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.

Sign Language

I had an audiologist tell me that 99% of the time when you add sign support to an implanted student the language level/development drops. I respectfully disagreed – Your thoughts?

Question from R.S., California. Posted May 17, 2012.
Response from Marc Marschark - NTID

Thoughts aside, there is no published evidence we know of to indicate that this is the case. You might recommend the following to the audiologist: Spencer, L. J., Gantz, B. J. & Knutson, J. F. (2004). Outcomes and achievement of students who grew up with access to cochlear implants. Laryngoscope, 114, 1576 –1581. They found that high school students with implants who also had sign language interpreters in the classroom were performing at a level comparable to their hearing peers, a result normally not obtained with longer-term use of implants by students without sign language support.

What is the difference between a sign skills coach and an interpreter?

Question from A.M., New York. Posted March 16, 2012.

The position of “Signing Skills Coach” originated from the one-on-one position referred to as a Skills Coach. A skills coach is an individual who works along side of a student/client and assists with the learning of a task/job.  For example, a skills coach might work with a developmentally disabled individual to learn the job of a dish washer.   A “Signing Skills Coach” is an individual who knows sign language and functions as  a skills coach with a student/client who is deaf, hard-of-hearing or in some circumstances hearing but can benefit from sign (e.g., some individuals with autism, Downs Syndrome, etc.).  The requirements are that the coach have intermediate to advanced signing skills and basic skills in consecutive interpreting.

A sign language interpreter is fluent in ASL (or other natural sign language) and all forms of signed English (or other spoken language). An interpreter would work between the hearing and deaf person but not teach the deaf person a skill.  Interpreters can work consecutively but tend to work simultaneously.

Are there assessment tools to help determine what type of sign language modality would be most effective for an 8 year old child? Are there assessments that measure the effectiveness of various sign language modalities? Are there resources that describe and illustrate (video tapes) the different sign language modalities (ASL, SSE, Conceptually Accurate Sign Language, etc.)?

Question from J.G., Illinois. Posted March 16, 2012.

We carry out specialized individual assessments of deaf children’s signing skills at City University London’s Compass Centre (http://www.city.ac.uk/health/public-clinics/compass-centre). Our assessment team includes deaf native signers and hearing staff who are fluent signers. When considering the best modality for a child, we compare their sign language abilities with their spoken language and, if applicable, their sign-supported communication. With 8 year olds we can assess their BSL comprehension and production skills using standardized tests (Herman et al 1999 http://www.forestbooks.com/products/pages/search.php and Herman et al 2004 http://www.city.ac.uk/health/public-clinics/compass-centre/sign-language-assessment-clinic/assessing-bsl-development-production-test). There are similar tests available for other sign languages (see Haug’s website http://www.signlang-assessment.info/index.php/sign-language-acquisition.html). We do not know of any similar assessment tools for SSE. The final decision about the best modality takes account of test results alongside careful consideration of the child’s communication environment. This includes observation of their everyday communication with native signers, communication at school and at within the family and discussion at the assessment appointment about how they communicate with deaf and hearing people in general. In this way, we try to determine the best communication approach for a particular child. We do not know of any assessment tools for SSE but there are also assessment tools for speech reading in children of this age available: http://www2.cmp.uea.ac.uk/~bjt/avsp2009/proc/papers/paper-36.pdf

References (for BSL)

Herman, R., Holmes, S., & Woll, B. (1999). Assessing British Sign Language Development: Receptive Skills Test.  Forest Bookshop.  Gloucestershire, UK.

Herman, R., Grove, N., Holmes, S., Morgan, G., Sutherland, H. & Woll, B. (2004). Assessing BSL Development: Production Test (Narrative Skills).  City University Press.

If you are interpreting in an educational setting, would it be more appropriate to stand at the front of the classroom or sit with the deaf student therefore being able to maintain eye contact and attention at all times?

Question from G.W., United Kingdom. Posted January 26, 2012.

When interpreting in any situation, an interpreter must be able to have eye contact at all times with the deaf client(s), and the client(s) be able to see what is happening near the speaker.

In the case of the classroom, the teacher is responsible for all the students, hearing or deaf, paying attention (which might mean some educating on your part). The interpreter can either sit near the student or at the front of the classroom as long as it allows interpreter-student eye contact and the student being able to see what the teacher is doing.  For example, some interpreters in a math class (with permission from the teacher) will follow the teacher as s/he writes a problem on the board, so the students can watch both.

