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.

Education

I am needing help with explaining how an 11th grade student who is deaf with ASL as his first language and English as his second language and uses an ASL interpreter in class is struggling with learning Latin IV. He uses a CI and hearing aid.

Question from A.D., Ohio. Posted October 30, 2014.
Response from Kearsy Cormier - Deafness Cognition and Language Research Center (DCAL)

Research on deaf signers who have ASL as their first/preferred language has clearly shown that their skills in using spoken/written English vary enormously. Those who acquire ASL earliest tend to be better at English overall than those who learn ASL later, but many do struggle with English as it is for them a second language (just as learning say French would be for a native English speaker). Learning then additional spoken/written languages beyond English is even more challenging for the deaf student, particularly when they are being taught alongside hearing students via interpreters. This would be like a native English speaker who can read and write French as a foreign language trying to learn Latin as an additional language in a class full of monolingual French speakers where the class was taught exclusively in spoken French and interpreted (just for that one student) into spoken English. There has been very little research on acquisition of additional/foreign languages by deaf signers in these kinds of situations, but it is clear that such a student must be given proper support in order to achieve the same level of success as his hearing peers.

We have a 5 year old, bilaterally implanted son who has been mainstreamed into a general education kindergarten. He is awesome at reading people’s body language and just assuming answers to questions. He is an awesome parrot. [But these do not mean he is understanding fully.] The school continues to say that he is a typical 5-year-old boy and that he has adjusted well to being mainstreamed.

He is a very visual child, and we use sign language and spoken language to communicate at home, but the school says they cannot accommodate that, even though we know that there is an interpreter around the corner who has a contract with the school. Is there any way to get sign language into the classroom? We were originally told that if they got an interpreter for him they would need to get one for every foreign language student in the school. Which we know is against the law.

He went to the deaf school for half a day last year in Pre-K, and were told that that was all they could offer him, as he is so advanced due to us working so hard with him. But his working so hard has come back to bite us. He now comes home tired and burned out, not wanting to listen to us anymore. All we want is for him to get the same education as his hearing peers, please help!

Question from L.W., New York. Posted October 9, 2014.

You and your child are going through a difficult time that needs to be resolved as soon as possible. Your mentioning that he is in a mainstream setting suggests that he has had an evaluation through special education and has an Individualized Education Program (IEP). If he has, I would suggest requesting a meeting to review his current placement. If an evaluation was not done, you can request a referral for an evaluation through special education.

Your child is entitled to have access to the curriculum and to instruction in the classroom based upon the evaluation and the IEP (it is important that the assessment regarding modalities of instruction be done by someone knowledgeable with regard to hearing loss). If that access requires an interpreter, then it is the school department’s responsibility to provide that service, assuming that it is part of the IEP. There should be no negative consequences for your child because he has had opportunities (with your support) to develop his skills. The goal of special education is to insure that all children achieve to the greatest extent possible given their capabilities. Your son’s strong abilities are no less worthy of support than if he was weak in the same domains.

With regard to the school’s response to your request, not speaking English is not a disability. A child who is a native speaker of a language other than English does not qualify for special education services. That argument is a “red herring” and has nothing to do with your son’s situation.

I’m a pediatric occupational therapist who only occasionally works with deaf children. I don’t have time (or a library) to read papers and books about deaf children. Is there something like Cliff’s Notes on deaf kids?

Question from R.P., Virginia. Posted July 16, 2014.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. (sorry!)

Raising and Educating Deaf Children is a new site offering objective, evidence-based information for policy-making and practice associated with raising and educating deaf children – with an eye to improving them. New eBulletins are posted quarterly; each includes sections on The Issue, What We Know, What We Don’t Know, and Implications about various topics, all written so as to be accessible to parents as well as professionals.  eBulletins include Further Readings with content offered free of charge by Oxford University Press.

What language/sign system/ communication mode is best in regards to educating deaf children? In particular, does using SEE correlate to higher reading and writing levels when compared to ASL, total communication, or Sim Comm? Many times people argue that SEE is best because a certain school or program’s students have higher reading levels. To me that is not evidence based data. There are many factors that can contribute to higher reading levels at a certain school when compared to another school or program. Looking at one aspect is not enough unless the schools are identical in all other areas. Is there any evidence based research to support SEE? Also, is it possible to use elements of SEE, but still continue signing ASL or conceptually?

Question from L.L., Texas. Posted June 30, 2014.

