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.C., Colorado

The high school I work at as an educational sign language interpreter will soon be enrolling a young girl from a refugee camp. The student has a hearing loss, but it is not known to what degree. She has had no formal learning experiences except for a few years in the refugee camp she lived in. I would like some resources in order to help the student be as successful as possible. At this point, she will be mainstreamed because there is not a teacher of the deaf full time at this high school. Can you suggest some good resources to tap into in order to help this student with language acquisition?

Question from S.C., Colorado. Posted February 11, 2014.
Response from Barbara Gerner De Garcia - Gallaudet University

This profile of a student arriving from a refugee camp, sadly, is not uncommon.

A principle that Dr. Gilbert Delgado established in his groundbreaking book The Hispanic Deaf, published in 1984, is that above all, each student has to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. This seems like common sense, but unfortunately, we often hope that there are solutions that we can pull off the shelf or recommend for whole categories of students.

With that principle I mind, I can recommend the following:

Where is she coming from? Are there other refugees from the same refugee camp and country in the school district? What resources exist in the community for this group of refugees. People who are providing community support for the refugees should have more information that can be relevant. It is important to network.

How does the student communicate with her family and people in her environment?

If she is hard of hearing, does she speak? What language? What language does the family speak?

Does she use gestures and home signs?

The student’s hearing loss should be determined as soon as feasible.

If the student is hard of hearing, and high school age, hearing aids are not likely to be effective without one-to-one therapy.  This may be a goal a little further down the road.

Placing a student with a hearing loss in mainstreamed classes with an interpreter is not an appropriate placement. Unless she and the interpreter share a sign language, she has no access.

If she doesn’t know English, under Federal law, including Title IV of the Civil Rights Act, her language needs must be addressed. “ELL students must be provided with alternative services until they are proficient enough in English to participate meaningfully in the regular program.” https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/qa-ell.html

Regarding resources for language acquisition, all students entering special education are required to have a full educational evaluation. These professionals should, after evaluating the student, provide goals for language and literacy development. Materials used should be at a basic level, and because she is an adolescent, not designed for very young children. If there are other hearing students in the district who also lack formal schooling, what has been done for them?  Does the district have ESOL specialists? What materials does the district have for teaching English to students new to the language?

These are very broad and general suggestions for a complex issue. Without more specific details, such as how the student communicates, family language, specifics about the school district, it is difficult to be specific. Finally, a sign language interpreter should not be responsible for language development of this student. I do not believe this satisfies Federal Law requirements for alternative services to assure acquisition of English.