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 S.M., Colorado

I have a 9 yr old child with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss who has been aided since age 1. He is in third grade. Up until very recently he has thrived (very intelligible, performed at grade level in school.) but recently he is struggling with reading comprehension. Most disturbing is he has withdrawn from classmates during recess and is refusing to participate in group work in the classroom. He is contantly getting into altercations with other children exhibiting great frustration and anger. I believe that he is socially immature and this is the root cause of the problem due to his hearing loss. Is this common and what services can I get to help him.

Question from S.M., Colorado. Posted March 20, 2011.
Response from Joel Grover - Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf

For children, hearing or deaf, who are prone to difficulties like those of your son, it is not uncommon for those to emerge in third or fourth grade. Not knowing your son’s degree of hearing loss makes it a little tougher to answer your question, and it is unclear whether his speech intelligibility has declined along with his reading comprehension. The wording of your question, however, suggests that his speech, hearing, reading comprehension, and behavior issues may be intertwined.

Assuming that your son relies primarily on spoken language, his ability to process auditory information will strongly affect his learning style and have multiple effects on (intentional and incidental) academic and social learning. He is at a point in school where complex language requirements increase in a variety of areas and it is often at this age that deaf and hard-of-hearing children begin to experience more difficulty academically and socially. Reading becomes more abstract. Children are asked to infer meaning from text rather than just going back to find a more concrete answer. Deaf and hard-of-hearing children in many countries therefore exhibit reading difficulties at this age, regardless of whether they use sign language or spoken language.

Although your son may have intelligible speech, it does not mean that language development is developing typically and we cannot expect his reading and written expression ability to go beyond his language ability. Socially he may be missing many of the nuances of communication that are taking place at this age, and children who were once tolerant become much less so as they grow older. If he is somewhat immature socially, other kids are going to be more drawn to their socially compatible peers. Unfortunately it’s also at this age when kids can begin to make fun of those who are different or who are perceived different from themselves. I’m sure your son is bright enough to be noticing this even if he can’t express what’s happening.

I suggest first having a good language evaluation. Please go far beyond one word vocabulary tests and have a speech-language therapist offer suggestions. I also would consider directly teaching age-appropriate social skills and expectations. This is an area that grows in leaps and bounds from incidental learning. I would suggest finding a counselor or school psychologist who can work with him on these issues.