Of course, students of different ages have different attention spans and needs, and any vision problems would have to be considered.  There is not one right or wrong answer for every situation – as is often true of interpreting, “it depends on the situation” (e.g., the age of the student, the class, communication needs of the child).  The ability of the interpreter and student to have direct eye contact and the student to see what the teacher is doing during the lesson is a top priority, whether you are near the student or at the front of the classroom.

How can I become an interpreter for the deaf in the Binghamton, New York, area? I took ASL in high school and enjoyed it. I have been to Deaf Clubs but cannot find any now and would like to get back into it.

Question from S.M., New York. Posted January 9, 2012.

The place I would start is at the Southern Tier Independence Center, located in Binghamton. Their website is www.stic-cil.org. The relevant FAQ on their website is somewhat out of date, but it includes the following information (slightly edited here):

1. Where can I take sign language classes?
Sign classes are scheduled pretty regularly at Broome-Tioga BOCES and Broome Community College. Or, stop in and check out the bulletin boards in our Deaf Services area; we update them constantly with notices about sign classes and Deaf culture events in our region.
2. Where do I go for sign-language interpreter training?
There are two high-quality interpreter training programs within reasonable traveling distance of Binghamton:
Rochester Institute of Technology
Rochester, NY
Bloomsburg University
400 East 2nd. St.
Bloomsburg, PA 17815
Our region has a severe shortage of qualified interpreters. STIC’s Interpreter Services Program is a dispatching service for interpreters working as independent contractors. Interpreting is a very demanding profession; we cannot use people who have just “taken a few sign classes”, but we are always looking for well-trained interpreters. We strongly encourage you attend one of these programs if you are interested in interpreting as a career.

Do you have any resources for parents of profoundly deaf children who are above grade average ? My daughter is 10 and has already gone through several Harry Potter books (which is not interesting conversation to her peers). My problem is that I cannot keep up with the sign language vocabulary and meeting her intellectual needs. She attends the local district school currently with an all day interpreter. Prior to 3rd grade she attended the local school for the deaf (including pre-k).

Are there any ‘mentor/tutors’ on VP? Where can I find a listing of perhaps other children with hearing impairments who would be interested in talking with her on the videophone or through chat?

Question from W.W., Florida. Posted December 6, 2011.

First, let me congratulate you on how well your child is doing.  As parents, we need to be vigilant – both when our child is lagging behind, AS WELL as when he/she is above grade level. You’ll want to ensure that your daughter is being challenged and not compared to others who are not doing as well.  You want to make sure your daughter is reaching her individual potential. Your email proves that is exactly what you are striving for. So, here are a couple of suggestions:

For information on how to best identify and serve deaf and hard of hearing students who are intellectually gifted, visit http://deafgifted.blogspot.com/2008/06/bibliography-deaf-gifted-students.html

With regard to peer mentors , can you ask the school for someone (maybe a high school student) who can relate to your daughter’s level of intellectual curiosity?

Regarding staying up with the sign skills of your daughter,  as most hearing parents can attest, keeping up with your child’s sign skills when they are exposed at school all day and, in general, parents are not takes some extra energy, positive attitude, and commitment to improving.  Some basic strategies parents can pursue are local deaf events where they can practice their skills, university level sign classes, and under the IEP provision of ‘parent training and counseling’ they can ask their school to provide them with ASL training. Practice times with your own child also can improve your skills as can getting together with other parents and having ‘silent’ practice sessions to improve your skills.

Regarding your question, “Are there mentors/tutors on VP?”  here are a couple of resources: http://deafness.about.com/od/schooling/a/howtotutor.htm


Finally, you asked about other children who you could connect your daughter with.

I would contact Your local Hands & Voices chapter. There are some chapters that do this type of project   click on www.handsandvoices.org Also, your state school for the Deaf may also be a resource.

My sister-in-law is a junior in high school and is deaf. She has an interpreter who goes to her classes with her, she is in honors classes, and she is very smart. The school she goes to has changed the rules for graduating at the “recommended” level. Now, she will have all the classes she needs except a language class. But, the only foreign language class her school offers is Spanish. She can’t learn spoken Spanish and I am trying to find out if there is a law to protect her from not graduating “recommended” even though she knows sign language.

Question from J.M., Texas. Posted December 5, 2011.

The school did not change the rules, because it is the state, not the school that mandates the graduation requirements. There are 3 graduation plans in Texas – minimum, recommended, and distinguished. The “recommended” graduation plan requires 2 credits of a foreign language. The “distinguished” requires 3 credits. ASL does qualify as a foreign language requirement in Texas. If her HS does not offer ASL, she could ask her school whether they offer a dual credit program. Then, she could take ASL classes from the local community college and get both HS and college credit.  At Austin Community College, for example, one semester of a foreign language from the college equals 1 full credit of the HS requirement, so she could potentially get 2 years HS credit by completing 2 semesters at a local college. Programs vary by area, so she would need to find out how her school and local colleges handle the credit transfer.

