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.

Question from S.R., Iowa

Is there any research available which supports the decision to send hard-of-hearing children to preschool early? We have families sending their children to school during the spring semester (age 2 turning 3), as opposed to waiting for fall enrollment following the 3rd birthday.

Question from S.R., Iowa. Posted December 27, 2013.
Response from Marilyn Sass-Lehrer - Gallaudet University

I am not aware of any research that supports (or recommends delaying) the decision to send hard-of-hearing children to preschool when they initially turn 3 as opposed to waiting until the fall enrollment following their 3rd birthday.  Children eligible for special educational programming may transition to preschool when they are three years old.  The value of preschool education (e.g., child-centered programming that is center-based) for children who are hard of hearing varies child to child and depends upon many factors such as: 1) individual characteristics and needs of the child, 2) quality of the child’s home and/or other environments to promote language learning and overall development, and 3) quality of the preschool program. Programming may be full time or part-time and may be fully child-centered or include a family-child component. Family involvement in the transition from early intervention to preschool and the determination of services needed to support their child’s development is essential.

It is well-established that early identification and intervention (e.g., specialized support and collaborative family-centered services well-before one year of age) improve the overall outcomes for children who are deaf or hard of hearing.  The Joint Committee on Infant Hearing Position Statement of 2007 recommends that all children who are deaf or hard of hearing with permanent congenital bilateral or unilateral hearing loss, including those with permanent conductive or neural hearing conditions, receive early intervention programming. The Position Statement emphasizes that children with all types and ranges of hearing differences are at increased risk for delays in multiple areas of development.  Outcomes gained as a result of early intervention may be lost in subsequent years without continued and appropriate services.

Children who are hard of hearing are dependent upon the quality of the auditory environment for language development because they are likely to rely primarily on listening and speaking for communication.  Studies point to the importance of the quantity and quality of the language in the child’s environment as well as the child’s opportunities to engage in conversations as factors that influence language development.  There is evidence that suggests that children who are hard of hearing require even more exposure to language than children who are hearing to attain the same outcomes as their hearing peers. Quantity and quality of language input varies according to the adults with whom the child interacts on a daily basis. While some parents and caregivers provide rich, age-appropriate and meaningful language exposure others do not. Another variable is auditory access.  In order to obtain maximum benefit from the auditory input, the child’s hearing technology must provide good quality access to language, must be monitored to assure that it is functioning as designed, and must be used consistently.  The listening environment must also be conducive to maximize auditory access.

Both deaf and hard-of-hearing children benefit from a preschool program that includes professionals with the knowledge and skills to support specialized early learning opportunities and who attend to the individual needs of the child and the quality of the language environment.  Some children who have just turned three years old and are hard of hearing may do well at home or in another environment with consultative services from specialists who can provide family members and other caregivers with support to ensure that the language-learning environment is appropriate and accessible to the child.  Other children will be better off in a well-designed program with educators and other professionals with specialized skills. The measure of effectiveness of any learning environment, i.e., home, childcare program or preschool program, is child outcomes. Children who are hard of hearing should demonstrate the same outcomes as their normally hearing peers.  Monitoring of the child’s progress using appropriate and comprehensive measures should determine the effectiveness of the child’s learning environment and identify any additional supportive services needed.