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

If you are interpreting in an educational setting, would it be more appropriate to stand at the front of the classroom or sit with the deaf student therefore being able to maintain eye contact and attention at all times?

Question from G.W., United Kingdom. Posted January 26, 2012.
Response from Carolyn Morrison - NTID

When interpreting in any situation, an interpreter must be able to have eye contact at all times with the deaf client(s), and the client(s) be able to see what is happening near the speaker.

In the case of the classroom, the teacher is responsible for all the students, hearing or deaf, paying attention (which might mean some educating on your part). The interpreter can either sit near the student or at the front of the classroom as long as it allows interpreter-student eye contact and the student being able to see what the teacher is doing.  For example, some interpreters in a math class (with permission from the teacher) will follow the teacher as s/he writes a problem on the board, so the students can watch both.

Of course, students of different ages have different attention spans and needs, and any vision problems would have to be considered.  There is not one right or wrong answer for every situation – as is often true of interpreting, “it depends on the situation” (e.g., the age of the student, the class, communication needs of the child).  The ability of the interpreter and student to have direct eye contact and the student to see what the teacher is doing during the lesson is a top priority, whether you are near the student or at the front of the classroom.

I want to know the difference between mainstreaming (deaf ) students or inclusion placement. What exactly is inclusion as it relates to the educational school systems. What exactly is mainstreaming.

Question from R.C., South Carolina. Posted January 24, 2012.

“Inclusion” and “mainstreaming” are often used interchangeably.  However, “inclusion” specifically refers to those regular classrooms in which deaf children receive all of their services within that setting. “Mainstreaming,” while it is often used in the generic sense for regular school classrooms, differs from “inclusion” in offering services like hearing aid fitting, speech/language therapy, or tutoring on a pull-out basis, in a resource room or other location. Antia, Stinson, and Gaustad (JDSDE, 2002) suggest that this difference makes an inclusive classroom one in which the deaf child is a “member” whereas in the mainstream classroom they may be a “visitor.” Some may not agree with that distinction, arguing that the school, the teacher, and peers will determine that atmosphere, but that is one that you will see in the literature.

When and/or how much will a deaf student fall behind his hearing peers in school if he needs but does not have an interpreter

Question from M.Z., California. Posted November 3, 2011.

A deaf student who enters school with the same language-literacy skills as hearing “grade-level” peers should not fall behind if the IFSP, IEP, or 504 plan recommendations are appropriate and followed. If, however, recommendations call for an educational interpreter and one is not provided, then we would expect harmful consequences, but we can never really know the degree to which or direction in which learning will be affected.

A deaf student who enters school lagging behind grade-level hearing peers will likely continue lagging at the end of the school year(s), even when IFSP, IEP, or 504 recommendations are appropriately provided. That’s because the best predictors of success in school tend to be strong language-literacy foundations at the onset of school. Frankly, we can never be sure how much a student’s skills will compensate the lack of an interpreter or interact with an inadequate or talented interpreter to shift learning from one direction to another. Multiple variables on any given day, week, month or school year influence the learning we all experience. That’s why federal laws guide those of us who inform decisions to view each case in its totality and, when moving the learning gauge, stack the supports to favor maximum.

When working with deaf students from hearing families without a lot of signing skills, what do you suggest for imparting proper social behavior and emotional stability for interpreters? The students seem to look to the interpreters as substitute parents or as friends. Sometimes they come from broken and/or poor families.

Question from J.K., Pennsylvania. Posted June 7, 2011.

One of the important concepts for the educational team serving deaf and hard-of-hearing studentsin inclusive settings is that the primary ‘client’ in this setting is the teacher, and NOT the student.  That being said, it is imperative that the interpreter develop a relationship with the child, much like ANY educator in a classroom setting would develop.   This, however, is NOT in leu of the relationship the educator must ALSO develop with his or her deaf student.  The educational interpreter is only one adult professional in the inclusive setting.    The regular educator, the guidance counselor, the itinerant teacher, the speech-language pathologist, and the educational interpreter not only have educational-literacy goals for this ‘included’ child/student, but also *must* work as a team providing the social-literacy opportunity and support needed for the D/deaf child to become an active and healthy participant (versus depository) in the classroom community.    Behavioral and communication guidelines need to be clearly charted during the IEP meeting and shared with all professional staff, the student, and the student’s primary care giver(s).

I have a son who is severely impaired (bilateral). He is in fourth grade. The school district wants to take “The Teacher of the Deaf” (TOD) out of his IEP. He sees the TOD for in class support writing and supplemental (helps him with whatever he is having problems with). Instead they want to put my son in the inclusion classroom with a Special Education Teacher (she will provide his services). My son received straight A’ this year; only because he does receive the above services and a few other accommodations (that they want to pull as well). The district feels that he does not need the help. He has an FM system and an interpreter; however, he still misses a lot in class. I fear if the districts puts him in the inclusion classroom, he would not get the help he needs (5th grade is only going to be more difficult). I also feel that the TOD is the only one trained to work with and help a severely hearing impaired student. She understands how he learns and knows how to he lp him. Can you give me any feedback on my situation? Also, I am looking for information on how hearing impaired children learn and the difficulties they face in Language Arts studies. Do you know of any websites or periodical I could refer to?