I just love loaded questions! Here’s an answer many people will dislike:

There is no language/sign system/communication mode that is “best in regard to educating deaf children.” Certainly, you can find proponents (and data) to support any of the ones you listed. What that tells you is that different things work for different children in different settings. Generally, forms of manually-coded English were created to help deaf children acquire English literacy skills. Generally, they have not proven more successful over the long term than American Sign Language (ASL) or anything else, but the comparison is not a simple one. Proponents of ASL as a link to literacy typically cite data showing that early ASL (e.g., from deaf parents) supports early literacy. So does early spoken language (e.g., from a cochlear implant). The key is early access to fluent language and being surrounded by it in formal and informal settings.   There are programs that use SEE, ASL, SimCom, and other systems that report successful reading achievement in their students. The data from these programs vary in how strong they are, but, again, what this shows is that when deaf children are surrounded by consistent language they will excel. SimCom, for example, has been criticized for not being “a true language,” but has been found to work as well as anything else in the classroom, at least in high school and college. And children in a real total communication school (i.e., SimCom, ASL, assistive listening devices, etc.) have been found to read as well or better than peers in a well-known bilingual program (in which over one third of the children had deaf parents) (see Knoors & Marschark, 2012, below). SEE is an English-based sign system; ASL has a completely different grammar. Many deaf and hearing people use signing with English word order and characteristics of ASL, but trying to mix in SEE signs rather than using ASL signs seems an unnecessary complication. The goal is to give young deaf children a foundation for language (signed and/or written/spoken). Unfortunately, there is no simple solution.

Further reading

Knoors, H. & Marschark, M. (2012). Language planning for the 21st century: Revisiting bilingual language policy for deaf children. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 17, 291-305.

Schick, B. (2011). The development of American Sign Language and manually coded English systems. In M. Marschark & P. Spencer (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of deaf studies, language, and education, Volume 1, second edition (pp. 229–240). New York: Oxford University Press.

Over the years I have had many hard of hearing students deny their hearing losses and refuse to wear any amplification. I usually tell students that amplification needs should be discussed with their parents. I generally support whatever the parent wants to do.

One of my students’ parent wants to develop a contract for hearing aid and FM use next school year for her seventh grader. The prospective seventh grader will not acknowledge the hearing loss or any of its impact. At this point, I am truly concerned for the student’s well-being. My inclination is to teach clarification and compensatory skills while working to help the student come to some acceptance of the hearing loss.

What does research say about acceptance of hearing loss or amplification use in adolescence?

Question from S.K., Ohio. Posted June 17, 2014.

Your question about available research is difficult to answer – after all these years, we still only have anecdotes to inform us, and not even enough of these to work with.  But we can take an educated guess at what this young person is thinking: “I have a problem but I want it to go away; all I want is be like everyone else so I will pretend I am.”

We do know quite a bit about acceptance in general, though: a mindset that first requires the hard work (and pain) of looking at a situation honestly.  This young person may need to work with a counselor to “get there.”  Additionally, while working on the strategies mentioned, perhaps you might ask her to chat about the concept of resilience.  It’s often more comfortable to talk less about the issue at hand (amplification decisions) and instead discuss a bigger but semi-related topic, as in: “People are talking a lot about resilience these days, have you noticed? When adversity occurs, how do people rebound? What strengths do people draw upon to recover and move forward? Any examples come to mind?” Just generally about “people,” but most of us insert ourselves into the answers.  All children need practice talking about their emotions. She is fortunate to have you in her life.

Are their any summer programs for hard of hearing children? My daughter is 7 years old and going into the 2nd grade in the fall. She has had a pretty good year, but is struggling with reading and spelling. Her low test scores in spelling have made her feel so badly about herself she is no longer interested in trying. I need to be able to find a way to encourage her to do better and try. What can I do? I hope to find a program for summer to keep her involved with learning.

Question from L.M., California. Posted June 12, 2014.

Keeping your daughter interested and motivated in reading is important – Children who read more become better readers (and spellers).

To help keep her motivated, read books together, allowing her to take the lead at times in explaining what is happening in the story. Choose materials that within her range and on topics she is interested in (comic books and children’s magazines work well: simple language and interesting material).

You might be able to find an summer program through one of the schools for the deaf in your state, or you can contact GLAD (Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness), the NorCal Center on Deafness, which runs Camp Grizzly for KODAs, or the California chapter of Hands & Voices about locating or even starting one.

I am an itinerant teacher of deaf and hard-of-hearing students. I have a 4th grade deaf student (severe sensorineural hearing loss) who has an interpreter but uses spoken language as well. She is reading on an early 2nd grade level. Has the literacy program LANGUAGE! been used with success to help hard of hearing students improve their reading skills?

Question from L.K., California. Posted June 12, 2014.

Two of the counties in our area use this program, and teachers of the deaf have mixed feelings about it. Some love it, some don’t. Based on our knowledge of the students that they have in their programs, it seems to work well with children who have some available usable hearing and basic English proficiency, but the farther along the continuum of organized language to disorganized language (whether English or ASL) and the older the child is, the less effective the program has been.

