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.

School Placement

I have a son who is deaf…or so we thought. We had an ABR done recently, and he has no permanent hearing loss. Great news! I still feel that he has hearing issues. Small ear canals, frequent ear infections, but no permanent hearing losses. He also has oromotor issues that are congenital. He can’t drink, can’t eat more than purees, drools, right sided weakness, low tone, etc. He’s had 4 oral surgeries. It makes sense that he can’t talk. He did say his first word this summer, “Go!” So, I want him to learn ASL. He started at 30 signs 6 months ago, and now he has a vocabulary in excess of 250 signs.

We had an IEP meeting last week. brought 3 doctor reports and a speech therapist report that all indicate that he needs to be taught sign language in his classroom. The school “accepts” but will not teach ASL. They want him to use an iPad with pictures. I feel that all of his gains in speech are linked to his sign language acquisition.

I did reach out to the school for the deaf. We are signed up to do some of their outreach programs. He’s not deaf, so they won’t/can’t help us. I want my son in a Total Communication class. There is one about 20 minutes from our house.

How can we get what (we feel) our son needs?

Question from M.G., New York. Posted September 7, 2016.
Response from Barbara Raimondo and Louis Abbate

If a finding of special needs is found (which clearly is the case) then the child is eligible for special education. At that point, it does not matter how the school “feels” about the recommendations, the school has to provide services based upon the assessments to provide access to the curriculum. Rejecting sign language because he is hearing is not an appropriate determination if the assessments indicate that as an adoption that will facilitate access to instruction and social interaction. This is a child with multiple needs and the recommendations that were cited do not come close to the extensive level of support the child will need to be able to be successful. Pull out services will not suffice at least not during his early childhood years and the need to intervene comprehensively to promote development is necessary.

So, first, the school should assess the child’s language level, both receptively and expressively. This is the starting point. Then goals should be developed based on the needs identified during the assessment. The overall goal should be achievement of age-level language skills. Age level skills will enable him to access the general education curriculum. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act emphasizes age appropriate skills and access to the same educational material that other children receive, that is the general education curriculum. In other words, the school should be attempting to get the child’s skills to the same level of his peers so that he can participate in the classroom similar to his peers, to the extent possible. Will using an iPad with pictures do that? It’s hard to see how. The fact that you can show that he is succeeding using sign language is helpful.

Once goals are developed, then the services should be determined, such as teaching sign language by a trained teacher. After the services are agreed upon, then placement is made. The placement must be based on the child’s needs and services. If there is a total communication class that would fit the method used in the class, that would seem to be a more appropriate choice. If there is any capacity for spoken language, a simultaneous communication approach may be better in the long run.

Sounds simple, but I know when you are advocating for your child it is not easy. In the end, litigation may be the only way forward, with the experts lined up prepared to make recommendations based on their findings and to have the school system respond on how they will fulfill the requirements. Hopefully, it will not come to that. Meanwhile, a few tools you can use:

First, if you believe that the school has not done an appropriate assessment of his language skills you should request they do (or re-do) that right away. Also, are his goals consistent with getting him to the level of his peers (and helping him continue to progress)? They should be.

Second, as for placement, when a school refuses to change the placement of a child (or for other purposes), it must inform the parents of the reasons. This is called “Prior Written Notice.” See the form developed by the U.S. Department of Education at http://idea.ed.gov/download/modelform2_Prior_Written_Notice.pdf. As you can see, the school must explain the reasons why it refuses the placement, based on evaluation procedures, assessments, and records. You can request that the school provide the information required on this form.

Another law that applies in this case is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Among other things, that law requires schools to ensure that students with speech disabilities can receive information from, and convey information to, others. This communication must be as effective as communication with students without disabilities. The U.S. Department of Education has issued guidance on the ADA and effective communication at https://www.ada.gov/doe_doj_eff_comm/doe_doj_eff_comm_faqs.htm. Under the ADA schools must give “primary consideration” to the request of the student or parent.

