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 Martine V., Ghent, Belgium

What is the impact of congenital hearing loss on a child’s ability to learn like other youngsters? I have read that deaf pupils don’t do well in school, at least not as well as hearing pupils. How do I help my deaf child learn like those who are hearing?

Question from Martine V., Ghent, Belgium. Posted May 21, 2009.
Response from Marc Marschark

On the basis of recent evidence, I would suggest that your question might be a bit off target. A variety of studies has indicated that deaf children, in many ways, do not learn like hearing children because of differences in their knowledge, experience, and learning styles, as well as possible issues of language and communication. This work is still ongoing, but it might explain why deaf children – regardless of whether they have deaf or hearing parents – typically do not show academic outcomes comparable to hearing peers.

Even minimal hearing losses have been found to have effects on children’s reading and other academic performance, likely both because some information is missed but also because differences in perceptual input and information processing really do result in differences in the brain and in cognitive activity (such as memory, problem solving, understanding categories and relations). These differences need not be seen as deficiencies as long as we understand them and match formal and informal educational methods to them.

Without giving you a very long answer, the question you are probably asking is a can you optimize your child’s academic activities. There appears to be no doubt that the most important ingredient there is you. Parents’ involvement in their deaf children’s curricular and co-curricular activities has been found to be associated with literacy skills and other academic outcomes, as well as personal success. Informal conversation with your child and reading with him/her are two of the most important things you can do.

I suggest you have a discussion with your child’s teacher and/or others involved in educating deaf students in order to determine what activities would best utilize your child’s strengths and help to build on any weaknesses.

A new book for teachers and parents on this topic is due out in the next year or so; in the meantime, you might want to look at Marschark, M., Lang, H.G., & Albertini, J.A. (2002).