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.

Early Intervention and Preschool

I need advice on my child’s upcoming IEP. He was diagnosed at birth with sensorineural hearing loss ( moderate). He will be turning 3 soon and the Local Education Authority District is taking over. We toured the Special Education preschool, and it lacks any children whom are DHH. Composition is mostly ADD, Autistic, and delayed children, which leads to a somewhat hectic/noisy environment. No FM system, teacher is an SLP but not sure if credentialed for DHH. Do we have a leg to stand on legally if we decide not to sign the IEP? The district has no DHH specific programs available, so the private school my child was sent to is an option.

Question from M.C., California. Posted May 7, 2012.
Response from Barbara Raimondo - Educational Policy Consultant

In developing a child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the IEP team must evaluate a child’s needs, set annual goals, and determine services before placement is determined.  If school personnel are proposing a placement before evaluation is done,and goals and services are determined, the school is not complying with IDEA.

Further, in developing the IEP the IEP team must consider “special factors” for deaf and hard of hearing students:  “[I]n the case of a child who is deaf or hard of hearing, consider the child’s language and communication needs, opportunities for direct communications with peers and professional personnel in the child’s language and communication mode, academic level, and full range of needs, including opportunities for direct instruction in the child’s language and communication mode . . .” The IEP team also must consider the child’s need for assistive technology. And the school must ensure that parents have an opportunity to be part of the group that decides placement.

The U.S. Department of Education has clarified what the a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) is for a deaf or hard of hearing child: “Meeting the unique communication and related needs of a student who is deaf is a fundamental part of providing a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to the child. Any setting, including a regular classroom, that prevents a child who is deaf from receiving an appropriate education that meets his or her needs including communication needs is not the LRE for that individual child.” (Deaf Students Education Services Policy Guidance http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/hq9806.html)

In my view the right approach is to work with the school to
1. ensure appropriate evaluations are performed by qualified assessors – what is your child’s language level, primary language, how does your child communicate with others, what are the tools and approaches that support him in communication;

2. develop annual goals that will help your child reach appropriate developmental milestones and access the general education curriculum – for many deaf children goals are needed in the area of language and communication; and

3. determine appropriate services, based on goals, by qualified providers – providers could be teachers of the deaf, speech-language pathologists, sign language specialists, others.

Then the child must be placed in a setting where his IEP can be implemented.  This could be within the district, outside the district, public or private.  Services and settings must be provided at no cost to the parent.  If, after going through these three steps, you become aware of a setting that will support your child’s IEP, you should recommend this to the school district.  Often I hear from parents that they are the ones educating the educators, not the other way around.

Don’t settle for services and settings that don’t meet your child’s needs.  Be an active participant in the development of your child’s IEP and subsequent placement.

My son is 4years/10 months old. What should his Deaf/Hard of hearing preschool be focusing on during his last yer before Kindergarten??

Question from J.A., New York. Posted October 17, 2011.

Every child has unique strengths and areas that are developing. You, your child’s teacher and other specialists know your son best and, therefore, are in the best position to know what he needs. Of course, we want all children who are deaf or hard of hearing to demonstrate the same linguistic, cognitive, social and emotional, and motor skills that are expected of hearing children as they enter kindergarten. A strong foundation in language (comprehension as well as expressive language), early literacy, and cognitive development (problem solving, concept development, etc.) are especially important. Children who are entering kindergarten with both hearing and deaf children will also need strong interpersonal/social skills for interacting and communicating with their peers and teachers. In preparation for the transition to kindergarten, you may want to consult the document posted on the Hands and Voices website: Bridge to Preschool: Navigating a Successful  Transition. This resource provides some excellent information for transitions to kindergarten and can help ensure that the transition is smooth.  http://www.handsandvoices.org/pdf/TransRevised0107.pdf

In addition to planning for transition, you should encourage the current program to develop a Communication Plan for your son. See this document for more information on communication plans:   http://www.handsandvoices.org/pdf/communication_plan.pdf

We are a large school district that continually battles to maintain our Deaf Ed pre-school, self-contained, for 2 year olds. We firmly believe the benefits for a Deaf child entering school even for half a day at the age of 2 to 2 1/2 with other D/HH peers has immeasurable outcomes. However, the district keeps pushing for the entrance age of 3. Do you have any information that would support our efforts to see to it that these little ones receive language as early as possible? We do have teachers going into the home as soon as the child is identified but truly believe the interaction at age 2 with like peers is so beneficial.

Question from C.C., Iowa. Posted April 23, 2011.

I do not know of any empirical evidence that shows that children benefit from group work as a 2 year old.  What we do know, though, is that children do learn language from their peers.  But my question is whether this happens at the young age of 2 years or is it more likely at 3 years of age when children play more interactively.  This probably depends on the cognitive/play skills of the child.