My son was implanted at 2 years of age with a CI. He is now 3 years old. He was diagnosed with Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder and he is severely to profoundly deaf. They describe his disorder like a static radio most of the time it’s static but every once in a while he hears something but not enough to form speech or understand what a sound is. The CI was not a guarantee that it would work, but as my husband and I are both hearing and no one else in the family with hearing loss we figured we should give it a try. We have also been signing with him since he was 15 months old. Our son is now in school, and at his last IEP meeting we were told that they probably don’t have the funds for an interpreter or enough children to start a deaf class. I don’t know how to get my son the education he needs! I just don’t think it’s fair. He is very smart, very visual, and has an amazing memory. What can I do and how can I fight for my son’s education??

Question from C.D., Florida. Posted July 26, 2016.

You indicate that your son has auditory neuropathy and received a cochlear implant at age two. Some children with auditory neuropathy will benefit from cochlear implants, but most will need sign language for the very reason you described—auditory neuropathy produces static rather than a clear auditory signal, making it very difficult or impossible to access spoken language auditorily, even with a CI. It sounds like you have been doing everything right for your son by providing sign language since he was 15 months old.

I was sorry to hear that the school’s IEP team decided not to provide sign language for your son. Your son is entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)—the federal law which governs every public school district in the U.S. For deaf students, the IDEA specifically states that communication needs, including the need for sign language, must be considered by the IEP team when making educational placement and services decisions. Furthermore, an IEP team may not use “lack of funds” as a reason not to provide interpreting or any other special services required for him to obtain FAPE.

The IDEA grants parents of children with documented special needs, including deafness, the right to appeal an IEP team decision. Every IEP team must, by law, provide parents with written procedures for appealing an IEP team decision. You should request the written procedures from your school district immediately and file an appeal according to the procedures described in that document.

In my experience, school districts often do not understand the communication needs of deaf children. However, you can and should advocate for your son through well-established legal procedures. In so doing, you will also be educating the school district – paving the way for future families with deafness—as well as for your son. I encourage you to be confident and persistent, because your son has the right to a free appropriate educational program, which in his case should include sign language.

My 10 year old daughter is fitted was fitted with a cochlear implant at the age of 3+. Overall, the CI has been beneficial to her. She has always attended a mainstream school with 3 sessions of speech therapy weekly. Academically, she has demonstrated strong potential – averaging decent scores in test and exams – with a lot of remedial teaching by her therapist and several hours of study with lesson teachers and self study (a lot of hard work…I wonder how she copes, but she is a strong child) The teachers in school have no special education training and haven’t been able to teach her in a way that enables her to be adequately imparted in class. As she approaches high school I am looking for high schools either in the UK or US that can accommodate her learning difference. So studying wouldn’t have to be so difficult. She is quite brilliant and it will be a shame for her not to be given the enabling environment to reach her full potential. Her only mode of communication is written and spoken language.

Question from Y.D., Nigeria. Posted August 18, 2015.

The answer to your question would be different in the United States and the United Kingdom.

If you are interested in your daughter attending a residential (“boarding”) school for the deaf in the U.S., and you are not a resident, state-supported schools for the deaf are not an option. There are several private residential schools for the deaf that your daughter could attend if she qualifies and you are willing to pay full fees. However, virtually all of those schools utilize sign language (to a greater or lesser extent) as well as spoken or written English. Aside from schools for the deaf, regular (“public”) schools in the U.S. are required to provide deaf children with appropriate accommodations. It’s a bit more complicated than that, but the generalization will suffice for the present purposes because the U.S. does not have public boarding schools.

If you are interested in your daughter attending a boarding school for the deaf in the United Kingdom, your daughter qualifies, and you are willing to pay the fees, there is at least one “oral” school for deaf students where your daughter would receive the necessary support services. Generally, however, private (fee-paying) boarding schools in the UK are not required to provide accommodations for deaf children. State-supported regular schools are required to do so, but it is unclear whether the relatively new, state boarding schools are similarly required to provide accommodations or are willing to accept deaf students. (The National Deaf Children’s Society has been working on this front.)You would need to seek them out through the State Boarding Schools’ Association.

Yet another possibility is homeschooling.

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.

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.

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.

Is it appropriate to place sign dependent deaf students, who have “low” language and “low” IQ scores, but no other diagnosis, in special ed classes with non signing special ed teachers?

Question from L.L., Texas. Posted March 6, 2014.