Question from L.S., New Jersey. Posted March 2, 2011.

There are several reasons to continue Teacher of the Deaf services into the fifth grade year, and more than likely, beyond.  Fourth grade is typically the beginning of a period in which students finish learning to read and have to begin to “read to learn.”  As the amount of exposure to new (novel) vocabulary jumps significantly at this time, it is vital that your son receive the support he needs in order to continue his appropriate development.  A’s on a report card are not necessarily indicative of comparable performance with his same age peers.  Only psychoeducational testing would be able to show where his development is in comparison with other children in his grade.  Even if his testing demonstrates that he functions within the range of his peers, if his scaled scores on those tests from previous years show a decline, that can indicate that he continues to need additional support.  A very nice website that describes this issue with scaled scores is www.wrightslaw.com .

The Teacher of the Deaf should write present levels of performance for your son’s IEP that indicate his strengths and areas of need in terms of support.  Those needs should drive decision making about your son’s related and supportive services, not report card grades.  In addition, there are several reference materials that could assist you in showing that a Special Education Teacher without training or background in Deaf Education would not adequately meet your son’s needs.  One such reference is Raising and Educating a Deaf Child, 2nd edition (Oxford, 2007) by Marc Marschark.  Research by Marschark and his colleagues also has shown that when taught by experienced Teachers of the Deaf, deaf students learn just as much as their hearing peers, even if they come into the classroom with less content knowledge. While they are still studying what those teachers do differently than teachers in mainstream/includes in classrooms, there is little doubt that Teachers of the Deaf are an important component of academic success for many deaf students.

Sadly, it frequently falls on the parents to educate special education and school administration about deaf children’s strengths and needs.  In some cases, the Teacher of the Deaf’s hands can be tied in terms of the amount of advocacy s/he can provide in the context of educational decision making meetings, but the information must be presented.

I am working with a hard-of-hearing student (fairly flat 50dB loss), who was identified VERY late – at age five to six. He had typical hearing until almost 4. He did very poorly in kindergarten, as the loss was unaided, and has only been aided now, halfway through first grade. I am advocating for him to repeat first grade so that he can actually HEAR instruction. The principal is adamantly against retention for any reason. Of course his typical speech is throwing everyone off. I used the Gteways program from Oticon and Jim Bombacin’s DVD on FM systems with them, but retention is anathema. Do you have or know of any research on retention of hh children or “hearing age” that would apply to a child who had typical hearing for at least three years?

Question from L.T., New Hampshire. Posted February 24, 2011.

Although there does not appear to be any research on retention for deaf or hard-of-hearing students, it is  not looked upon favorably by school psychologists, even at the first grade level. Outcomes for hearing children who have been retained include greater dropout rates and self esteem issues. It might be a better idea to go with the principal’s suggestion for now with an agreement to provide support in second grade, if necessary.

Information on the implications of retention can be found on the website of the National Association of School Psychologists under Resources.

Here’s the situation: a hearing father, bilingually fluent in English and ASL, has a four-year-old child who has rapidly gone from having a mild hearing loss to a profound loss. Because her speech and speechreading skills are so good, the father and the IEP team are leaning toward a mainstream placement where the mother wants placement in a bilingual ASL/English setting. She believes that the members of the IEP team are not qualified to be making a recommendation in this case. Our concerns are not just about language (although those are significant) but also about reading, writing, and social functioning. No one is paying any attention! What can I do?

Question from T.S., ‘Smalltown USA’. Posted February 22, 2011.

I would recommend, if asked, a trial placement with some careful observation regardless of the setting….If “mainstreamed” then careful documentation of her interactions with other children and with the teacher  – making sure to have a consistent time with signing deaf children after school if not within.  Surely being bilingual should be a goal – although it may be that she doesn’t need to be in a bilingual classroom.  But I would worry and would not be happy with anything less than a regular unbiased observation/documentation of what was going on.  On the other hand, if in a bilingual classroom, the issue for me would be whether they are actually using spoken English enough of the time to maintain her skills.  Again, I would request periodic observations with documentation of what was happening.  If a bilingual setting is chosen and there is not a lot of talking going on, then child should have consistent time with speaking peers outside of school.

Which approach will best support literacy?  Spencer and Marschark (2010) found that we don’t really know – literacy is not quite that simple. As with most education, there will be individual answers for individual children. This child has a “special” and unique hearing (and home) history so deserves a very careful and not necessarily “forever” placement choice at this time.

p.s. If the parents cannot agree on this, there may not be much that anyone else can say that will help.

Further reading: Spencer, P.E. & Marschark, M. (2010). Evidence-based practice in educating deaf and hard-of-hearing students. New York: Oxford University Press.

