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 A.B.

Can you help? I have requested an FM system for my 13-year-old deaf daughter, who uses spoken language. The school is offering an oral interpreter/transliterater. I’m afraid that that would make her overly dependent, whereas an FM system would make her use her hearing.

Question from A.B.. Posted September 7, 2010.
Response from Interpreter-Researchers at NTID

The first question is whether this child has sufficient hearing to benefit from an FM system. If so, you should be aware that most FM systems are “one-on-one” between the teacher and the student. Given the importance of classroom discussions for a student at this age, the FM system preferably would be a sound field system which would allow her access to everything going on in the classroom. Once again, the question is whether the child has sufficient hearing to benefit from a sound field system.

There is no evidence that a transliterater is going to make this child “dependent” or in any way have negative consequences. This kind of argument is similar to one often made by speech-language pathologists, who argue that if young deaf children are forced to use their hearing they will benefit, whereas if they rely on a transliterater or sign language interpreter, they will essentially become lazy, and not use their hearing (or speech). There there is absolutely no evidence to support this view. The myth of sign language interfering with spoken language is just that, a myth, propagated by peple unfamiliar with the research literature. Transliteraters (often called oral interpreters) can provide a child with access to ongoing instruction and discussion in the classroom with no fear of the child becoming too lazy to utilize speech and hearing.

Unfortunately for your purposes, there is no evidence to indicate whether a transliterater or FM system would be generally preferable, and such decisions have to be made based on the individual child (e.g., does she have any attention deficits that would prevent her watching a transliterater?).

All of that said, I would expect that an FM system is far less expensive than employing a qualified transliterater, even assuming you can find one. Unless you have a highly-qualified transliterater, it’s a very bad idea! All too often, school systems assume that almost anyone can do oral transliteration. Not so. Further, purchase of an FM system would mean that the equipment is in place for other students or this particular student, as she moves forward in school.

One more note: Frequent difficulties associated with the utilization of FM systems in the classroom include bad classroom acoustics, the teacher neglecting to ensure that the system is turned on, and failure to frequently test and maintain equipment. If all of these pitfalls are avoided, an FM system can be a wonderful tool.