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 deaf son, grade 7. Just recently, I have attended an IEP meeting and requested that my son (who is currently homeschooled) be registered as a full time student. I asked that he be placed in the local junior high, who currently have no interpreter on staff. The school refused, saying that the IEP team’s recommendation was he attend an out of district day-school program (about 30 minutes away) because they have a deaf program set up through the state deaf school. I basically said that my son has the right to attend the local school, and providing him with an interpreter through an IEP is their responsibility. They refused, and for the first time ever – and my son attended public school many years ago in a different state, so I’ve been ot plenty of IEP meetings – the person in charge of special education services said that we could file a due process hearing and that he had plenty of lawyers that would argue against what we want. Never ever in over 30 plus IEP meetings had someone basically say, sue us, we dare you. Wow. but anyway, can a local school (district) refuse services to a deaf student based on the arguments of a) we aren’t set up for a deaf student, b) this other program already is set up and c) the IEP team recommends it (IEP team of 3 people and the 2 parents and deaf student disagreeing). Obviously they can, but do they have the legal right? Can we do anything other than sue, sue, sue?!

Question from T.A., Maine. Posted March 5, 2013.
Response from Barbara Raimondo, Esq., Consultant on Deaf Education

Although the Individualized Education Program Team includes the parents of the child, and the group that decides placement must include the parents, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) does not automatically require schools to follow the placement preference of the parents.  IDEA requires placement decisions to be made on the basis of the child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals and services.  According to the U.S. Department of Education:

The overriding rule . . . is that placement decisions for all children with disabilities must be made on an individual basis and ensure that each child with a disability is educated in the school the child would attend if not disabled unless the child’s IEP requires some other arrangement.  However, [IDEA 2004] does not require that every child with a disability be placed in the regular classroom regardless of individual abilities and needs.

[The Least Restrictive Environment provision] of [IDEA 2004] presumes that the first placement option considered for each child with a disability is the regular classroom in the school that the child would attend if not disabled, with appropriate supplementary aids and services to facilitate such placement.  Thus, before a child with a disability can be placed outside of the regular educational environment, the full range of supplementary aids and services that could be provided to facilitate the child’s placement in the regular classroom setting must be considered.  Following that consideration, if a determination is made that a particular child with a disability cannot be educated satisfactorily in the regular educational environment, even with the provision of appropriate supplementary aids and services, that child could be placed in a setting other than the regular classroom.

71 Fed. Reg. 46587-46588

The [Least Restrictive Environment] requirements . . . express a strong preference, not a mandate, for educating children with disabilities in regular classes alongside their peers without disabilities . . .

[IDEA] . . . clarifies that the IEP Team, in developing the IEP for a child who is deaf or hard of hearing, must consider the child’s language and communication needs, opportunities for direct communication with peers and professional personnel in the child’s language and communication mode, and the child’s academic level and full range of needs, including opportunities for direct instruction in the child’s language and communication mode.

[E]ach child’s educational placement must be determined on an individual case-by-case basis depending on each child’s unique educational needs and circumstances, rather than by the child’s category of disability, and must be based on the child’s IEP . . .


71 Fed. Reg. 46585-46586

Prior written notice

But parents do have recourse when their preference is not satisfied.  IDEA requires schools to give “prior written notice” whenever it:

·         proposes to initiate or change, or

  • refuses to initiate or change

the educational placement of the child (among other things).  The prior written notice must include:

  • description of the action proposed or refused by the school;
  • an explanation of why the school proposes or refuses to take the action;
  • a description of each evaluation procedure, assessment, record, or report the school used as a basis for the proposed or refused action;
  • a statement that the parents have protection under the procedural safeguards of this part;
  • sources for parents to contact to obtain assistance in understanding the provisions of this part;
  • a description of other options considered by the IEP Team and the reason why those options were rejected; and
  • a description of the factors that are relevant to the agency’s proposal or refusal.

