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.S., ‘Smalltown USA’

Here’s the situation: a hearing father, bilingually fluent in English and ASL, has a four-year-old child who has rapidly gone from having a mild hearing loss to a profound loss. Because her speech and speechreading skills are so good, the father and the IEP team are leaning toward a mainstream placement where the mother wants placement in a bilingual ASL/English setting. She believes that the members of the IEP team are not qualified to be making a recommendation in this case. Our concerns are not just about language (although those are significant) but also about reading, writing, and social functioning. No one is paying any attention! What can I do?

Question from T.S., ‘Smalltown USA’. Posted February 22, 2011.
Response from Patricia Spencer - P Spencer Consulting, LLC

I would recommend, if asked, a trial placement with some careful observation regardless of the setting….If “mainstreamed” then careful documentation of her interactions with other children and with the teacher  – making sure to have a consistent time with signing deaf children after school if not within.  Surely being bilingual should be a goal – although it may be that she doesn’t need to be in a bilingual classroom.  But I would worry and would not be happy with anything less than a regular unbiased observation/documentation of what was going on.  On the other hand, if in a bilingual classroom, the issue for me would be whether they are actually using spoken English enough of the time to maintain her skills.  Again, I would request periodic observations with documentation of what was happening.  If a bilingual setting is chosen and there is not a lot of talking going on, then child should have consistent time with speaking peers outside of school.

Which approach will best support literacy?  Spencer and Marschark (2010) found that we don’t really know – literacy is not quite that simple. As with most education, there will be individual answers for individual children. This child has a “special” and unique hearing (and home) history so deserves a very careful and not necessarily “forever” placement choice at this time.

p.s. If the parents cannot agree on this, there may not be much that anyone else can say that will help.

Further reading: Spencer, P.E. & Marschark, M. (2010). Evidence-based practice in educating deaf and hard-of-hearing students. New York: Oxford University Press.