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

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.
Response from Carolyn Morrison - NTID

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 The relevant FAQ on their website is somewhat out of date, but it includes the following information (slightly edited here):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.

I became totally deaf at the age of 34, and am now 47. I am a full-time student working towards my Bachelors in Social Work. Having been on both sides (hearing and deaf), and through my education, I know the importance of communication regardless of what mode a parent uses to teach a child.

My question is this, in my internship I am working with a client whose parents want me to teach their child phonics. Their child has never heard a sound what-so-ever. I honestly don’t see the point in it, as how do you describe a “hard C” vs. a “soft C” to someone who has never heard. I do understand wanting to teach them the correct endings to words, such as when to add “ed” (as in worked). In ASL one would sign “finish” + “work” or vice versa. I can see how that would benefit a deaf child in knowing how ASL and English connect for reading, writing, and comprehension.

What are your thoughts on the parts of the phonic’s lessons that rely on having some auditory hearing to use as a base for teaching it? What does one say to hearing parents who want their deaf child to know how each letter is pronounced with phonics, when the child is completely deaf? For me, I still have use of my voice, I just don’t hear anything at all, but knowing phonics has helped my interpreters and friends in teaching me how to voice a new vocabulary word or someone’s name correctly. I just can’t imagine the benefits of this information to someone who has never heard. Am I wrong in my thinking? Or should I focus on helping this child make the connection between ASL and English?

This child’s ASL understanding is wonderful, and they can communicate and articulate very well, but lacks in English comprehension skills. I have noticed this when I ask if they understood the paragraph they just read, and they reply yes. Then when I pick out a word and ask them to tell me the meaning, they say they don’t know. When I then show them the ASL sign for the word, their face lights up and they fully understand then.

Question from T.S., Michigan. Posted June 20, 2011.

My first thought was to refer this question to a speech therapist… or language person of some kind. However, that’s not what this is about. First of all, you really do not have much choice in this matter; it’s the parent’s decision. Yes, you can and should educate the parents to the greatest extent possible (and appropriate), but their desires are not surprising, and you have to respect their wishes if you were going to continue working with the child. But, you raise an excellent second point. There is no evidence that fluency in a signed language is sufficient to provide a deaf child with the underpinnings necessary for English literacy. Research and theory both point to the need for some kind of a bridge. For some deaf individuals the bridge is speechreading, for others it is cochlear implants or an English-based signing system. Supporting this child’s ASL skills will help to provide a fluent first language on which to build literacy. Phonics will help to bridge the child’s language skills to English literacy. You are an outstanding model for both the child and the child’s parents. Hopefully, you can help to educate all of them at the same time.

I was looking at the pay scale for a “deaf coach” or “sign skills coach.” I work with a student who is profoundly hearing impaired and uses ASL. The student’s TOD has said that I am qualified, and as far as she is concerned I am a sign skill coach with out the title. I am a 1:1 paraeducator and earn very little. I am looking to further my ASL skills and maybe advance in my field.

Question from S.C., New York. Posted March 23, 2011.

The Signing Skills Coach position as it developed in our BOCES program:

It evolved from a position originally titled “Skills Coach.” A Skills Coach worked 1:1 with a student to support classroom instruction and practice academic skills that the teacher had presented to the class. During these years, it was noted that there were many children who needed more of a paraprofessional/aide position with sign language skills. These children, however, were not ready or able to utilize the fluency of an interpreter. This developed into a Skills Coach who signed, or a ‘Signing’ Skills Coach. Not a Sign Skills Coach, which many people assume this title means. Currently we have SSCs working with students who may have multiple disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, or a variety of other possible conditions. About half of these children have hearing loss. Other children are hearing but non-verbal and are learning sign for expressive language purposes.

Salaries for the SSCs are based upon educational background. The current rate for a per diem sub in western New York is $12-13/hour. Starting salary rates are a little higher and include benefits.

I am the mother of a 7 year old deaf child. My daughter passed her newborn hearing screen and a follow up ABR at 6 months old (she was high risk due to being in the NICU). But she began losing her hearing by 15 months old and was dx’ed with a moderately severe loss by 18 months and fitted with hearing aids.

We began to speak and sign but she never “caught on” to spoken language. At 3, she was placed at a Deaf school. We continued to do therapy, but she didn’t gain any spoken language. She quickly became pretty fluent in ASL.

In kindergarten her hearing loss progressed and she received a CI. She suddenly was able to process spoken language. She has made tremendous gains in her spoken language in the two years since she was implanted. She understands and discriminates running spoken language and has gained nearly 5 years worth of language. She is now in a well respected oral school.

So, my question is this….can she actually catch up? She hears very well, but can she reach age appropriate with her spoken language? Or do we eventually de-emphasis it and go back to ASL?

Question from A Mom, Confusion USA. Posted March 21, 2011.

It sounds as if your daughter had a very solid language base (ASL) in those first years of her life, which tells us that her language-learning skills seem to be intact, thus she is a “language learner.” You also say that she has made 5 years of gain in her language skills (I am assuming English skills) over the past few years, which again provides evidence that she had a strong language system in place to “map” the spoken English language onto. From what we know about second language learning and from deaf children learning spoken language with CIs, I would say she has an excellent prognosis.  A study published by Nichols and Geers (2007, see below), also provides us with evidence that would suggest your daughter is on the road to success.  That study found that the smaller language delay a child has when they receive a CI, the better the chances are that the child will, indeed catch up. Given that your daughter seems to have been performing at a very high level with regard to language (ASL) at the time she received a CI in the first place, we can be very optimistic about her future language abilities.  It will be very important in the next few years to target her ability to learn to read and write.  Once she is reading, she will continue to acquire the higher levels of language she will need to become a competent language learner.

Further reading:

Nichols, J. & Geers, A. (2007). Will they catch up ?  The role of age at cochlear implantation in the spoken language development of children with severe to profound hearing loss.  Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 50, 1048–1062.