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 J.S., Texas

I am an aide in a kinder classrom with Deaf Ed. In my classroom I am working with a very sweet 5 yo boy who is profoundly deaf. His parents are hearing and have no communication with him. He came to school 2 years ago with zero language and has worked to learn some, however, with no parental support it has been a slow road. He has lately been acting very strange. He cannot sit still, at all, and constantly jumps around and flails his arms (this sometimes hits other students). He has no perception of harm to the other kids. He recently started to look behind him and point to a specific area of the room and act terrified. He pushes his nose down and looks at me then points. He frequently tenses up his whole body and when we try to calm him down it does not work. This is my first year working with him and he and I have bonded. He will listen to me when I tell him to be quiet and is able to say short phrases like thank you or bathroom or sorry. But he is unable to explain anything about what he is seeing or why he gets tense. I strongly believe he is hallucinating but obviously have no way of finding out what he is seeing or hearing. Is there something to how he is acting? Is there a way for me to elicit more information out of him without making it too hard on him? He tends to get frustrated easily and will stop making any kind of eye contact. I want to help him in any way I can.

Question from J.S., Texas. Posted October 15, 2011.
Response from Patrick J. Brice - Gallaudet University

The youngster definitely needs to be seen by a psychologist and/or a psychiatrist, and preferably someone familiar with deaf children or children with minimal language.  The case is certainly complicated, but I would not advise working to elicit more information from him or trying to have him “explain” what he is experiencing. He may have no ability how to do that.  Children need to know, however, that someone will help them when they are frightened, or distressed.  In school, you (the writer/aide) can be most helpful by being there to calm him when he is frightened, notice what tends to make him more distressed and acting early in the process to calm him and focus him on something more positive.  Keep close track of where and when he gets most upset and what is happening at the time.  That can be helpful in intervening before he gets worried and in helping a psychologist evaluate what is going on.