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.

Achievement and Educational Outcomes

Does anyone have any evidence that deaf children who have significant language delays but are otherwise able, do well by repeating a year in school and then staying with that cohort?

Question from A.W., England. Posted June 26, 2012.
Response from Ola Hendar - Swedish National Agency for Special needs Education and Schools (now, PhD student, Department of Psychology, Copenhagen Denmark)

General experience in many countries suggests that having children leave their cohort to catch up academically (by repeating a school year) works for some children. At least it does for those who demonstrate normal development and miss a significant amount of school time due,  for example, to the need for medical care or because the family has been abroad in a country with a school system not as well developed as the “home” one.

If the student has any disability, comes from another country, or is particularly well-established socially in their original cohort, the outcomes after being held back often are not so good. Then again,  if the parents and/or the student want it – the chances for success increase. Involuntarily holding a child back is more likely to hinder good development.

Unfortunately, there does not appear to be any research on this topic specifically with regard to deaf children and/or those with specific language delays, but there certainly needs to be! So, in Scandinavia, at least, I would only recommend repeating  agree if the student appears to have a documented, fair chance to catch up.

I am the parent of a 17 year old male with a Nucleus 24 cochlear implant. He signs and speaks and has been going to a great high school, but is having difficulties in his reading and comprehension. He is currently reading around a 6 grade level. Are there any programs you would recommend to bring his levels up? I am being recommended Fariview (total communication) and Linda Mood Bell (oral only) by different sources and they are completely different from one another.

Question from E.D., California. Posted May 3, 2012.

Congratulations to you and your son for all of your diligence with reading.

Does your son read 6th grade text fluently (between 120 and 150 words read orally per minute) and accurately  (decoding 95 to 100 percent of the words or about one error for every 20 words)?  Fluent reading does not mean reading fast but your son should use a speed for reading that reflects the mood and expression of the text.  If he reads in a slow and labored manner, he will have difficulty comprehending text.  There are some programs that focus on fluency (i.e. Read Naturally) but your son would need to have the auditory ability to distinguish the text read orally and then try to copy that text.  Often times though enhancing background knowledge, vocabulary and comprehension strategies fluency increases.   Repeated reading and some practice with chunking words into phrases have shown some success.

Once someone reads at the sixth grade level they tend to already be able to decode but have difficulty with more complex vocabulary and language structures.  At http://www.meadowscenter.org/vgc/downloads/special_ed/SEDsecondaryoriginal/2000_enhance_read_2_SE.PDF  there are wonderful resources from the Vaughn Gross Center for Reading and Language (through the University of Texas at Austin) that provide strategies for all parts of the comprehension process (from activating prior knowledge, to monitoring and using repair strategies, summarizing, using  visual imaging, asking questions and reflecting on the text).

Not knowing your son it would be hard to pick where to begin but ask yourself if he can decode words well (recognize the printed word)
-  if yes don’t spend time teaching sound symbol
-  if he struggles with the sounds of words and decoding, Lindamood-Bell and other companies have some great programs (LIPS, Seeing Stars) that may be of benefit.

Can he only say the words but not understand the meaning of the words?
-  then lots of language
-  possibly bits of Fairview may be a tool to help with understanding the various sign meanings (concepts) of different sight words)
-  pre-expose to a variety of text specific words, concepts and there meanings

Does he read words quickly enough to make meaning from the words he reads?
-  rereading, or partner reading
-  chunking and phrasing of text
-  Read Naturally or possibly Vocaroo (can record online)

Does he engage himself in the reading process by using comprehension strategies while reading?
-  If he decodes at about the 6th grade level, I would focus on text based vocabulary and comprehension strategies.
-  He should be able to establish a purpose for reading, see the text structure and begin to ask the right questions to aid in comprehension.

Developing the type of academic language and vocabulary necessary to succeed although daunting can be done.  Three cheers for encouraging your son and keep up the great work.


Is the national curriculum suitable for deaf children’s education?

Question from G., Bangladesh. Posted February 27, 2012.

