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 Dawn M., Mattoon, IL

I have 3 deaf children. The reason I am writing is my son who is 10 can barely read at a 1st grade level, yet is on the high honor roll. Which I am very proud of. It seems as though they are just passing him along without no great concern for his reading. I have expressed my concerns everytime his IEP comes along and they say that it is a success for a deaf child to graduate at a 4th grade reading level which is absurd. My son wrote me a note one day and it said “mom I want to learn to read”. That just broke my heart. If there is anything you could recommend for me to try to teach him as much as I can at home it would be appreciated. Most of the recommendations I get from his school are way too expensive. I do as much as I can to help teach him, but I am a high school dropout who didn’t really pay much attention when I did show up. Which I truly regret. Didn’t realize as a kid my actions in school would affect the way I am able to teach my children. It seems to me when they passed the No Child Left Behind Law they left behind deaf and hard of hearing children and others with disabilities. I contacted my state senators and they told me to write a letter to all our state reps and senators. I just want my children to grow up and go to college and be functioning adults. I have done lots of research which is how I found your website, but I am not that well educated and need help. Which is why I am contacting you in hopes you might be able to help me help the thousands of disabled children in Illinois. I also would like to try to address the fact that 90% of deaf and hard of hearing children have two hearing parents and out of that only about 88% of them know sign. That is a shame when you cannot communicate with your child. Which I am sure it has a lot do to with finances and education. I have a hard time, but have been learning for years and I am decent but not great. So please if you could help it would be forever appreciated.

Question from Dawn M., Mattoon, IL. Posted March 1, 2010.
Response from A Team Effort

We are working on this at several levels. Most generally, Jenny Singleton (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign) offered several things to think about, although different issues may arise depending on whether your children are at the Illinois School for the Deaf or mainstreamed:

“What specific reading objectives are listed in the IEP and what specific focused instructional support is proposed for each of the reading objectives (and what evidence is there that the school followed through with the plan?).  If it appears that the school is continuing to push son forward with low expectations, that is of course concerning. Has anyone assessed his sign language fluency? Is he “on target” age-wise for his sign language development?

“Do you have an advocate who attends the IEP with you?  One resource that might be helpful is the Midwest Center on Law and the Deaf to think about whether you want to take further steps in determining whether the school personnel are developing and following through with appropriate IEP objectives.”

I also contacted Barbara Raimondo, Esquire, Policy Consultant, who provided helpful information with regard to remedying your situation through the IEP process. You can find that here: IEP Process.

Meanwhile Karen Roudybush (Reading Specialist at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf) offered the following…after emphasizing that “grade level reading remains the goal and that a fourth grade reading level remains unacceptable.”

There are a few things that you can do to support your son’s reading.

First and most importantly, READ, READ, READ. Initially, you need to find a topic/story of interest for him. Start out with easier materials, moving to more complex.  How well does he recognize words?  What does he do when he comes to a word he doesn’t know?  Does he keep or reading, reread, look for know chunks (meaningful or common spelling units) in the word?

Help him to increase his vocabulary.  Then find those new words and concepts in print everywhere.  Move from over using simple words (e.g., ‘big’) to more robust and less common words (‘enormous,’ ‘huge,’ ‘gigantic’) and talk about the differences in these words.

Help him classify texts:

Fiction (story) NonFiction (fact)
want to enjoy it learn from it
look for characters, what is topic, what do you know, want to learn?
beginning, middle, & end? (see story map) what did you learn?
Graphic Organizers – narrative story Graphic Organizers – see KWL

Encourage him to begin to ask questions while he reads. Look at the questioning strategy.doc for some questions he can use repeatedly depending on the type of text.

Summarize as he reads.  Have him retell as he’s reading and help him with his misunderstandings.

Some great web sites are www.fcrr.org You can find support for all the big ideas in reading including vocabulary and comprehension and word attack.  Look under the student center activities search tool.  You can pick an area of need and get support materials to address the need.   www.readingquest.org has comprehension strategies that help support non fiction text understanding.

I like reading a to z http://www.readinga-z.com/ Although it’s a pay-for-use site, it offers leveled books from pre-primer through fifth grade in fiction and nonfiction with support worksheets and evaluation tools.  It also offers advice for teaching various skills.

Evaluate his reading strengths and needs and capitalize on his strengths and work on his needs.  I hope this helps.