEP team decision. You should request the written procedures from your school district immediately and file an appeal according to the procedures described in that document.

In my experience, school districts often do not understand the communication needs of deaf children. However, you can and should advocate for your son through well-established legal procedures. In so doing, you will also be educating the school district – paving the way for future families with deafness—as well as for your son. I encourage you to be confident and persistent, because your son has the right to a free appropriate educational program, which in his case should include sign language.

My 8 yr old daughter has sensorineural profound deafness. She’s using hearing aids and is at par with her hearing friends in mainstream education. She’s a bright child with immense understanding and grasping power. English has been her second language here, her first language was her mother tongue.
We are relocating to USA this year. Her language skills in English are comparatively low, say 30-40% of a hearing child in US. I would like to know the basic expectations of school from her so that I can make her understand the needs and prepare her accordingly. Likewise, what will be the process to take her admission in mainstream education school?

Question from U.D., India. Posted May 18, 2016.

Depending on where you move in the United States, there are two services I would seek. First, the staff at the school will need to meet with you to decide if your daughter is eligible for special education services. During that meeting, the school will review your child’s hearing levels from her audiogram and her school performance up to this point. If they request to do any testing, ask them to complete the testing in her first language and in English. This will give the school team an idea of how to proceed with her education. If you believe that support from a teacher who specializes in working with children who have a hearing loss would benefit your daughter, let the school know that you want a teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing at the meetings. A teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing has been trained to work with children who have different types of hearing loss and who communicate in different ways. This teacher can work with the school and the classroom teacher to make sure that your daughter is getting the education she has a right to under the US law. Second, I would ask the school for access to a teacher who specializes in teaching students who are learning English as another language. This teacher will have been trained specifically to work with students who have first languages other than English. This teacher along with the teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing can work with the mainstream or general education classroom teacher to make sure that your daughter’s education is optimized. In my personal opinion, this team of teachers bringing their knowledge together would be a great start for your child.

As a hearing parent of a deaf child and an active participant in advocating for the best academic and social placements, it is very concerning to see so many videos, articles and social media feeds “bashing hearing parents ” and their choices in raising their children. When this happens, it makes it very difficult to trust that the “deaf community” has my child’s best academic and social growth at heart versus pushing a hidden agenda. In addition, deaf of deaf (deaf families) seem to exclude other deaf /hard-of-hearing children with hearing parents creating at times hostile learning environments.

Is there any current research addressing the social emotional impact on deaf/hard-of-hearing students based on the aforementioned ? Are there longitudinal studies that measure the overall mental health/wellness of these students as they meet academic/vocational goals as well as balance their basic family system and the negativity on social media regarding having parents who are hearing?

When looking at post-high school academic options, what are colleges/universities specifically for deaf/hard-of-hearing students doing to ensure the overall wellness of these students? I would be concerned to send my child to a school that supports this type of propaganda.

Question from W.W., Florida. Posted May 9, 2016.

If you experience anybody “bashing” parents for the decisions they make, they’re obviously coming from the perspective of their own anger and frustration. Parents need to make a plethora of decisions about raising and their deaf child and are bombarded with opinions, facts, and suggestions from several different communities; educational, medical, audiological & speech, deaf education, etc. Many of these “opinions, facts, and suggestions” lack support in the relevant research and, as you know, there are no “right answers.” There are only decisions that one can make in the best interest of the family’s needs and goals. The field of deaf education has yet been able to discover the optimum educational path and communication method to optimize psycho-emotional development. Don’t ever let anyone’s criticism of your decisions have anything but a negligible impact on you.

I am looking for research that states that standardized testing is not the best measure for D/deaf and hard of hearing students and why. Can you point me in the right direction?

Question from A.W., Ohio. Posted April 7, 2016.

In a word, “no.” You might find someone who states that, but whether or not the research supports that claim is a different issue, and it is far more complicated than it might appear. The questions one should be asking are “To what extent are standardized tests (achievement? psychological? driver’s license?) valid for DHH learners? Which DHH learners? In what content areas? What accommodations are provided, if appropriate, and how effective are they?

You can find answers to some of those questions, as they pertain to academic achievement, in these two articles:

Cawthon, S. (2010). Science and evidence of success: Two emerging issues in assessment accommodations for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education 15 (2), 185-203.

Qi, S., & Mitchell, R. E. (2012). Large-scale academic achievement testing of deaf and hard-of-hearing students: Past, present, and future. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 17, 1-18.

Hello, I am a Teacher of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. The current district I work for is closing the Deaf/Hard of Hearing Center Middle School and High school programs. There has been discussion around national trends being a main reason for the closures.

Do you happen to have any national trend data or know of these “national trends” that are closing center programs? There has not been any evidence provided and our current state continues to have center programming among the large school districts at the primary and secondary levels.

Another reason for the closure, is due to the reduced numbers of students being served in center programs due to early intervention and technology. Some students need to be served in center programs so why are educators assuming that, because of the reduced number of students, we have enough reasons to justify closing programs? Do you happen to have any insight to share and/or resources that would be valuable to this topic?

Question from J.D., Colorado. Posted March 9, 2016.