The positives about the curriculum are that the lessons are systematic and explicit; the instruction can be individualized; the assessment is ongoing; and the lessons tie in reading, writing, and spoken language.  From a deaf educator’s perspective, however, the curriculum seems to focus on phonological decoding rather than meaning, assuming that if the student can sound out the word then they would automatically know the word.  There also are some activities that are difficult to access for students with hearing loss: identifying the stressed syllables in words, learning spelling through sound-spelling correspondence, etc.  Teachers would need to think about having visual supports for their deaf/hard-of-hearing students, connecting practice activities to what they would be doing the next day (or even the next minute), and ensuring  that  students understand the point of the exercises (e.g., why it is important to be able to identify the stressed syllable or use the morpheme “un-“ to make new words).    Overall, teachers likely cannot rely on the Language! curriculum alone, and would need to pull in other resources and deaf education strategies to have an effective English Language Arts class.

All the research that has been done with the curriculum has been completed with middle school and high school students (6th grade and older), although, the lowest level (Book A) is in the pre-primer to 2.5 readability range. There is no research we can find that has included students who were deaf or hard of hearing.

My deaf son is in a public elementary school; they have helped him a lot. But, I think he needs a school that can “go a little deeper.” In reading, he needs to understand the words he’s learned. He sometimes acts like he’s afraid to open his brain. I encourage him, telling him he can do it, but I am not the greatest teacher. Can you offer advice? Would it help to ride the bus to school, giving him more language exposure?

Question from M.B., Tennessee. Posted June 8, 2014.

You’d be surprised – I bet you are his greatest teacher.  You recognize he needs more exposure to language in order to help his reading, and repeated exposure to new words in context and practice using new words in day-to-day situations is a great way to do this.  You have the opportunity in every exchange with your child to provide slightly more complex language input than what he is currently expressing himself.  There is great potential for language growth when new words and expressions are used in the real and meaningful day-to-day moments.  My greatest piece of advice would simply be to communicate for understanding even more.  See if you can increase (maybe even double) the number of exchanges happening between your son and family members or friends.  Then when you sit down to read together (as often as possible while being fun), help him make those connections between the words on the page and the experiences you’ve shared.  Riding the bus could help if he has a friend with whom he can engage in meaningful communication; at the same time, it may not help at all if he is not interacting with others and the language is just taking place around him.

Is there any evidence-based research regarding consistency with interpreters in a mainstream setting? If a student has the same interpreter for a number of years, does this in itself, negatively impact a student’s progress if the student’s use of the accommodations and interpreter is a positive one? My daughter, who is in a mainstream setting, has requested the same interpreter for the 3rd year. I do not see any problem with this; however, I was unsuccessful in finding supportive/non-supportive research, articles, etc. about this issue.

Question from W.W., Florida. Posted June 8, 2014.

No one I have contacted has been able to cite research on this issue, so the simple answer to your question seems to be “no.” Stories shared over the years, though, have never yielded a negative about a deaf student having the same interpreter year after year….and even throughout the school years and into college. One male college student (still with his first, female, school interpreter) said that the early puberty years were a little strange at first, but he was glad he had not changed. High-quality educational interpreters are hard to find in many places. If your daughter has a good one and everyone is  happy, there is no reason to change. Having a variety of sign language models likely would be beneficial for her language development. However, it seems best to have consistency in school terminology and support from someone who knows your daughters strengths as well as her needs. You can find her other language models in other settings.

And here’s an addition of further readings from Christine Monikowski (NTID) who noted that many school districts have guidelines concerning time limits for interpreters working with a single student (typically 3 years)…to insure “professional boundaries” are adhered to:

Crosby, P. (1998, November/December). Looping in middle school: Why do it? Teaching Pre K-8, 29(3), 46-47.

Elliot, I. (1998, November/December). When two years are better than one. Teaching Pre K-8, 29(3), 38-41.

Nichols, J. D. (2002, September). The impact of looping and non-looping classroom environments on parental attitudes. Educational research quarterly, 26(1), 23-41

Is there any good research into the psychological impact on deaf children who are in mainstream education? I am a mature student and a parent of a deaf child in mainstream and am undertaking a research project into this topic with a view to eventually working with deaf children.

Question from D.Y., England. Posted May 7, 2014.

This seems like an easy question but, as with many things in deaf education, the answer is a bit complex. There is an “older” (1980s-1990s, ancient!) literature from the United States indicating that deaf children in mainstream settings were more likely to report feeling lonely and isolated than those in schools and programs for deaf students. While that may still be true in some cases, the fact that the vast majority of deaf children in many countries are now in mainstream classrooms means that the dynamic now is rather different.

For reasons that are unclear, there is very little research on the social-emotional/psychological impact of mainstream education on deaf children conducted in North America (but see research by Shirin Antia and her colleagues). Most of the work in that area is being conducted in Europe, with some in the UK, Hong Kong, and other countries. The recent Teaching Deaf Learners conference in Amsterdam had a number of presentations on the topic, and you can identify/contact the authors by looking at the program. A book based on the conference (Educating Deaf Students: Creating a Global Evidence Base) is due from Oxford University Press, but not until 2015. It will include reviews of work on  various aspects of psychological functioning of deaf students in mainstream and special settings. In the meantime, an “advanced search” of the Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education looking for “mainstream” in  “title or abstract” will yield a variety of relevant articles. You can reach the authors through the site.