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 Maria. Fresno, CA.

My hard of hearing son is to begin first grade at his home school after three years at a deaf/hard-of-hearing/hearing school. Should I worry about any emotional issues of being the only deaf/hard-of-hearing (d/hoh) student at his new school, even though he saw but rarely interacted with deaf/hard-of-hearing classmates this past year???

Question from Maria. Fresno, CA.. Posted June 15, 2009.
Response from Shirin Antia, University of Arizona

The question is whether you need to worry about your first grade son being socially isolated in his general education classroom. Of course, children are individuals and while I can tell you a little about what we know from the research, you will still need to pay attention to your son’s social life. The literature on young children generally indicates that they do well socially in school – at least as well as their hearing peers. It helps if HOH or deaf children are in a classroom where there are both hearing and HOH children (sometimes known as a co-enrolled classroom) where they are taught by both a general education teacher and a teacher of DHH. However, this is not always possible, so it might be useful to locate other HOH children in the school or your geographical vicinity and see if you can get your son together with them for play dates. It seems to be important for young children to socialize with other children with hearing loss. That being said, it is not necessary for HOH children to socialize only with other HOH children. For adolescents, the research indicates that being engaged in sports or other extra curricular activities helps a lot in making hearing friends, as D/HOH children have opportunities to interact with peers who have the same interests as themselves. Although we don’t have research to specifically indicate that this is important for elementary school children, I suspect that being on a team sport will probably be beneficial in developing friendships. Generally, in elementary school there are not a lot of school based extra curricular activities, but involvement in sports outside of school, or involvement in church activities is often mentioned by parents as being a social “positive.”

Children who are oral have an easier time in public school, especially if they wear the amplification consistently. You will want to monitor this as much as possible, or make sure that your son’s support teacher of DHH monitors this. General education teachers are often unaware about how much noise can impact the HOH child’s understanding of what teachers say, and more especially, what peers say. Children who use sign language and use an interpreter may have a little bit more difficult time. However, young children are often fascinated by sign language and are willing to learn. A sign language club can often be helpful.

Many teachers, parents and children are involved in an orientation about hearing loss at the beginning of the school year. Our experience (with no data to back this up) is that teachers and children are not interested in learning about hearing loss in general, but they might like to know about your child and his abilities. I believe it would help to emphasize his abilities more than his problems (though you should not overlook his difficulties in hearing). It’s important that the teachers and children know they are dealing with a child, not a pair of ears, or hearing aids, or an interpreter (if he uses one).

Finally you should stay involved in your child’s education and actively promote his interaction with peers: Invite peers to play; take peers on family outings; coach sports in which your child is involved. For more information:

Antia, S. D., Jones, P., Reed, S., Kreimeyer, K. H., Luckner, J., & Johnson, C. (2008). Longitudinal study of Deaf and Hard of Hearing students attending general education classrooms in public schools. Final report submitted to Office of Special Education Programs for grant H324C010142. University of Arizona.

Bowen, S. (2008). Coenrollment for students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing: Friendship patterns and social interactions. American Annals of the Deaf, 153, 285-293.

Luckner, J. L., & Muir, S. (2001). Successful students who are deaf in general education settings. American Annals of the Deaf, 146, 435-445.

Mejstad, L., Heiling, K., & Svedin, C. G. (2008/2009). Mental health ad self-image among deaf and hard of hearing children. American Annals of the Deaf, 153, 504-515.

Stewart, D. A., & Stinson, M. S. (1992). The role of sport and extracurricular activities in shaping socialization patterns. In T. Kluwin, D. F. Moores & M. Gonter Gaustad (Eds.), Toward effective public school programs for deaf students (pp. 129-148). New York: Teachers College Press.

Wauters, L., & Knoors, H. (2008). Social integration of deaf children in inclusive settings. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 13, 21-36.