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.

Cochlear Implants and Hearing Aids

Our son was born deaf and has cochlear implants. He is now 6 years old and in regular classroom with assistive devices. He seems to have a real trouble focusing and some issues with getting angry, upset, crying at times and arguing with adults. We are wondering if there are things we can do to help him gain better control of his emotions and get better focus.

Question from A.B., Oregon. Posted April 28, 2014.
Response from Patrick Brice - Gallaudet University

It’s very important to remember that using assistive listening devices can be extremely stressful and tiring.  Cochlear implants have become very sophisticated and can be highly effective for many children and adults.  But, many children and adults still need to work quite hard to make sense of the auditory input they are receiving and process all that information.  School can be tiring, too.  So, one first step is to look at the times and situations that are most difficult for the youngster—the situations that bring up the most tears, anger, and arguing.  These may be times when he has been listening and working extra hard to hear and understand everything and everyone and is tired and worried that he hasn’t gotten it all.

Tracking the times and situations that are most difficult can also help teachers and parents to intervene before the child has reached that peak of frustration and can no longer regulate their emotions (leading to crying, arguing, and anger).  Once a child has “gone over the edge,” so to speak and is very upset, adults can mostly just help them gain control again.  That might mean getting away from the situation, waiting out the outburst, keeping them safe, etc.  But, if adults are able to recognize the warning signs, then intervening before control has been lost is possible.   Helping children learn to manage difficult times while they are still in control of their emotions can be done through conversations, modeling of appropriate behavior, offering alternative activities, and basic empathic statements.   And always remember to show children things they can DO when upset, as opposed to telling them what they should not do.  Not doing things is much harder than having an appropriate alternative.

I work with a CI student who is in 2nd grade. He received one implant at the age of 3 and now has two. He is unable to comprehend what he reads for the most part. I realize CI children have difficulty learning to read. My question is: What is your opinion about retention of CI students. This particular child is the youngest student in his grade with a birthday falling just at the deadline day for entering school. I feel he needs another year of language skills (academic and life vocabulary) so that he even has a chance of success. If he were not a CI student, I would recommend retention because of delays and his age.

Question from E.T., South Carolina. Posted April 21, 2014.

If the child needs to be held back, he needs to be held back. Whether or not he has a CI  should not change the educational decisions. At the same time, retaining a child and just giving him the same instruction is not going to solve the problem. I would recommend that first you make sure the implants are working and, second, that the child receives a full diagnostic reading assessment. My hunch is that he needs intensive and explicit phonics instruction but it depends on the results of the assessment.

Can you please suggest some good articles, research or data to support having a TOD in a classroom with a 5 year old with significant delays “across the board” (the student has bilateral CIs, no sign language, extreme speech delays [apraxia?])?

Question from J.B., Vermont. Posted April 2, 2014.

Given the huge individual differences among deaf children with multiple challenges, this is an impossible question to answer. You really are (or should be) looking for information relevant to a very specific child, and we don’t have much to go on.  How significant are the delays?  Is the child using the CIs successfully?  What is the cause of the extreme speech delays? Has there been an assessment that suggests apraxia or is that a guess, and if the latter, based on what? Does the child not use sign language because s/he has not responded to it or because s/he has not been exposed to it?

You can find articles and chapters about the educational needs of deaf children with additional disabilities (see below), but you really want to know why that 5year-old should have a teacher of the deaf.  You will not get that from an article.  You are going to need a comprehensive evaluation done by people who know what they are doing and can communicate effectively with the child.  There is no one right answer; it depends on the needs of each child.

Further reading:

Mauk, G. W. & Mauk, P. P. (1998). Considerations, conceptualizations, and challenges in the study of concomitant learning disabilities among children and adolescents who are deaf or hard of hearing. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 3, 15-34.

Vreeland, J. (2014). Educating deaf children with multiple challenges.

Is there research to support why an additional year of preschool is considered appropriate for a child who is deaf and uses cochlear implants to develop language skills rather than moving on to kindergarten placement?

Question from A.H., Virginia. Posted March 4, 2014.

There does not appear to be any literature on this nor any general conclusions about what is or is not appropriate. It would definitely depend on the individual child and a full assessment of that child’s abilities.

I work in schools in Madrid Spain. We are debating the usefulness of Cued Speech for reading in deaf children with CIs. What are the latest results on this and how generalizable to Spanish children are these results?

Question from M.P., Spain. Posted February 5, 2014.

There are reasons to believe that Cued Speech may help deaf children with cochlear implants to learn to read and write. Cochlear implants provide auditory information that may be not precise enough to develop accurate phonological representations. Consequently, the reading and spelling skills of children with implants may be delayed compared to the acquisition of these skills by hearing children (with the same instruction). Those children who receive Cued Speech combined with the audio-visual input may develop more precise phonological representations, and better phonemic awareness which is an important skill for learning to read.