I am working with a 4th grade hard of hearing student in a mainstreamed setting. He receives no resource room and this is not a Deaf Ed or Hearing Impaired program so there is no Deaf Ed or HI teacher present. It is obvious that my student has other deficits in addition to his severe to profound hearing loss. He uses hearing aids as he is not a candidate for cochlear implantation. As a young child he signed before he could speak and as he’s become older he stopped signing and only uses his voice. However when receiving information he appears to “space out” and lose all focus of the lecture. Sometimes he is looking in the complete opposite direction of me, the interpreter, as well as the teacher and any visual aids the teacher is using to demonstrate the task she wants them to complete next. Then when it’s time to do the assignment he has no idea what to do. He was recently tested for ADD, ADHD, and Autism but the results were sketchy as it’s hard to tell where the hearing loss is causing a loss of incoming information and where the attention decifit is preventing him from receiving new information or directions. He is now on medication to see if this will help his ability to stay on task and attentive. As an interpreter who has worked with this inparticular student for several years I have developed some strategies that seem to help him aquire the meat of the lessons. In my experience with him he learns best through hands on activity and one on one work. It is also my opinion that a straight up interpretation of what is being said is ineffective. He learns information best through conversation. For example if we’re working on multiplication in math (48×3), in the event that he stops working, I’ve found it to be most beneficial to say “what do we do next? You finished multiplying the 8 and the 3, you wrote down a 4 but what else do we need to do? 8×3=4? and he’ll reply “no, it not equal 4, it equal 24″ then I’ll say, “ok where did the 2 go?” and with this he’s back on task. If we’re watching a movie about a lion stalking it’s prey I find that straight up interpreting the narrator is unproductive. So I will say “hey!, what’s the lion doing?” and try and engage him in the movie through a conversation. I understand this isn’t the most common use of interpreting services and my team is having an issue with the student’s lack of automony or ability to work independently. I agree he is at an age where independent work should be something he is capable of doing but I don’t agree with the approach of cutting off all support. Any advice on how I, as the interpreter, can support his independent working, language development, and comprehension of the lessons with out appearing to be “helping” or “aiding” or stunting his automony development? Should I revert to straight up interpreting and watch him fall further and further behind his hearing peers? Any advice for the teacher or the rest of my team?

Question from J.H., Michigan. Posted February 14, 2011.

It seems clear that the student needs more than straight interpretation, and that may violate the role/job description of educational interpreters in the current setting.

Consequently, someone needs to request a new IEP meeting for this student!! Very detailed explanations about what the student is able to do and the needs (what the student’s weaknesses are stated in terms of what would support him in his learning) should be developed with all IEP committee members’ input (including the interpreter).  This may serve the purpose of clarifying several issues that can be seen:  1.  Is the current placement appropriate for the student?  2.  What types of supportive and related services are really appropriate for the student?  3.  Should a 1:1 assistant (who is an interpreter, but hired to be an assistant) be placed with the student as opposed to an interpreter?  4.  What evaluations and assessments will appropriately gauge the student’s needs?  5.  Should a Deaf Ed/HI program be located to which the student can attend?

Allowing a child to sink in the name of “developing autonomy” because he does not know how to swim will not help him develop the ability to swim.  He needs to be taught how to swim.  Otherwise the only thing that will happen is that he will become fearful of the water and cease interest or attention to it at all.

I have a 10 year old who is deaf and just recently started to act out in school. His teacher is requesting me to have him tested for ADD/ADHD because he is no longer paying attention in class. He attends a regular school and is being mainstreamed into the classroom. He did recieve a new interpreter and shows no signs of these actions at how what should I do? Have him tested or what?

Question from F.M., Arizona. Posted September 7, 2010.

What would be more helpful to all individuals concerned is for the teacher and school team to systematicallly collect data regarding your son’s behavior in the classroom.  I would recommend that the teacher or the school team conduct a functional behavior analysis (FBA) to determine the function of his behaviors.  The FBA would give the teacher, you and the school team a better idea of what your son needs.  Your son’s behaviors (which need to be clearly defined)would be critically examined within the context.  Since these behaviors have a recent onset they may be related to adjusting to the interpreter, the teacher, the new school year.   Another possibility is that the behaviors are related to communication difficulties.

What do you think about Itinerant Teacher support for Deaf children in mainstream classes….is it enough or should my child go to a school with a unit for deaf/HI children?

Question from P.N., Brisbane, Australia. Posted July 15, 2010.

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this complex question. At a minimum, one would have to know more about your child, the amount of support and time that the Itinerant Teacher could provide, and the quality of the unit. Either of these settings could be just fine, but which would be optimal depends on all of the above factors. Based on research reviewed by Spencer and Marschark (2010), there appear to be many academic, language, and social advantages to the kind of congregated setting offered by a  unit for DHH children, as long as the children are all about the same age and have an experienced teacher. Such a setting also should allow opportunities for participation in regular classrooms, as appropriate. I would suggest asking your child’s previous teacher(s) (including Itinerant Teachers) and your child for advice. Most importantly, you need to monitor the situation whichever way you choose. If after several months the first placement does not appear to be working, do not be shy about moving.

Spencer, P.E. & Marschark, M. (2010). Evidence-based practice in educating deaf and hard-of-hearing students. New York: Oxford University Press.