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 K.M., Kansas

My 15 year old son is profoundly deaf due to meningitis and has had a cochlear implant since he was 18 months old. He attends mainstream high school and is doing OK with modified curriculum. However, reading comprehension and both expressive and receptive language are a struggle for him. Our IEP is next month, and I am unsure what I can ask for when it comes to additional reading and language support. The school offers no additional reading classes and he already receives 30 minutes of speech therapy a day. He currently spends one class period a day with an OUTSTANDING resource room teacher.

I have been unable to locate a private speech language pathologist who is qualified to work with a deaf teenager and accepts private insurance. I am also unable to locate reading instructors in who are not $100/hour tutors. I have tried in vain to teach him myself, but I am not an educator and feel ill-equipped to teach. I am getting concerned about my son’s ability to live independently as an adult if he cannot read.

Question from K.M., Kansas. Posted February 8, 2013.
Response from Jennifer Beal-Alvarez - Georgia State University

You have identified a handful of valid concerns regarding your son. First, the Individualized Education Program (IEP) team is designed to address your son’s individual needs through assessment and instruction. Your son should have an annual audiogram, or hearing test to document how he currently responds with and without his cochlear implant. This will show the amount of access he has to auditory information, including spoken language. If he does not have complete access to spoken language, he may be trying to make a complete language out of bits and pieces.  Without a solid language foundation, children cannot adequately express themselves. Annual assessments of your son’s receptive and expressive language, such as the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, the One-Word Expressive Vocabulary Test, and informal assessments of how he relates narrative events, can gauge his current use of language and changes in his language skills over time. He should also have periodic comprehensive assessments of his literacy skills, such as the Johns’ Basic Reading Inventory, which looks at his reading behaviors with passages of different levels and provides an analysis of the reading strategies he currently uses. This type of assessment provides a teacher with areas for instruction. Measurement of his language and literacy skills over time will document if his current instruction is successful and if it meets the educational goals developed by the IEP team. A lack of progress in language and reading may lead to additional instructional time focused on increasing literacy skills, such as vocabulary development, reading comprehension, and writing skills. Your son can also practice reading at home with materials that he can read independently. In these materials, he will come across unfamiliar words in a familiar context, which will help build his language skills. Finally, one consideration for your son may be the addition of sign support to spoken language. For a child who has incomplete access to spoken language, signs are a completely visual means to supplement speech. If you and your son decide to pursue this option, his IEP team will also need to consider the provision of an educational interpreter as part of his educational services.  Your local Hands & Voices chapter, easily retrieved from an internet search, can provide additional resources for you.