This question looks deceptively easy – but it is not. In principle, yes, satisfaction of the national curriculum should be the educational goal for all deaf children, regardless of what country they live in. However, this assumes that there are sufficient support services (early intervention, assistive listening devices, classroom support, etc.) so that deaf children are “ready” for school and are supported by individuals who understand the special educational needs of deaf children. In reality, many countries, as well as locales within countries, do not have such services. In the United States and elsewhere, many local education authorities do not understand or believe that special accommodations for deaf children are necessary. In that case, however, the goal still must be to support deaf children in achieving the milestones of the national curriculum. To expect any less denies them the opportunities for full education, future employment, and personal success.

Hi! I am a teacher for the deaf in RI. I am looking for articles on the long term effects of hearing loss on education performance. This actually is for a friend who is a parent of a hoh 11th grader and has to face a team at her local school who is saying things like “oh she listens when she wants to” and “she can hear just fine with out FM” all this despite a mod bilateral hearing loss, bilateral hearing aids, and an FM recommendation from the audiologist. She is looking for articles that speak to the affects of hearing loss on educational performance for high school aged students.

Question from J.H., Rhode Island. Posted January 9, 2012.

Unfortunately, this is a much bigger question that can be answered in a single article. There are two books currently available in paperback (or used@Amazon.com) that would be inexpensive and useful. The first probably more so, because it has more information on older students, but the second one also has a lot of relevant information (despite the name) and was written for parents. The second one also is available in many public libraries.

Marschark, M., Lang, H.G., & Albertini, J.A. (2002). Educating deaf students: From research to practice.  New York: Oxford University Press.

Marschark, M. (2007). Raising and educating a deaf child, Second edition. New York: Oxford University Press.



I am a teacher for deaf children in Kenya and looking at English compositions written by most deaf children in our school now and in the past, most tend to take the sign language structure. Is there any research which has been carried out to find the relationship between sign language and written English and how can I access it?

Question from O.M., Kenya. Posted December 31, 2011.

Many teachers notice that children will write the way they sign. Teachers can sometimes read and understand these texts, but because they are not written in standard English, they are often not understood by readers who do not know sign language.

A considerable amount of research has been done describing the nature of this writing and the writing of DHH children in general (see Mayer, 2010 for a recent review).  As to the issue of the relationship between signed language and written English, it is worth thinking about this from two perspectives –meaning (content) and form (syntax, grammar etc.).  Children can discuss and develop the ideas for what they will write about in a natural signed language (e.g., ASL. BSL). This can be helpful in the planning stage of writing. But when it comes to writing down these ideas, children need to have control of English as well. If they are generating ideas in a natural sign language, they will need to translate these ideas into English before they write them down.  This can be very challenging and there is evidence of interference from the L1 (e.g., ASL) to the L2 (e.g., English). This can make it look like “sign language written down.”

Suggestions for further reading:

Mayer, C. (2010). The demands of writing and the deaf writer. In M. Marschark & P. Spencer (Eds.), Oxford handbook of deaf studies, language, and education: Volume 2 (pp. 144-155). New York: Oxford University Press.

Mayer, C. (1999). Shaping at the point of utterance: An investigation of the composing processes of the deaf student writer. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 4, 37- 49.

Singleton, J.L., Morgan, D., DiGello, E., Wiles, J. & Rivers, R. (2004). Vocabulary use by low, moderate and high ASL-proficient writers compared to hearing ESL and monolingual speakers. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education 9, 86-103.

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’m considering applying for a grant to establish the Clerc Center’s Shared Reading program as a pilot project in our state, but need to be able to document that it is an “evidenced based” program. Is there strong research to back it as an “evidence based” program and if so, can you direct me to the research articles?

Question from L.H., Missouri. Posted August 25, 2011.

Shared reading is just what the name implies: books as the shared focus of an interaction between an adult, typically a parent or caregiver, and a young child. At the earliest stages, this may consist of simply looking at pictures together and allowing the object of shared attention to be labeled or become the communication topic. For example, looking at a picture of a car, a parent might label it and then ask the child something about “Mommy’s car.” At later stages, stories in the books, as reflected by the pictures, may be “told” without regard for the actual text. Intermittently, or at a later stage, parents may actively lead the child to recognize connections between printed and either spoken or signed words. The initial purpose of such activities is to introduce children to the idea of books and print, and shared reading progresses more smoothly when parents follow the children’s lead regarding the focus of attention and the duration of time spent on the activity.