Specialized schools and programs are able to gather personnel, resources, and students in one place, enhancing school districts’ capacity to appropriately serve students.

However, you are describing what is becoming a common phenomenon – specialized schools and programs around the country are closing, and students are being sent to schools where they are the only deaf or hard-of-hearing individual. To a large extent this is driven by Federal education policy. The U.S. Department of Education encourages States to set goals increasing the amount of time students with disabilities spend in “regular” classes. This is done through the Department’s oversight of Federal funds. States must submit to the Department a State Performance Plan (SPP) and Annual Performance Report (APR). The SPP/APR displays data on the environments in which children are educated. (Indicator 5 covers children age 6-21, and Indicator 6 addresses preschool children.) This is a “numbers only” count – in other words, it is a simple count of where children sit, it does not address the quality of the setting for individual children.

In recent years the Department has started to look at student outcomes in order to evaluate States in a process know as Results Driven Accountability. However, the results are not cross-tabulated with setting for a particular child, so it is not possible to evaluate the impact of the setting on student performance. The Department frequently cites research that shows that “inclusion” settings are best (for example, Policy Statement on Inclusion Of Children With Disabilities in Early Childhood Programs September 14, 2015), but these studies don’t include deaf students.

The Department of Education has recognized the need for educational settings to support the language and communication needs of deaf and hard of hearing students. It has stated:

“Any setting that does not meet the communication and related needs of a child who is deaf does not allow for the provision of [a Free Appropriate Public Education] and cannot be considered the [Least Restrictive Environment] for that child. Just as the IDEA requires placement in the regular educational setting when it is appropriate for the unique needs of a child who is deaf, it also requires placement outside of the regular educational setting when the child’s needs cannot be met in that setting” (Letter to Stern, September 30, 2011).

The school district must continue to ensure that all students are receiving the services, supports, and placements outlined in their Individualized Education Programs. Further, it may be required to provide parents Prior Written Notice. This must be given whenever a school district changes the educational placement of a child or the provision of FAPE (34 CFR §300.503).

There is another law in place to protect language and communication access in schools: the Americans with Disabilities Act (28 Code of Federal Regulations § 35.101 et seq.). That law requires public schools to ensure that students with disabilities have an equal opportunity to participate in all school activities. It mandates that schools provide auxiliary aids and services to ensure “effective communications” for persons with disabilities. This is defined as “communications that “are as effective as communications with others.” The Departments of Justice and Education have issued guidance on schools’ obligations to provide effective communications and how IDEA, the ADA, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act work to protect the rights of deaf and hard of hearing students (Frequently Asked Questions on Effective Communication for Students with Hearing, Vision, or Speech Disabilities in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools, November 2014).

School districts should ensure that they are basing their decisions on the best interests of their students and families. Parents and educators who are concerned about a district’s actions should talk to their district representatives. If they believe their or their children’s rights are being violated they may wish to invoke the procedural safeguards under IDEA (34 Code of Federal Regulations § 300.500 et seq.), which include filing a State complaint or a due process complaint.

I have a 6 year old with CIs, implanted at 11 months; he has perfect speech. We have a IEP meeting soon, and they want to discontinue speech support. He is mainstreamed and has difficulty staying focused in the classroom. Any help at all we can get for his meeting, we would greatly appreciate. Currently we have a ToD an hour a day five days a week, an educational Interpreter, and right now speech 1 day a week for a half hour in a group setting. That is what they are looking to discontinue.

Question from L.W., New York. Posted March 5, 2016.

Speech Language Services are not only limited to working on speech production. Our scope of practice includes vocabulary development, pre-teaching concepts, teaching advanced language structures, phonological awareness skills, comprehension of language as it relates to processing text and creating text, executive functioning including memory, judgement and pragmatics. It is rare to find a deaf child who has skills in all these areas that develop without careful intervention and monitoring. Speech-language clinicians are intrinsic to optimal development of these skills, and this is the tack I would take in this meetings. [Try to find an advocate who can support this in the IEP meeting and make sure it is written into the program.]

I really want to know if the Informed Consent for a Clinical Trial is only read by a deaf person or there is an interpreter during the procedure who is able to help the volunteer to better understand what is written. Is a Video Interpreting (relay) service (VIR) usually employed or a Computer Assisted Realtime Transcription (CART) service? Do you think that a platform with VIR service could help the deaf person’s understanding?

Question from V.Z., Italy. Posted March 1, 2016.

Essentially, the answer to your question is “it depends on the individual.” For most deaf individuals, at least in the United States, reading an appropriately-worded informed consent document is sufficient. It is the responsibility of both the researcher/medical professional and their institutional ethics review panel to ensure that the document is, indeed, “appropriately worded.”

For deaf individuals with lower levels of literacy, of course a sign language interpreter would be helpful (either live or via VIR). The kind of interpreting, in that case, also would need to depend on the individual, because there are deaf adults (as well as children) who do not have fluent sign language skills. Those who are low-language, for example, would need very different kinds of interpreting than those who are skilled in Italian Sign Language. Deaf individuals who are “oral,” also might need support with an informed consent document, either through further explanation or more simplified language.