My suggestion is to collect some information while you can.  If you were to collect developmental information about these children and if you show one year’s growth in communication/language in one year’s time, then you might be well on your way to showing the value of this group.

In most states, it is unusual for programs like this to start at 2 years of age.  I’m impressed that yours does.  If you were to collect some evidence it may help others working in other programs as well as your own effort.  It seems logical that there is an advantage.  More stimulation has to be good, right? But in today’s climate, it’s becoming an expectation to have evidence to show the benefit.

My two-year-old daughter is deaf. Where can I find videos like My Baby Can Read to help teach her how to read and use sign language. I have found that Signing Time is geared toward hearing children and does not present the signs well enough. I can’t seem to find FUN videos for my two-year-old to help us learn. There need to be more materials toward children with hearing loss that include motion, don’t you think? Or, am I alone in this thought?

Question from B.D.. Posted March 25, 2011.

First of all, give yourself a pat on the back for knowing the critical part parents play in the literacy process.  You are your child’s first and best teacher.  Initially it’s all about language and providing your child full access to the world around them.  This entails giving your child a consistent way to communicate, learn and make a link between speech/signs and print.  Through your consistent model of language, your child can identify, comment and think about the things he’ll later read about.(i.e  a rabbit is a furry animal with long ears).  We do know that all deaf or hearing children need to recognize alphabet letters quickly and accurately and if possible link those letters to their sound (Visual Phonics cue) or lip formation.  So always remember to turn on the Closed Captions for television shows and movies.

I’m not sure where your family lives but many schools for the deaf offer a Sharing Reading Program.  Shared Reading ( a program developed at Gallaudet ) provides a deaf mentor along with DVDs to teach parents how to share classic children’s literate in ASL.

One website that might provide some helpful resources Is the Center for Accessible Technology in Sign (CATS).  CATS is dedicated to providing accessibility to learning via sign language. CATS’ goal is to enhance language, literacy and general world knowledge by providing tools that make text, captions, video, web pages, and multimedia accessible to deaf users, particularly children. – http://www.cc.gatech.edu/program/cats/

Also available through CATS

1001Books in ASL – http://www.cc.gatech.edu/program/cats/1001%20books/index.htm

Also, many libraries have available an ASL Access Video Collection (with over 200 ASL videos for loan).  Currently they are housed in 28 locations nationwide, in 14 states and the District of Columbia (Current Locations).- http://www.aslaccess.org/locations.htm

Born to Sign – http://www.signwithme.com/002_browse_signs.asp

There is also a ASL Vlog and Video – http://www.aslvlog.net/index.php?c=28

Is it essential to address hearing loss before a child reaches the age of seven years?

Question from W.T., England. Posted March 8, 2011.

Absolutely!! The ideal age for addressing hearing loss (effective parenting techniques, effective exposure to language, consideration of assistive listening devices, etc.) is from birth. Recent research has demonstrated that when deaf children are identified and receive early intervention services within the first six months of life, their language abilities are much more likely to fall within the normal range for hearing children by the time they enter school. Strategies for ensuring effective access to language, supporting social-emotional development, and all of the other issues noted above are essential as early as possible in order to ensure normal development…and providing them after the age at which hearing children are starting to aquire language definitely is not “normal.”

All of that said, “better late than never.” If those early opportunities have been missed, the situation calls for even more vigorous, concerted efforts by all involved.

I am a teacher of the Deaf who works in early intervention, pre-k, as well as school age. Some of my colleagues and I have been discussing how to determine the amount of services a child receives. Is there any standardized way, or at least guidelines that have been developed for this?

Question from J.D., Syracuse. Posted February 17, 2011.

For children birth to 36 months of age, Part C of IDEA assures that each child has access to services.   A description of these services is identified in the Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP).  The IFSP is a written plan.  It documents the desired outcomes for the infant or toddler’s development and services to be provided to the child and the child’s family.  The IFSP includes statements of the child’ s present level of development, the family’s resources, as well as their priorities and concerns, the major outcomes expected, a statement of necessary early intervention services, and the frequency of services.

When the IFSP is individualized, as it should be, the frequency of services may change.  Sometimes the frequency of visits decreases (because the child is doing so well) and sometimes it increases.  Frequency of services may increase when there is a significant change (e.g., diagnosis of a second disability, receiving a cochlear implant, progressive hearing loss, etc).  The way the law is written, the frequency of services should be prescriptive.  Unfortunately, it has been difficult to move away from the time-honored perspective of ongoing weekly visits.

Further reading: Stredler-Brown, A. (2009).  Intervention, education, and therapy for children who are deaf or hard of hearing (pp. 934-954).  In J. Katz, L. Medwetsky, R. Burkard, & L. Hood (Eds.), Handbook of Clinical Audiology.  Baltimore, MD: Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins.