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 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.
Response from Marc Marschark - NTID

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!

A two-fold question:
1. Is there a quality note taking device on the market for use in a classroom setting?
2. What is your take on note taking (note taker) and /or note taking technology (if even developed) for a freshman boy going into highschool with a moderate to moderately severe hearing loss. He wears hearing aids and currently has an FM and classroom amplification in his middle school classrooms.

Question from M.D., New York. Posted April 25, 2012.

With regard to the first part of your question, Microsoft Onenote may be used with a tablet PC, networked or not networked with a second computer so that the deaf student may view the notes as they are taken during class (assuming there are the two networked computers.) C-Print research conducted at NTID (http://www.ntid.rit.edu/cprint/) has a notetaking prototype that is part of the C-Print Pro tablet version that the local BOCES and Rochester City Schools prefer to OneNote, but it is not yet on the market.

On the second part of your question, I would strongly urge you to request a notetaker for your son. And that should be a qualified, paid notetaker, not another student taking notes for him. If the school system resists, this is worth fighting for!

I have a question about personal FM system compared with soundfield. Our school district says that our daughter 3 years old is too young to give accurate feedback on if the Fm is working properly so they do not advice us to use it. Our daughter has severe hearing loss, uses hearing aids both ears, but tests low average on language skills as of now. No other concerns. We will be transitioning into the school system soon. They have a self contained class room with soundfield but we feel that a regular setting is least restrictive for her and want to find out which system to ask for in that setting.

Question from A.R., Florida. Posted March 16, 2012.

I am absolutely flummoxed at the school district’s position, and cannot think of one piece of evidence to support their recommendation.   The FM is an excellent solution in this case. The personal FM has a ‘boot’ which fits onto the individual’s personal hearing aids.  The teacher wears a microphone and transmitter, and the teacher’s voice is transmitted directly to the child’s hearing aid.  The statement that a three-year old is not able to tell if the FM is working correctly makes no sense, because the child is wearing a hearing aid and the child either has the skills to indicate the hearing aid is working correctly or not.  The same premise of operation will be at work with the FM system.  Infants can use FM systems, infants wear hearing aids, CIs and we all learn to read their behavior to assess whether the system works correctly and eventually the child becomes an accurate reporter. I  worked in a preschool classroom where all the 3-year olds used personal FM systems.  The FM system can and should be given a “listening check” each day.  The FM system will allow your child to be placed in a most appropriate environment.  It will cut down on background noise and give her a ‘direct link” to the teacher’s voice, where a sound field system will not.

There are several websites that can inform the district personnel how to do daily listening tests on the hearing aid and the FM system.




My son is 5 yrs old & HOH and we are hearing parents. my wife and I have been debating if we should get a Cochlear implant for our son. I have been looking to speak with a hearing parent that has a HOH child that didnt go with a cochlear implants. We have spoken with hearing parents that choose to get a CI for their child. As a parent, this is one of the hardest decisions to make and we want to make an informed one. If you know anyone that can fulfill this request, it would help our family come closer to a decision. Are there kids in Deaf schools that have cochlear impants? If so, did they go mainstream initially and still had problems adapting? thanks

Question from R.E., New Jersey. Posted February 13, 2012.

From your question, it appears that what you really need is to talk to some other parents who have been in your situation with their own deaf children. I am going to put you in touch with someone “off-line,” but you also might look into checking out an organization that supports families with a deaf or hard-of-hearing child (see our Partners tab). In the meantime, let me provide a few facts:

Sure, there are plenty of deaf children in schools for the deaf who have cochlear implants. Deaf children vary widely, and whether they use spoken language and/or sign language, have hearing aids and/or cochlear implants, and are in a mainstream classroom (with or without support), a school for the deaf, or something in between will depend on the characteristics of the individual child. None of these is mutually exclusive. For example, some children with cochlear implants use sign language, some children without them use spoken language, and choosing the right school placement is often a difficult decision for parents.

If your son is really hard of hearing and not deaf (or has less than a severe to profound hearing loss), he is not going to qualify for a cochlear implant. If he has not had a recent evaluation by a pediatric audiologist, that should be the first step. Implants do not magically turn deaf children into hearing children and, in fact, most children with cochlear implants function like hard-of- hearing children. So, a mainstream classroom may or may not be appropriate. What you need is a careful evaluation by a full IEP team to make sure that wherever your son goes to school they can build on his strengths and accommodate his needs.