If the school is refusing to provide the placement you are requesting, it is required to provide this notice.  You can request that it do so.  If the school does not already have a form you can request that the school use the form provided by the U.S. Department of Education at www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/modelform-notice.doc

This notice can serve as a starting point for discussions about appropriate settings for the child.  It can also serve as part of the record if you decide to file a due process complaint.

If you are considering filing a due process complaint I recommend you contact a special education attorney.  The National Disability Rights Network, http://www.ndrn.org/index.php, is a good source for an attorney.

I am trying to help my daughter. One of her children, a boy of 17, is deaf. He is in a regular school and now the school tells her that he only has 9 credits. They lie to her about things, saying that he wants to go to a deaf school 4 hours away and what they will do for him. What are the options? There are limited services here.

Question from C.M., Arizona. Posted February 27, 2013.

I would recommend that you contact the Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind (ASDB) and ask for the name and phone number of the regional coordinator for cooperative services in your area. Ask if there are services offered from the Regional Cooperatives that are part of ASDB outreach services. If there is no Regional Cooperative agreement, you can contact  Pia Benson ( Pia.Benson@asdb.az.gov) in the South East region or Jan Goetze (jan.goetze@asdb.az.gov) in the Central region to see  if services can be arranged. You also should also call the superintendent at the School for the Deaf (Robert Hill – robert.hill@asdb.az.gov) to arrange a visit and/or talk to him about regional cooperative services.

I have been a deaf educator for the past 15 years. I have taught both in residential schools and in regional day mainstream programs. I am becoming increasingly frustrated with the residential school for the deaf here. While there is a big push in the national agenda for students to have deaf peers, be a part of deaf culture, and learn from native signers… the school is allowed to refuse admission to students with low cognition (even if sign is their primary mode), additional disabilities, or behavior problems. The public school programs must accept and serve every child that enrolls on the day they arrive. Why are the state schools allowed to deny “admission” and why is there an admission process instead of just open enrollment? They certainly receive more funds to educate deaf students than public schools do…

Question from E.S., Texas. Posted November 26, 2012.

I can understand your frustrations of the seriousness  of the issue of deaf and hard-of-children not being served in the best possible placement. Let me approach this topic first from an overall perspective of the responsibilities of all placements, which is to provide the needed program and related services to respond to the needs of the students based upon the appropriate assessment. An admissions process that conducts intakes in that fashion should be able to determine if the program can respond to those diagnosed needs. Beyond that, the placement must be able to demonstrate its ongoing capacity to meet the needs of the student as the child progresses.

An admissions policy that does not take into account the needs of a diverse population of students is not a positive standard of practice for our field, but the placement must have the competency to serve the student. In many ways, this not an admission policy but an issue of program development and expanding the capacity of the schools to serve a heterogeneous population.  I offer this not as an excuse but as a concern that unless, as professionals, we expand the options of placements like residential schools for deaf and hard-of-hearing children with additional challenges, students may be placed in settings that do not understand or have the training to meet the unique needs of deaf and hard-of-hearing children.

Our field is changing as the heterogeneity of the children becomes more evident.   Placements are often resistant to change because it requires them to review and modify their offerings and of the fear of a cultural change (although unfounded) such change would bring. The denial of admission of students is a serious concern and as those who practice in the field we must be supportive of expanding opportunities for placements to add to their offerings and expand their programs. This will require more than a revised admission policy but an assessment of mission and purpose of  schools for the deaf and how all of us can expand our willingness to serve a range of children.

