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 T.B., Minnesota

What studies are you aware of that have followed children identified with hearing loss through newborn screening, were fitted with hearing aids or received cochlear implants, and had consistent educational interventions from early childhood on? Newborn hearing screening has not been around that long, but long enough that we are now seeing the impact early intervention and amplification can have on learning outcomes. I’ve been teaching a long time, and the educational outcomes I’ve observed of these children has been nothing short of amazing. Their performance certainly contradicts the research you cite regarding DHH students lagging behind hearing peers. Informally, I can tell you that our cochlear implant students as well as our hearing aid students who were identified early are performing so well on standardized measures that it is changing how I teach. These students no longer need individualized reading and writing instruction. Where once I was teaching literacy skills right up through high school to DHH-only students, now they don’t even need literacy support in elementary school. Students who were not amplified early still demonstrate outcomes that more closely mirror many of your research findings, and students with more than one disability area struggle more than those who only have hearing loss. But the early intervention, DHH only kids? Even the ones who were born with severe to profound hearing bilateral hearing loss are doing fantastically well academically. How much of the current research takes the early identification, early amplification, early intervention children into consideration?

Question from T.B., Minnesota. Posted May 7, 2018.
Response from Marc Marschark - NTID

You raise three very interesting points. There is no doubt that early newborn hearing screening, early family-centered intervention, early amplification (when appropriate), and ongoing support for young DHH children has led to “amazing” progress. As Marilyn Sass-Lehrer (Gallaudet University) and Greg Leigh (Renwick College/Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children) and I have pointed out, there is a surprising lack of long-term research on the impact of early intervention. One suspects that there are number of reasons for that gap in the literature, but a potential challenge of such research is that DHH children with more challenges (e.g., medical complications, greater hearing losses) are likely to receive more intensive early intervention compared to others who simply need it less. The extent and quality of intervention services are difficult to compare across individuals, even if they are evaluated within the same program.

More importantly, all of the factors you cite have led to well-documented advantages to achievement for young DHH children “in elementary school.” The problem is that DHH children who demonstrate age-appropriate academic abilities typically lose the support services that got them that far. In fact, neither early access to spoken language through cochlear implants nor sign language from deaf parents result in DHH learners having many of the skills and knowledge necessary for higher-level educational purposes beyond elementary school. As a result, national data (in the United States) and a variety of studies in several countries have indicated that by high school, those early advantages have largely evaporated, and DHH students with cochlear implants and those with deaf parents, on average, are no longer achieving at levels comparable to hearing peers (as they did during elementary school). The one study I know of that found high school students with cochlear implants performing at the same level as their hearing classmates involved students who had received typical support services for cochlear implant users but also benefited from sign language interpreters throughout the school years to ensure effective communication in the classroom. Recent studies involving DHH college students consistently have found no generalized advantage for either deaf children of deaf parents or cochlear implant users at that level. Such findings strongly argue for continuing support for DHH learners throughout the school years, regardless of their preferred mode of communication.