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 L.S., New Jersey

I have a son who is severely impaired (bilateral). He is in fourth grade. The school district wants to take “The Teacher of the Deaf” (TOD) out of his IEP. He sees the TOD for in class support writing and supplemental (helps him with whatever he is having problems with). Instead they want to put my son in the inclusion classroom with a Special Education Teacher (she will provide his services). My son received straight A’ this year; only because he does receive the above services and a few other accommodations (that they want to pull as well). The district feels that he does not need the help. He has an FM system and an interpreter; however, he still misses a lot in class. I fear if the districts puts him in the inclusion classroom, he would not get the help he needs (5th grade is only going to be more difficult). I also feel that the TOD is the only one trained to work with and help a severely hearing impaired student. She understands how he learns and knows how to he lp him. Can you give me any feedback on my situation? Also, I am looking for information on how hearing impaired children learn and the difficulties they face in Language Arts studies. Do you know of any websites or periodical I could refer to?

Question from L.S., New Jersey. Posted March 2, 2011.
Response from Jennifer Adams - NTID

There are several reasons to continue Teacher of the Deaf services into the fifth grade year, and more than likely, beyond.  Fourth grade is typically the beginning of a period in which students finish learning to read and have to begin to “read to learn.”  As the amount of exposure to new (novel) vocabulary jumps significantly at this time, it is vital that your son receive the support he needs in order to continue his appropriate development.  A’s on a report card are not necessarily indicative of comparable performance with his same age peers.  Only psychoeducational testing would be able to show where his development is in comparison with other children in his grade.  Even if his testing demonstrates that he functions within the range of his peers, if his scaled scores on those tests from previous years show a decline, that can indicate that he continues to need additional support.  A very nice website that describes this issue with scaled scores is www.wrightslaw.com .

The Teacher of the Deaf should write present levels of performance for your son’s IEP that indicate his strengths and areas of need in terms of support.  Those needs should drive decision making about your son’s related and supportive services, not report card grades.  In addition, there are several reference materials that could assist you in showing that a Special Education Teacher without training or background in Deaf Education would not adequately meet your son’s needs.  One such reference is Raising and Educating a Deaf Child, 2nd edition (Oxford, 2007) by Marc Marschark.  Research by Marschark and his colleagues also has shown that when taught by experienced Teachers of the Deaf, deaf students learn just as much as their hearing peers, even if they come into the classroom with less content knowledge. While they are still studying what those teachers do differently than teachers in mainstream/includes in classrooms, there is little doubt that Teachers of the Deaf are an important component of academic success for many deaf students.

Sadly, it frequently falls on the parents to educate special education and school administration about deaf children’s strengths and needs.  In some cases, the Teacher of the Deaf’s hands can be tied in terms of the amount of advocacy s/he can provide in the context of educational decision making meetings, but the information must be presented.