There are at least two empirical studies showing better reading, spelling, and reading related skills in deaf children with cochlear implants exposed to Cued Speech compared to deaf children with implants and not exposed to Cued Speech:

Leybaert, J., Bravard, S., Sudre, S., & Cochard, N. (2009). La adquisicion de la lectura y la orthographia en ninos sordos con implante coclear : Efectos de la Palabra Complementada. In : M. Carillo & A.B. Dominguez (Eds). Dislexia Y Sordera. Lineas actuales en el estudio de la lengua escrita y sus dificultades  (pp. 201-219). Malaga: Aljibe.

Bouton, S., Bertoncini, J., Serniclaes, W. & Colé, P. (2011) Reading and reading-related skills in children using cochlear implants: Prospects for the influence of cued speech. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 16, 458-473. 

I am living in India and fostering a 6 year old boy who has 95% hearing loss. He used to live in an orphanage and came into my foster care in July. Prior to this no one noticed that he was deaf. I want to look into getting cochlear implants for him, but have been told that because of his age and that he has gone 6 years having no auditory input, the CIs won’t work. Thoughts?”

Question from N.C., India. Posted October 30, 2013.

Amazing that this child went six years until his hearing loss was discovered. This used to happen more than we would like to admit here in the United States, but thanks to newborn hearing screening we are usually able to diagnose hearing loss much earlier now.

Several things that make me curious relate to whether or not to pursue the option of cochlear implantation. I am curious as to whether this little guy has any vocalizations and how he makes his needs known. Do you have a sense whether he is bright and learns quickly? The reason I ask this is that sometimes children who are quick learners are able to slide under the radar and perform well in many arenas and their hearing loss gets over-looked. Alternatively, children who have multiple developmental delays in motor skills, learning, self-care, and if they have a lot of health issues as well, their hearing loss goes undetected as other health issues are the focus of intervention. I am also curious as to whether he ever had some hearing. If he does have the ability to vocalize he may have had hearing at one point in time.

First of all, I think you need to assure that this boy has access to language. As a child with profound hearing loss without amplification/implants he will need to have access to a signed language so that he can learn to communicate with the world. At this point, access to language (sign) is a main priority. In addition, I would also encourage you to advocate for a cochlear implant evaluation. He may indeed be a wonderful candidate. We know that children who learn quickly, who have had hearing, who have support to learn to listen and who are exposed to speech consistently will learn to produce the sounds of their language and within 4 years of CI listening experience, they may be able to produce a majority of the sounds, even if they get a relatively late start.

I am a Teacher Consultant for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students. I have a parent who is interested in purchasing a neckloop for her daughter who has a bilateral hearing loss and utilizes hearing aids. The parent was wondering if there is a source for reading reviews on neckloops or other equipment that an individual with a hearing loss may benefit from, before purchasing something, as the equipment is not cheap.

Question from J.O., Indiana. Posted October 24, 2013.

Assistive listening devices are an excellent augmentation to hearing aids for many children, however there are many options and it’s important to select the right one.  The parents’ first step should be to consult with their daughter’s clinical or educational audiologist.  The audiologist can determine which types of neckloops or other technology are compatible with her current hearing instruments.  The audiologist can also help select a type of assistive device to best match her needs.

Prices can range from $40 to several thousand dollars for different types of technology, and it may not be necessary to spend a lot of money.  Conversely, if the parents decide to invest in a more expensive system they should be sure that the system will work with their daughter’s current and possibly also future hearing instruments.

Some types of technology can only be purchased through an audiologist or hearing aid dispenser.  Others can be purchased by the consumer directly.  If the neckloop is purchased independently, there are often user reviews on the vendor’s website such as Harris Communications (www.harriscomm.com).  Another vendor with useful reviews and an informative newsletter is Beyond Hearing Aids (http://www.beyondhearingaids.com).

A wonderful resource for parents is the Hearing Loss Association of America (www.hearingloss.org), a non-profit support group for those affected by hearing loss.  Their website has in-depth information about assistive technology and offers special support for parents.  The online forums offer an opportunity for the parent to ask questions directly to other parents and benefit from others’ experiences.

Hi. I’m 13 years old and I need some advice. I am not deaf my hearing reads 70-80 db. I’ve been advised to get a cochlear implant, but I prefer to stick with my hearing aids. I need you to tell me which is better in terms of sport,school,long term, and not letting your friends know. Thanks.

Question from D.S., United Kingdom. Posted September 15, 2013.