Hearing parents of deaf children often suggest that their children do not enjoy books, and that they themselves do not know how to create interest and sustain attention in the activity; that can be a challenge. David Schleper therefore developed a shared reading program for deaf children. The idea is that hearing parents of deaf children could learn from the reading strategies of deaf parents reading to their deaf children. Although some studies of deaf children have reported positive results from shared reading activities, these studies have tended to have few participants, qualitative or case-study designs, and/or no comparison groups. Further, the program is based on the belief that deaf children of deaf parents generally have superior reading and academic achievement relative to deaf children of hearing parents. There is little support for that contention; early access to language is the key, not parental hearing status. Whether or not share reading leads to long-term benefits for reading achievement is unclear. It certainly can’t hurt, and it appears likely to have indirect benefits for communication and parent-child bonding. (The program has been around long enough that someone should be doing those studies.)

The above is mostly excerpted from and you can find more information in:  Spencer, P.E. & Marschark, M. (2010). Evidence-based practice in educating deaf and hard-of-hearing students. New York: Oxford University Press.

Our child got his first implant at 5 and his second at 7. He is 8 now and only speak in 5-6 word (grammatically incorrect) sentences and understands slightly more. He can only read at the Kindergarten level. We were at a poorly run school so we moved to a great private oral school 8 months ago. He’s gaining language and literacy skills, but we fear its not fast enough to close the gap. I know we have not been at this school very long and should give it time, but time is something we ran out of long ago. I don’t want a 20 year old who has no usable language and can’t read, but I also feel that switching to ASL will hinder reading even more. What do I do?

Question from J.D., Missouri. Posted August 21, 2011.

Okay, I confess: My first thought was “Who can I get to answer this for me?” The (my) problem is that you’ve touched on several realities of having a deaf child that tend to bring out philosophies and controversy, while frequently ignoring the evidence. The realities according to the research: (1) Almost all deaf children have difficulty learning to read. (2) “Oral” education does not eliminate language delays. (3) Learning sign language does not interfere with learning spoken language (for children with or without cochlear implants), but it won’t lead to print literacy either. (4) Cochlear implants are tremendous help for many deaf children, but it does not make them hearing children. Unfortunately, there is no simple or single answer to your situation…shared by many if not most parents of deaf children.

With regard to reading, my best advice is to look at the answer to the posting by Dawn M. (March 1, 2010), as suggested in the previous post. With two cochlear implants, assuming they are both functioning and have been mapped properly, you are doing all you can for your son’s speech and hearing. If you think about how long he was without full access, however, you should not expect him to catch up in any less time than that – he is that far behind in “figuring out” spoken language and has to be catching up as well as learning anew. Having a sign language prior to acquiring spoken language can be a real benefit for deaf children, but I do not know of any research looking at adding sign language in a situation like yours. But it can’t hurt. If anyone claims either that it will confuse your son or help him learn to read – you will be told both – ask for the published evidence (it’s not there).

If you are not sure that both implants are working as well as possible, have them checked and possibly re-mapped. If your son is receiving speech therapy, stick with it. If there is the opportunity for him to learn ASL and/or interact with other deaf children who use ASL, give it a try. If he takes to it, it’s working for him. If he doesn’t, it isn’t. Most importantly, studies that have looked at students with the best literacy skills point to parent involvement as the key. Read with your son, be a model who enjoys reading, and be involved without being too pushy.

I have a 9 year old daughter who was born deaf in left ear and lost half of her hearing in her right ear at age 3. By age 5 she lost all the hearing in her right ear. She recieved a cochlear implant at age 5 and has struggled in school with everything. She is in third grade, but most of her skills range from kindergarten to first grade. She is in special ed, but we are in a rural school with a special ed teacher who has no experience with deafness. Do you have any suggestions for helping her learn to read? She also has seizures I know this has an impact on her performance in school.

Question from E.D., Arkansas. Posted August 19, 2011.

With regard to your reading question, I suggest you take a look at the question from Dawn M. posted March 1, 2010, and the very helpful answer from Karen Roudybush; you can search by date or name. Reading is a continuing challenge for deaf children, regardless of where they live, what kind of school setting they are in, and whether or not they have a cochlear implant. There are a number of helpful online resources available, but as Karen Roudybush emphasizes, the key is “read, read, read.”

Presumably, you have already addressed the seizures issue with a pediatrician. In addition, you might want to chat with a school psychologist (there will be one serving the district, you may need to find out when s/he will be in town), because the seizures may have social as well as academic implications.