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 D.G., Connecticut

I am currently working with a 14 yo student who has had a single Cochlear Implant (CI) for a bit less than one year now.
The school district has brought in a Teacher of the Deaf who “Specializes” in working with children who have a CI. In reality the Teacher is from an “Oral Only” school for the Deaf and at a recent IEP meeting it was ‘recommended’ that the Interpreters be removed right away.

With over 15 years of experience interpreting for children, I know that this is the absolute worst thing the school could do. At minimum, the child needs a transition period. And it is entirely possible that the child will use interpreting services for the rest of their life. As the child grows up, that will be their decision. But for now, it is my belief that a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) should include accommodations that the child has had all along. I can not convince the School of this because “I” am not an “expert”, I am ‘just’ the interpreter.

Can you provide research or other documentation that the path being examined, removal of interpreting services, is a bad choice? Or, documented research of how people with CI continue to use Interpreting Services frequently and the benefits of this?

Question from D.G., Connecticut. Posted January 3, 2011.
Response from Marc Marschark - NTID

You are caught in the middle of an all-too-familiar situation. Unfortunately for all concerned (and the student in particular) the evidence is not as clear as everyone assumes. That is, there are studies showing that children (much younger than this one) with cochlear implants benefit from greater exposure to spoken language compared to those in sign language settings, but there is no evidence that there is any particular amount of exposure that is necessary or sufficient. In contrast, the only study we are aware of in which students with cochlear implants (including those who receive them relatively late) were performing academically at a level equivalent to their hearing peers was one in which the students all had access to sign language interpreting in the classroom (see below).

With young children, there is evidence that neural pathways associated with hearing are still developing, and greater exposure to language through the cochlear implant is important. That is not going to be the case with a 14-year-old, however. As you point out, the student is in need of transition. In fact, there is abundant research indicating that sign language together with a cochlear implant either facilitates spoken language or is independent of it. There is no evidence of any harm. Those who argue for “total auditory immersion” with the implant typically rely on a “laziness” argument, suggesting that the child will not utilize hearing if they have the easier route of sign language. In theory, the two together should be beneficial, allowing the child to use sign language to fill in the gaps of the auditory input from the implant (which is significantly degraded from normal speech) – and vice versa.

Because of the diversity of students and educational settings, there is not going to be any research demonstrating that either removing interpreting services or keeping them in a situation like this is going to make a significant difference one way or another. However, given the lack of evidence for sign language creating any difficulties in the evidence indicating its benefits for students with implants, removal doesn’t seem like a very good idea. Perhaps most importantly, however, the student is 14 years old; his/her preference needs to be taken into account.

Suggested reading:

Spencer, L.J., Gantz, B.J. & Knutson, J.F. (2004).  Outcomes and achievement of students who grew up with access to cochlear implants.  Laryngoscope 114, 1576 –1581.

Spencer, P. E., Marschark, M., & Spencer, L.J. (2011). Cochlear implants: Advances, issues and implications. In M. Marschark & P. E. Spencer, Editors (in press). Oxford Handbook of Deaf Studies, Language, and Education, Volume 1, second edition. New York: Oxford University Press.