Hi. First of all, you are pretty amazing for thinking so hard about your options and for getting advice about a very big decision.  I admire your courage and wisdom at such a young age!

People who have had hearing aids are advised to get a cochlear implant if  their aided hearing abilities make it such that they are really struggling to hear words and sentences when they are using the best hearing aids in the best situations.  Sometimes a hearing loss is progressive, meaning it gets worse and worse and in this case a doctor my recommend a cochlear implant.  We think that by stimulating the hearing nerve using the cochlear implant soon after the hearing is lost, this can help the person maintain their memory of sounds so they can keep their hearing skills.

It is really hard to guess why you have been given this recommendation without knowing if it’s from your doctor, family, or friends.  You are right to ask a lot of questions at this point.  There is no clear answer of what is “better” in terms of sports.  With a CI, we tell people to avoid sports that can give a high risk of banging your head into something (like American football or hockey) but I have known people who participate in these sports who use CIs and they are very successful. Some of the new CIs allow you to get the CI a bit wet, and some even let you swim with a CI.

As far as school goes, a CI may help you with listening and understanding teachers other pupils in class.  You would need time to adjust to the new “sound sensation” of the CI, and this is something to consider.  In the long term, this IS a big adjustment and as I said it is a big decision.

I am really curious about your very last words of “not letting your friends know.”  Are you concerned that your friends will be upset if you choose a CI over a hearing aid…or the opposite?  Or are you concerned that your friends don’t understand about your hearing loss in the first place?  Might you feel comfortable explaining your choices to one good friend?  It can be really helpful to have someone to talk with.

At any rate, I really wish you the best with this very big decision.  I think you are doing the right thing to ask a lot of questions to a lot of professionals.  In the end this is your PERSONAL decision, and as long as you feel comfortable with what you decide, that is the right thing.

I am a mother of two profoundly Deaf children who have unilateral cochlear implants and have full access to NZSL as I am an interpreter and my husband is Deaf. My daughter, who is 3, has very strong spoken language skills and reasonably good sign language skills. I see her tendency is to use spoken language more dominantly. I want to know if there is any experience and research of educating children in both languages fluently and in what ways have been successful. I often use a form of sign-supported English when reading, but lately I notice she is not watching my signing. I have switched to separating the language and only using English or only using NZSL but when I just use NZSL she complains and wants me to use spoken English. I would love to have access to any literature in this area to help me navigate and teach 2 languages to my children.

Question from E.K., New Zealand. Posted August 16, 2013.

Unfortunately, there does not appear to be any research literature about this issue. What we know from observations and teacher reports concerning students in our bilingual programs is that this situation is not at all unusual among deaf 5- and 6-year-olds with cochlear implants. At first, they seem to start using fewer signs productively themselves, and later they ask hearing and Deaf teachers to switch on their voices when communicating with them. Why? We don’t know. Our speculation is that this reflects some kind of an evolutionarily-determined drive for multimodal perception. However, we also don’t know whether this is a temporary situation or whether the children “grow out of it.” There clearly is a need to collect more observations by parents and teachers as well as to conduct systematic research on the issue which may have long-term implications for academic outcomes, social-emotional functioning, and cognitive development.

Recommended reading:

Knoors, H. & Marschark, M. (in press). Teaching deaf learners: Psychological and developmental foundations. New York: Oxford University Press.

Watson, L., Hardie, T., Archbold, S., & Wheeler, A. (2008). Parents’ views on changing  communication after cochlear implantation. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education,   13, 104-116.

My daughter is 15 and profoundly deaf. She is not oral and has fluent and excellent sign language skills. She has a cochlear implant but it doesn’t work for her – epileptic activity has damaged the area of her brain that processes sound. She began to sign at 11 months. Her mainstream high school has an integrated deaf facility and she is doing very well at school. It has become apparent that there is an issue with reading/writing/comprehending English – I want to find out what it is and how to help to overcome it. My daughter is very keen to improve as she has academic ambitions. I have made several enquiries but have not been able to find out who to consult. The usual avenues are not set up for testing through sign language.

Question from D.N., Australia. Posted July 17, 2013.

Your email emphasizes that contrary to what parents might believe, cochlear implants are not appropriate or necessarily useful for all deaf children. Most do benefit, but outcomes are quite variable (and often unpredictable) due to the large individual differences among deaf kids. As much as we would like to think so, there are no “silver bullets” in raising and educating deaf children. However, there are a variety of alternatives that can be helpful in situations like yours. In Victoria, contact the Victorian Deaf Education Institute in Melbourne at vdei@edumail.vic.gov.au. The Student Well-Being Division has the resources and contacts to assist you. In New South Wales, contact the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children online@ridbc.org.au.