Here is a link with more information about ASL as a foreign lang. requirement in Texas:  http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/deaf/certinfoupdate.html

and here is a link explaining the various graduation plans: http://www.tea.state.tx.us/graduation.aspx.

I am helping my niece prepare for college. She is a high school student enrolled in a full academic program with a number of honors level courses. Interpreters are struggling with fingerspelling words in earth science and algebra. We have been advised to seek note-takers by one set of people and others suggest a laptop. The school district has limited resources. Can you steer me in a direction to find out which accommodations would serve her best. She wants to attend college and is interested in law. She is a diligent student.

Question from D.B., New York. Posted November 30, 2011.

You didn’t provide much information about your niece and her communication skills and preferences. You mentioned interpreters struggling with science and math signing, and we assume that your niece prefers that means of receiving academic information. If that is the case, there are resources on the Web that will help your niece and her interpreters identify signs for many science and mathematics terms. One resource that might help you is the online science signs lexicon at http://www.rit.edu/ntid/sciencesigns/. At the same time, make sure she keeps up with her reading. When it comes to test time, she will need to recognize and know the meanings of the technical terms, not just their signs.

Notetakers and real-time captioning (often now done with laptops) are additional support services that many deaf students use in high school classrooms around the country.  The accommodations that would best serve your niece would take into consideration her preferred support services and what is available in her school.  Often, a deaf student has an individualized education plan designed by the student, teachers, and parents, and they decide as a team what resources to provide.  Have you discussed this with your niece? Does she have such a plan (IEP) with her needs and the school resources defined?

When and/or how much will a deaf student fall behind his hearing peers in school if he needs but does not have an interpreter

Question from M.Z., California. Posted November 3, 2011.

A deaf student who enters school with the same language-literacy skills as hearing “grade-level” peers should not fall behind if the IFSP, IEP, or 504 plan recommendations are appropriate and followed. If, however, recommendations call for an educational interpreter and one is not provided, then we would expect harmful consequences, but we can never really know the degree to which or direction in which learning will be affected.

A deaf student who enters school lagging behind grade-level hearing peers will likely continue lagging at the end of the school year(s), even when IFSP, IEP, or 504 recommendations are appropriately provided. That’s because the best predictors of success in school tend to be strong language-literacy foundations at the onset of school. Frankly, we can never be sure how much a student’s skills will compensate the lack of an interpreter or interact with an inadequate or talented interpreter to shift learning from one direction to another. Multiple variables on any given day, week, month or school year influence the learning we all experience. That’s why federal laws guide those of us who inform decisions to view each case in its totality and, when moving the learning gauge, stack the supports to favor maximum.

What is the role of a speech therapist in communication development of a 7-year-old deaf child using sign language?

Question from Z.D., South Africa. Posted October 27, 2011.

The role of a speech therapist or the speech-language pathologist (SLP) in the case of a 7 year-old deaf child using sign language  is intrinsic and multi-faceted.  The clinician must be aware of the implications of the type of sign-language being used.  If the child is using American Sign Language (ASL) then there will be bilingual issues to be addressed when it comes to teaching reading, because the child must learn English to read.  The SLP can facilitate learning English Grammar forms in preparation for reading and writing in English whether the sign system used is a contrived system such as Signed English, or ASL.

There are also many things that can be done with both spoken phonology (sounds of the language) that can contribute to the ability to decode printed words (phonological awareness and phonological processing).  In fact, just because a child is using sign language, this does not rule out that using voice to communicate might be a goal.  The child may want to target high use words and phrases for speaking.   Children who are deaf also may need to target “pragmatics” or the practical use of language in social contexts. It is the proverbial “knowing what to say, how to say it, and when to say it – and how to “be” with other people.”  Because deaf children do not always “overhear” social niceties, they may need to be taught these things directly (e.g., we don’t typically ask grown-ups their age, or even if you do not care for a particuar gift you get it would be impolite to say “I don’t like this!” ).

Other areas the SLP may target is helping the child to increase vocabulary, (especially multiple meaning words), learning idiomatic language “put the lights out.” In summary one of the key elements to your question is the word “language. ”  The role of the SLP is to facilitate speech and language learning in all contexts and modalities appropriate for the individual.