It is never appropriate to place deaf students (or anyone else) in a classroom in which they cannot communicate with the teacher (or vice versa). Determination of an appropriate school placement for a deaf or hard-of-hearing child should be made on the basis of a thorough assessment by a school psychologist or other individual(s) who are qualified and able to communicate with the child. Specifics of the placement and the student’s needs to be made explicit in an IEP.

However, the fact that you are asking such a question suggests that there is more to this than it might appear.  If any particular student is “low language,” how do you know s/he is “sign dependent”? Is the student being described as low language because s/he does not use spoken language? Has the child been exposed to sign language from an early age but still is not acquiring it in an age-appropriate manner? Is the child from a family that uses some other language at home? Has a formal assessment of the sort suggested above actually been conducted? Ultimately, school placement should be a parental decision  (various states and countries vary in this respect), but it must be an informed one. Parents  in the United States have rights with regard to their children’s educational services (see Recommended Readings). Other “interested individuals” typically do not.

Recommended readings:

“Importance and Need for the Continuum of Educational Placements,” by Barbara Raimondo, Esq., coming April 1 to www.raisingandeducatingdeafchildren.org.

Raimondo, B. (2010). Legal advocacy for deaf and hard of hearing children in education.  In M. Marschark & P. Spencer (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of deaf studies, language, and education, volume 2 (pp. 31-40).  New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

How does my child, who is hard of hearing, qualify for an IEP? Are such children automatically qualified because they have a “hearing loss,” or are there criteria that have to be met?

Question from T.R., San Diego. Posted November 15, 2013.

A  finding of eligibility for special education must be determined prior to the development of an IEP. The determination is made after an evaluation has been conducted by the education department where your child attends. The first step for you to do is to contact the educationl department and refer your child for an evaluation.

Once you have done that, a schedule will be prepared for the assessments to be conducted. When the process is completed, you will be invited to a team meeting to learn about the results. You can ask questions and will receive information about your and your child’s rights under the special education law known as  IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).

The presence of hearing loss does not ensure that an IEP will be developed. The evaluations must show how the hearing loss effects academic progress and the IEP is designed to provide the needed combination of services to support academic success. Included may be modifications to the classroom such as a sound field system or the introduction of an FM system for your child. These services may also be provided if there is not an IEP as part of an accommodation plan.

Contact the school and request a meeting to discuss a referral for an evaluation. Be prepared to share information and remember that the right to an evaluation is assured. The determination of an IEP will occur at the team meeting and you can object to all or some of the findings.

These steps will serve to provide you with a general direction. Without knowing the extent of the hearing loss or current performance is difficult to provide anymore information.

We are in the process of establishing an integrated communty kindergarten for 4 year old children. Is there any research that indicates what is the ideal ration of deaf to hearing children in this setting. There will be a total of 21 children in the group.

Question from V.M., Australia. Posted July 23, 2013.

Co-enrollment programs for mixed groups of deaf and hearing students have been created in several countries (Italy, United States, Australia, Hong Kong, and the Netherlands are the only ones we know of). Spencer and Marschark (2010) described co-enrollment this way: “The defining characteristic of this approach is that a “critical mass” of students with hearing loss, instead of an isolated child or two, attends class with hearing students…. Although a 1:1 ratio of deaf or hard of hearing to hearing students might be ideal, the demographics of hearing loss generally do not allow such a ratio being achieved.” Antia, Kreimeyer, Metz, and Spolsky (2011) suggested that such a program can be successful if students with hearing loss make up one-fourth to one-third of the class.” A forthcoming book (2014) will include descriptions of several of the above programs including language, academic achievement, and social-emotional outcomes. In in the meantime, here are some references::

Antia, S., Kreimeyer, K., Metz, K., & Spolsky, S. (2011). Peer interactions of deaf and hard-of-hearing children. In M. Marschark & P. Spencer (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of deaf studies, language, and education, volume 1, second edition (pp. 173–187). New York: Oxford University Press.

Kreimeyer, K., Crooke, P., Drye, C., Egbert, V., & Klein, B. (2000). Academic benefits of a co-enrollment model of inclusive education for deaf and hard-of-hearing children.  Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf education 5, 174-185.

Stinson, M. S., & Liu, Y. (1999). Participation of deaf and hard-of-hearing students in classes with hearing students. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 4, 191–202.

Wauters, L.N., & Knoors, H.E.T. (2008). Social integration of deaf children in inclusive settings. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 13, 21-36.