I have an 8 year-old son who has profound hearing loss. He is aided and uses an FM system in the classroom. He is significantly language delayed because he had no access to sound until we adopted him at 3 1/2 years of age. His primary language is spoken English, but we sign at home when his hearing aids are out (such as at bedtime) and to offer clarification when he misunderstands what we say. He receives speech/language therapy and auditory training outside of school, which we chose so that he would not be removed from the classroom. Despite a clear 504 plan, we have found increasing difficulty convincing teachers to follow the plan, partly because our son is bright, so they’re convinced he doesn’t require the assistance. Now in 3rd grade, he is having increasing difficulty following along during lectures and is getting in trouble for his inattention. After years of educating the schools and advocating for our son, we are no longer convinced that he will receive a good education through a mainstream public school. We are considering homeschooling, but are concerned about the possibility that the sheltered home environment could negatively impact his social development. We are also considering a residential program at a school for the deaf, but we are concerned about the possibility that the separation from family Monday-Friday could also have negative effects. I don’t know many people who homeschool, and I have only met a few people who have attended residential Deaf schools. Is there any research on the impact of residential school on an 8 year-old child?

Question from A.R., Maryland. Posted September 17, 2012.

There is some research to suggest that deaf children in mainstream settings report feeling more lonely and isolated than those in schools/programs for the deaf, but there apparently is no evidence concerning long-term effects. Although it is sometimes claimed that those in schools/programs for the deaf develop greater self-esteem from being around deaf peers in in a separate school placement, an analysis of the existing research by Bat-Chava (1993) found no effect of placement. I wrote to Leo De Raeve and Maartje Kouwenberg, investigators in the Netherlands working in the area. They agreed with my conclusion that there is no relevant research on the issue…at least as far as we can tell. Both suggested that we would expect that children in residential schools benefit from being surrounded by DHH peers and adults (especially because of communication opportunities), but that separation from parents might be disadvantageous for some children. Lacking any clear research on the issue, both indicated that there are so many environmental and child factors involved that it would be hard to make any generalizations. Only you can know your child well enough to know how he would do in a residential program. I have seen kids of that age (and younger) who thrived in such settings – better than they were doing as day students. You can always try it out and monitor the situation carefully (and in collaboration with the school psychologist). But do not hesitate to make another decision if it does not work out.

There also does not appear to be any research on home schooling of deaf children. If you search this site for “home schooling” you will see an answer from June 2012, in which I directed someone to “how to” information. However, again, given the large differences in children and homeschooling methods together with the very small numbers of individuals involved, I’m afraid there is little evidence out there to support any particular approach (or homeschooling in general).

Perhaps someone else will read this and offer advice, which we will pass along to you.

Do you have any specific statistics on the rates of depression in the deaf community? The consensus seems to be that the rates are higher than in the general population, but I can’t find any specific data on that. I have a deaf daughter entering the teen years, and because she is a signing kid who is mainstreamed, I am very concerned about the social isolation leading to depression. We keep her involved in activities with other deaf kids as much as possible, but it is still difficult.

Question from M.D., Colorado. Posted August 3, 2012.

The statistics on depression in deaf children and deaf adults do vary, but are primarily higher than for hearing peers. I do understand your concern about your daughter. It might help if she could connect with other deaf peers who are also in the mainstream. I suggest contacting both HANDS AND VOICES and AMERICAN SOCIETY FOR DEAF CHILDREN to see if you can find other parents with signing preteens in the mainstream, and perhaps those children can connect via Facebook, Twitter, or whatever…. Also, there are some wonderful summer camps where deaf preteens get together, share stuff, and have fun. It’s too late for this summer, but this is good food for thought for next summer… Camps such as MARK 7 and YOUTH LEADERSHIP CAMP seem to have excellent reputations. The two parent organizations can provide additional resources.

My daughter is profoundly deaf, she has a cochlear implant and she is progressing well at school. Currently she is attending NJ School for the Deaf, which happens to be in a different school district than where we live. Now, our school district wants to bring my daughter back to the district to a very new and improvised program (1 yr old program with only 1 other girl). I refused to sign the IEP, and I sent a letter explaining my disagreement with the proposed program and asked them to let my daughter stay at her current school. So far every attempt has been in vain, the school district told me I have no choice or say in this matter. And to make matters worse, it seems the law is backing them up. The principal, teachers, therapists of the NJSD, and independent professionals asked the school district to allow my girl to remain in NJSD, explaining their concerns. What else a parent can do to prevent this to happen? How could be that parents has no saying on their kids’ educational placement? Why would you move a child from a less restrictive environment to a VERY restrictive environment? Who should I reach out to, who could help me with this problem?

