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 E.C., Illinois

My almost 12-year-old son was born profoundly deaf and has gotten great use from his bilateral cochlear implants since he was a toddler and is completely oral. For various reasons (hearing impairment, possible mild autism) he had challenges with his language development, frustration, etc., so his exposure to academics has been minimal. We taught him to read at home and he has demonstrated the ability to learn math, language arts, etc., He gets a tiny amount of instruction for academics each week but is now absolutely ready to tackle higher level work. We are at a loss as to how to bridge the gap between his current educational level of 2nd grade or so to allow him to be more integrated into his grade level classes. We want the school district to teach a modified curriculum to him and to provide intensive remediation, especially regarding vocabulary development, etc. Our district and the co-op that provides minimal hearing itinerant support do not seemed inclined to tackle this and may not know how to do it. My son is begging to be taught and we have to figure this out. Do you have any suggestions?

Question from E.C., Illinois. Posted October 24, 2017.
Response from A Northeast Clinician

In general, academics depend on a student’s linguistic and information foundational base. For example, kids who have language skills around the 7 year level will likely be able to handle academics at around a 2nd grade. Having a good language/communication skills evaluation and a good cognitive assessment can often inform the educational team (including parents) about levels of instruction that would be appropriate to challenge – yet not overwhelm – learners. If that has not yet happened, you should request it of the school/district. With regard to your son being “completely oral,” chances are that consultation from a special educator(s) experienced with students on the spectrum may have valuable suggestions for an aural/oral learner. The “hearing itinerant” teacher can be expected to have experience and skill in working with a learner who accesses language and the curriculum with cochlear implants, but may not be that experienced in working with learners who have challenges like those of ASD. Does his school team have expertise from specialists in autism? If not, check with local itinerant teachers and/or school psychologists to find someone who does and be sure to ask for appropriate services to be put into his IEP.

Some DHH students who manifest features of autism learn best through visual means – charts, schedules, diagrams, dioramas, pictures, graphs, illustrations – and through print (written words and phrases and lists). Again, an experience itinerant teacher and/or school psychologist (experienced in working with deaf children) should be able to provide guidance.