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 R.B., Somewhere, USA

My husband and I adopted our fourth child at age 3.5 from Eastern Europe. He had virtually NO language other than pointing, and indicating if he was happy or sad. The orphanage that we adopted him from reported that they did not realize he was profoundly deaf until he was 3 years old. He had never had any speech therapy, preschool, or early Intervention. Once he was part of our family, through much testing, we confirmed that he was profoundly deaf in both ears. He was fitted with hearing hearing aids, and at age 6, due to concerns for safety, he received a cochlear implant, and continues to wear one hearing aid. Our son is an absolute joy, and makes our family complete. He is now 7 years old, and has learned SO much. We use Total Communication both at home and at school. He is in a first grade class, with most academics taught in a self-contained HOH classroom, and spends part of the day in the “regular education class.” Socially, he is mostly like other 7 year old boys: fun-loving, action-packed, into sports and playing outside. Academically, he is still at a pre-school/kindergarten-ish level, and his receptive and expressive language is severely delayed. He talks and signs, but the majority of his words are not understandable. He mostly uses ASL/Signed English to communicate. Our major concern for our little guy, is, that his school is VERY focused on how behind he is language-wise, and academically (which he is). However, it is very difficult for them to see how far he HAS come in the four years we have had him. We don’t know any other families that have Deaf Children, that had NO Early Intervention, that were adopted internationally, and have the extreme language delay that our son has. We feel like we don’t know how to advocate for him at school, have high/yet acheivable expectations for him. All the literature that we find talks about how very important early Intervention is….but our child was not given that, and it was not in our control until he came to us. How do we provide him the most support possible, and help to increase his global language. His language delay is obviously impacting how much he is able to take in/learn at school. But we don’t know how to “hurry language along” for him. He gets “speech/language” 5 days a week at school…and we constantly talk and sign at home. It just doesn’t seem to be enough. Does he need some type of intensive therapy?

Question from R.B., Somewhere, USA. Posted April 26, 2013.
Response from Linda J. Spencer - New Mexico State University

From what you have written, it really looks as if your son is thriving being in a loving home and has developed a way to communicate in a social way.  You are correct about him getting a “late start” with regard to his exposure to consistent language, listening, and speech.  When we, as professionals, begin working with children who are “budding roses,” I like to think that we all look at “potential” for blooming, and it is fairly common and appropriate to look at how much progress he makes over time, now that he is in a consistent educational environment.  We hope to see one year of progress from where he is, for each year of experience.

He is currently in the mainstream classroom, and in a HOH classroom.  What I cannot get a real feel for is how consistent his language input is within each modality.  If he is getting a “total communication” philosophy, I worry that he may not be getting immersed in language consistently.  It looks as if that is a concern from his educators.  I typically am an enthusiastic advocate for total communication, but given his late start with language exposure, combined with the question of how much he was able to hear even after he had hearing aids, I feel more compelled to be sure he gets immersed in a consistent, accessible language system.  Given this, I wonder whether you have considered a school for the deaf?  Is there one close to you? Is there an intensive summer program that uses American Sign Language?  I am asking this because I would be really curious to see how fast he picks up on a completely accessible language system when he is immersed in it.

While I am not abandoning speech and listening, I do think that we need to temper expectations a bit with regard to his potential to be an auditory learner given we can only verify that from age 6 on he is getting consistent access to sound via his CI.

As a first step, try contacting Hands & Voices (www.handsandvoices.org) or the American Society for Deaf Children (www.deafchildren.org) to find other families with deaf children in your area. Talking with other parents who have had similar experiences will be immensely helpful.