Question from A.A., New Jersey. Posted August 2, 2012.

It is important for you to not become discouraged with the school district’s pending action and to remember that parents do have a say on the decision of their children’s educational placement.  The Individualized Education Plan (IEP) should drive the placement decision, and it appears that the New Jersey School for the Deaf is meeting your daughter’s needs and that she is making academic progress.

A change in placement should only be considered when a child is not progressing academically in the current program (this seems not to be the case with your daughter).  In addition, any new placement consideration must have a program that can meet the requirements of the IEP in order to ensure academic achievement.  Again, this does not appear to be the case from your description of the district’s program.  In fact, it is not clear what type of program the school department is offering.  There is a considerable difference between a placement (NJSD) and a program (public school).

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), children with special needs are entitled to a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment (LRE).  The least restrictive environment is not a particular place, and any placement along the continuum that provides the opportunity for academic progress and complete and access to the life of the school can be the LRE.  It may well be, in this case, that the New Jersey School for the Deaf is the LRE for your daughter as they are meeting her needs as outlined in the IEP.

I would suggest that you consider posing the following to the school district:

  1. What is the capacity of their program to meet your daughter’s needs?  How will they provide what NJSD currently provides to her?
  2. What is the licensure of the public school staff and their knowledge of deafness and hearing loss?
  3. How will her communication needs be met?
  4. How will the public school ensure access for your daughter to the life of the school and to all of its offerings?  Your daughter should be able communicate directly with everyone.
  5. How will they provide needed related services outlined in her IEP?
  6. What type of peer group will be available?

The claim that you have no choice in this decision is not correct.  You should be provided with information on how the school district concluded that NJSD is no longer an appropriate placement.  The school for the deaf should be able to generate a comprehensive explanation of her needs and needed program components and how NJSD is meeting those needs.  The school district would then have to demonstrate the capacity of their program to meet her academic needs, related services, and access to the school.

Finally, I would suggest you think about it differently than just requesting that she be able to stay at NJSD.  The law ensures that your daughter receive the necessary programs and services based on her IEP.  Therefore, the school district must be able to demonstrate their ability to deliver those services, along with why the current placement is not, before any change in placement is considered.  The reasons and the basis for any recommended changes in placement should be detailed and supported with assessment results.

Try to keep the focus of the discussion on the comparison between the two placements.  A relatively new program with only one other child currently enrolled is very different than a school for the deaf, which is organized around being able to respond to all of the needs of a child with a hearing loss.  Without knowing any more about your daughter’s individual case, it is difficult for me to add any additional information.

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 adoptive parent of a profoundly deaf child age 7. He Lost his hearing do to meningitis. We live in Belize Central America and have literally no resources available for either educational techniques or medical . He has been tested to the best of the nations ability but it is minimal testing and I feel I would receive a more comprehensive testing in the States. Is there any educational research being done that I could home school my son with that we could join and be part of. Is there any medical testing or research we could be part of. I looking for help I would happily sign him up for any sort of research he qualify for? Please any assistance out there for me!

Question from K.A., Belize. Posted June 1, 2012.

A number of parents have asked about research on homeschooling for deaf children, but there does not appear to be anything published at this time.

Homeschooling is legal in every state in the USA, but we don’t have any information specifically for Central America. So, it is unclear how much the following will be helpful to you in Belize. Nevertheless, there are several websites and organizations that have developed materials for home schooling of deaf and hard-of-hearing children.

http://www.deafhomeschool.com/ is a fairly comprehensive site developed by the mother of the deaf child. She is affiliated with Hands & Voices (http://www.handsandvoices.org) which might have other materials for you.

You can also find some support at Homeschool World, a magazine that also has a website with some specific information about children with special educational needs (http://www.home-school.com/Articles/homeschooling-special-needs-children.html).

