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

I am a deaf educator looking for a research based reading program to teach deaf students. I am currently being required to use programs created for hearing children with “modifications” for the deaf. There has to be a program someone has come up with created specifically for the deaf. I can modify all I want but if the program does not take into account the special language concerns, it turns into just “the best we can do” and I want more for my students. They can “work” the program but it has no meaning to them. Any suggestions ?

Question from D.C., Missouri. Posted October 1, 2013.
Response from Susan Easterbrooks - Georgia State University

Many teachers today are required to use Evidence-Based Practices in teaching students. As most teachers have discovered, materials with an evidence base are few and far between. This is of great concern for those of us who teach DHH children. The fastest way to answer your question is to refer you to Easterbrooks and Beal-Alvarez (2013), Literacy instruction for students who are deaf and hard of hearing. New York: Oxford University Press. Pages 18 through 33 address what material is presently available and what to do if you cannot find a curriculum or set of materials that does not have an evidence base. Table 2 in chapter 1 lists several sets of materials that have a developing evidence base. However, no one package can meet all literacy needs of all students. When there is no material with an existing evidence base, we recommend that you examine the material to determine whether it includes features that we know lead to better outcomes. For example, we have clear evidence that visual supports to learning lead to better outcomes for DHH readers. When reviewing material, if it incorporates routine use of visual supports (which we call a “causal factor” because visual support causes better outcomes), then based on that feature of the material, you can argue that it has a developing evidence base. There are five causal factors that we know support better outcomes: a) higher-order thinking skills, b) teacher’s communication, c) visual supports, d) explicit instruction, and e) scaffolding. If the material is founded in at least two or three of these causal factors, then you can argue with your administrators that it is based in the evidence, even if there is no single research article on the product itself.

You will also want to watch what is happening with the National Research and Dissemination Center of Literacy and Deafness (CLAD; http://clad.gsu.edu). This research group is studying DHH children in sites around the nation and will be creating targeted literacy interventions over the next several years.

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.

I am wondering if you have any information about testing Deaf and hard-of-hearing students who come from non-English backgrounds to determine English proficiency? State laws require all students who have any other language spoken at home be tested when the enter preschool, before they leave preschool, and every year in school thereafter. The tests used by the district in preschool (Pre-IPT and WIDA-MODEL) do not allow sign language to be used, though they are spoken language and listening tests. Besides the obvious concern that students may score low because of a language delay due to their hearing loss and not just the second language at home, there is also the concern of testing students without sign when Total Communication is their mode of communication documented on their IEP. The problem is two laws colliding. The result from a low test score is a letter to parents saying their child qualifies for a bilingual or ESL classroom, though the team is recommending the DHH classroom. Do you have any information or ideas of other ways DHH students are tested to comply with state mandated ELL testing?

Question from S.H., Illinois. Posted April 9, 2013.

Let me share my experience in Colorado: As stated in this request for information, the primary area that language proficiency becomes an issue is with regards to eligibility for special education as there is a question on the eligibility form that asks if the learning problems are a result of lack of proficiency in English. In Colorado, the legal interpretation at the Department of Education is that the hearing loss trumps primary language, so that children would be eligible for special education even if they come from a family that es ASL or a language other than English in the home.

Regarding assessment, I think it would be discriminatory to provide the language assessment without the accommodation of sign when a child uses sign. The child’s primary language should also be assessed and when sign is used by the child, the assessment should be conducted by an individual fluent in the sign language of the child (ASL, Spanish, Chinese, etc.) to compare competency in the child’s primary language and in English.

Everything I have researched on the internet has said that IEP goals and objectives are determined by the team – annual goals that are measurable – and only after that is the placement discussed. I just received the draft IEP for my son’s meeting and here is what was written under Goal:

Goals and Objectives for (name of child’s) educational program to be delivered in an regular academic setting through the ____ Deaf program at _____ school as follows: (Child) will participate in all academic classes in the academic program supported by the ____ Deaf program at _____ school with classes at the 7th grade level to include – Immersion in ASL: -Reading: – Written English: – Mathematics: Science: social Studies: and electives that apply.

How Goal will be measured: Using curriculum based assessments (CBA’s), grades, rubric scores, standardized testing scores and/or other measures as needed.

Is it just me, but is this not an IEP? I’m reading it as my son’s annual objective is to go to school. Isn’t this objective just simply referring only to placement? It mentions nothing about goals for him, benchmarks, etc. – seriously, am I reading this wrong? For example, his evaluation by the school stated “Student should continue to work on his written skills using the Writing Process of pre-plannning, first draft, revisions, and final draft.” Just one example, there are others. So, wouldn’t this evaluation recommendation be the basis of one of his IEP goals, with perhaps four benchmarks of how his progress would be measured?

That’s what I think, but am I wrong?

Question from T.A., Maine. Posted April 9, 2013.

The Individual Education Plan is one of, if not the most significant document for your child.  While these may vary from state to state in some aspects, there still are universal sections that are required and mandated.

A few of these would be:

-  The IEP should list your child’s strengths, interest  and areas needing attention.
-  Assessments to be used for your child should be listed and identified on the IEP.
-  All subjects that require modification for your child need to be identified with goals as applicable.
-  Grade level and functioning level should be noted.
-  Goals, expectations, and performance standards should be specific and included.
-  All services your child qualifies for should be listed with amount of weekly time to receive such services.
-  Your child’s exceptionality should be identified.

It’s a little unclear from your question if your child is functioning at grade level; if so, then not having any goals in that subject area would be normal.  We need to remember an IEP is to help a child get to that at-grade-level performance, and thus goals should be specific and measureable within the subject area.

