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 A.R., Maryland

I have an 8 year-old son who has profound hearing loss. He is aided and uses an FM system in the classroom. He is significantly language delayed because he had no access to sound until we adopted him at 3 1/2 years of age. His primary language is spoken English, but we sign at home when his hearing aids are out (such as at bedtime) and to offer clarification when he misunderstands what we say. He receives speech/language therapy and auditory training outside of school, which we chose so that he would not be removed from the classroom. Despite a clear 504 plan, we have found increasing difficulty convincing teachers to follow the plan, partly because our son is bright, so they’re convinced he doesn’t require the assistance. Now in 3rd grade, he is having increasing difficulty following along during lectures and is getting in trouble for his inattention. After years of educating the schools and advocating for our son, we are no longer convinced that he will receive a good education through a mainstream public school. We are considering homeschooling, but are concerned about the possibility that the sheltered home environment could negatively impact his social development. We are also considering a residential program at a school for the deaf, but we are concerned about the possibility that the separation from family Monday-Friday could also have negative effects. I don’t know many people who homeschool, and I have only met a few people who have attended residential Deaf schools. Is there any research on the impact of residential school on an 8 year-old child?

Question from A.R., Maryland. Posted September 17, 2012.
Response from Marc Marschark - NTID

There is some research to suggest that deaf children in mainstream settings report feeling more lonely and isolated than those in schools/programs for the deaf, but there apparently is no evidence concerning long-term effects. Although it is sometimes claimed that those in schools/programs for the deaf develop greater self-esteem from being around deaf peers in in a separate school placement, an analysis of the existing research by Bat-Chava (1993) found no effect of placement. I wrote to Leo De Raeve and Maartje Kouwenberg, investigators in the Netherlands working in the area. They agreed with my conclusion that there is no relevant research on the issue…at least as far as we can tell. Both suggested that we would expect that children in residential schools benefit from being surrounded by DHH peers and adults (especially because of communication opportunities), but that separation from parents might be disadvantageous for some children. Lacking any clear research on the issue, both indicated that there are so many environmental and child factors involved that it would be hard to make any generalizations. Only you can know your child well enough to know how he would do in a residential program. I have seen kids of that age (and younger) who thrived in such settings – better than they were doing as day students. You can always try it out and monitor the situation carefully (and in collaboration with the school psychologist). But do not hesitate to make another decision if it does not work out.

There also does not appear to be any research on home schooling of deaf children. If you search this site for “home schooling” you will see an answer from June 2012, in which I directed someone to “how to” information. However, again, given the large differences in children and homeschooling methods together with the very small numbers of individuals involved, I’m afraid there is little evidence out there to support any particular approach (or homeschooling in general).

Perhaps someone else will read this and offer advice, which we will pass along to you.