Within Belize, you might contact the National Resource Centre for Inclusive Education (http://www.narcie.net/), PO Box 2100, Freetown Road, Belize City, Phone: 223-1150, Fax: 223-6497. In addition, there are four schools for the deaf (Holy Cross Anglican, La Isla Bonita Elementary, Stella Maris, and St. Peter’s Anglican) that may be able to provide you with information.

It is very important that you check with your local Education Department or Bureau. They may have useful materials but, more importantly, they can help you to ensure that your home curriculum is acceptable for legal purposes.

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.

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.

I have a 7 yr old son who is in 1st grade. At birth he was thought to have CHARGE syndrome but after doing gene tests and chromosome tests it wasnt diagnosed due to normal results. He is proufoundly deaf in his left ear and has a mild/moderate loss in his right ear, which is aided. He has an interpreter at school and his teacher also uses an FM system, though it seems to be forgotten on some occasions. He started out the year doing okay but all of a sudden its the end of the school year and his reading is at a kindergarten level. Now the question has come up whether or not to retain him. His special ed team cannot come to an agreement on this, some of them say yes while others say no. The psychologist is the one saying he should go on to 2nd grade since the IQ tests they did with reasoning and puzzles (visual, no reading involved) had normal to high scores. Others believe it would be beneficial for him to repeat 1st grade to have time to learn skills he has not accomplished quite yet. So the professionals that I am relying on to lead him in the right direction have now left it up to me to decide. If he were to stay in 1st grade I feel he would like that he already knows some or mose of the lessons, have more time to learn how to read and figure out the sounds required to put the words together. But he may also be smart enough to go onto second grade though I fear he is already so far behind in reading that he will get frustrated and lose interest and know also know that he is struggling more then his classmates. But I also dont want him to feel like a failure if he were to stay in 1st grade again. Theres so many things too look at and think about. Initially I thought yes of course give him time and let him repeat first grade but then the psychologist said otherwise. Im really stressed about making this decision. Im also disappointed that the final decision is being left up to me since his team is 50/50 on what should be done. I want to do what is right for him. I want him to take pride in school and enjoy it. I dont want him to be left behind or pushed through and I dont want him feeling like a failure.

Question from N.F., Minnesota. Posted May 3, 2012.

Great job mom on trying to look at all aspects of this for your son,if only this were an easy decision.  It would be of interest to know why at birth tests were done to “rule out” CHARGE.  Just wondering what red flag went up from the medical community that triggered that testing?

I believe, for him, he is very young to be using an interpreter and do wonder if that avenue is working.  Having a mild/moderate loss in one ear does enable him to be able to receive significant amount of information from auditory means which hopefully is helping a great deal.  I would assume the interpreter is there as additional support so he can use her/him as needed and when needed, correct?  And you are so right, the FM system needs to be up and working daily, I would stress that.

The question of retention is such an important one for you and your son.  I believe I would ask a series of additional questions to try and come to the best possible decision for him.
1.  Does he emotionally fit with his current class?
2.  Has he developed true “friends” for a 7 year old?
3.  He is reading at a kindergarten level at the end of 1st grade, correct?
4.  If he moves will he continue where he is or will he be expected to go straight into 2nd grade work?
5.  Is the reading series and approach being used one that allows for children with additional learning
needs and support or if behind can help be provided?
6.  Is it possible to have some one on one tutorial help if the decision to move to 2nd grade is made?

It’s very important to remember that at this age he probably is very flexible.  He will adjust in either setting is my bet.  You are right, he appears to love school right now and you don’t want him frustrated and loose that love of school.  That is such a critical part in success of a child.  Reading is the number one factor in my opinion for success now and later.  I do respect the IEP team in “allowing” you to make this decision.  And do remember while his IQ tests appear to be normal you are right that’s visual processing only.  It appears he is having some learning problems related to reading and you are right on top of that, good job mom!