You should be able to clearly see the stated goal, see the expectations, and see the results on a regular basis if your child is progressing or not.  If for some reason progress isn’t being made then the teacher would show adaptations to try and help your child move ahead still.

There are now National Standards and Benchmarks for generally every subject area and these are found on line.  These give you a good indication of what grade level performance would be and thus you would know what your child should be doing.

Perhaps to me the most important part of the IEP is the section referred to as Specially Designed Instruction.  In this area one should be able to read an IEP, understand exactly where a child is functioning now, what adaptations are needed for this child and where the child needs to go.  To have this section (SDI) clear and exact is very important.

My 15 year old son is profoundly deaf due to meningitis and has had a cochlear implant since he was 18 months old. He attends mainstream high school and is doing OK with modified curriculum. However, reading comprehension and both expressive and receptive language are a struggle for him. Our IEP is next month, and I am unsure what I can ask for when it comes to additional reading and language support. The school offers no additional reading classes and he already receives 30 minutes of speech therapy a day. He currently spends one class period a day with an OUTSTANDING resource room teacher.

I have been unable to locate a private speech language pathologist who is qualified to work with a deaf teenager and accepts private insurance. I am also unable to locate reading instructors in who are not $100/hour tutors. I have tried in vain to teach him myself, but I am not an educator and feel ill-equipped to teach. I am getting concerned about my son’s ability to live independently as an adult if he cannot read.

Question from K.M., Kansas. Posted February 8, 2013.

You have identified a handful of valid concerns regarding your son. First, the Individualized Education Program (IEP) team is designed to address your son’s individual needs through assessment and instruction. Your son should have an annual audiogram, or hearing test to document how he currently responds with and without his cochlear implant. This will show the amount of access he has to auditory information, including spoken language. If he does not have complete access to spoken language, he may be trying to make a complete language out of bits and pieces.  Without a solid language foundation, children cannot adequately express themselves. Annual assessments of your son’s receptive and expressive language, such as the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, the One-Word Expressive Vocabulary Test, and informal assessments of how he relates narrative events, can gauge his current use of language and changes in his language skills over time. He should also have periodic comprehensive assessments of his literacy skills, such as the Johns’ Basic Reading Inventory, which looks at his reading behaviors with passages of different levels and provides an analysis of the reading strategies he currently uses. This type of assessment provides a teacher with areas for instruction. Measurement of his language and literacy skills over time will document if his current instruction is successful and if it meets the educational goals developed by the IEP team. A lack of progress in language and reading may lead to additional instructional time focused on increasing literacy skills, such as vocabulary development, reading comprehension, and writing skills. Your son can also practice reading at home with materials that he can read independently. In these materials, he will come across unfamiliar words in a familiar context, which will help build his language skills. Finally, one consideration for your son may be the addition of sign support to spoken language. For a child who has incomplete access to spoken language, signs are a completely visual means to supplement speech. If you and your son decide to pursue this option, his IEP team will also need to consider the provision of an educational interpreter as part of his educational services.  Your local Hands & Voices chapter, easily retrieved from an internet search, can provide additional resources for you.

I work with a deaf CI student with a cognitive (FS IQ 67 WISC-IV), as well as a speech and language disability. While we continue to work on phonological awareness skills and some phonics while reading, the student is proving to be mostly a sight word, or whole word, reader. This student is reading at the 1st grade level and has a sight word vocabulary of about 85 words. I am looking for a reading series or curriculum that would fit the student’s needs for a very pragmatic reading program which will build knowledge, language and vocabulary of common social and community content. The Edmark nor Milestones are a good fits, nor is the Fairview. The student (an “Only”) has some receptive sign skills, but is primarily oral.

Question from K.B., Vermont. Posted January 14, 2013.

In working with schools to implement phonics-based reading curricula with a variety of learners who are deaf or hard of hearing (including those with additional disabilities), I have found that some students initially struggle with understanding the abstract nature of phonology and benefit from starting with a sight word approach. A curriculum we have used in these cases is the PCI Reading Program. This research-based program contains three levels, the first teaches 140 basic sight words (primarily nouns and verbs) and the second focuses on an additional 140 more complex, sight words (compound words, inflectional endings) and introduces beginning letter-sound relationships. Finally, the third level bridges to a phonics-based approach. To learn more about this curriculum, I would recommend visiting the company’s website, which provides detailed information about the approach, a nice overview video, and a link to order sample lessons. http://www.pcieducation.com/reading/lvl1.aspx

My sister is deaf and she needs a job. How can we help her and other deaf boys and girls get jobs?

Question from M.A., Kenya. Posted January 10, 2013.

There are many areas to address, such as getting training or education in the field you are interested in, developing a resume, practicing interview skills, and so forth. “Networking”  is also one of the best way to find a job.  Networking is making contact with people you know and letting people know what your skills, experience, and strengths are.   Research has shown that 75-80% of people find jobs through networking.

Job-seekers can network with everyone, everywhere, and all the time.  It is important for job seekers to network with friends, relatives, businesspeople, doctors, clergy, clubs, teachers…etc.  It can be scary and a challenge for deaf individuals to know what to say.  Here are some suggestions, “I’m looking for a job, do you know anyone whom I could contact?, can you think of 5 companies where I should apply?, do you know other people who could be helpful?”.

Networking can help you grow in your  area of interest and as a person.  Every time you go up to a stranger, talk to them, and get through that little wall of fear, you’re boosting your self-confidence.  That confidence is what people see in you even before you communicate.

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.

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.