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 L.L., California

I have my son’s IEP meeting coming up soon and I’m not sure if I’m going the right track. My son will be 3 soon. He has moderate sensorineural hearing loss in both ears. When he was born, he had mild/moderate hearing losses. I would really like for him to learn ASL and I feel the earlier the better. I have been doing research and it seems like it would benefit him. However, the class I am looking into has no children who use spoken language, so that would be coming entirely from teachers. I am really excited, but whenever I’ve had the chance to speak to audiologist, speech therapist, or teachers about this, I receive a questioning look, and they tell me that he should go into an oral-only program. What should I do?

Question from L.L., California. Posted August 1, 2013.
Response from Marilyn Sass-Lehrer - Gallaudet University

First of all, you are definitely on the right track!  Children who are deaf or hard of hearing should have the opportunity to acquire American Sign Language and spoken language (to the maximum extent possible).  You have both the right and responsibility to advocate for what is in your child’s best interest. The challenge is ensuring that your child’s educational program provides him with the resources to make this possible. On your side is the legislation (IDEA Part C) that supports parents as equal members of the IFSP team. There are also best practice principles such as those included in Supplement to the 2007 Joint Committee on Infant Hearing Position Statement. See: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2013/03/18/peds.2013-0008.full.pdf

Your expertise and knowledge of your child’s strengths, abilities and needs are invaluable. In addition, according to IDEA, your goals and priorities for your child must be recognized. Your child will be transitioning into preschool and educational programming will soon be covered under IDEA Part B. My suggestion is that you request that a Communication Plan be developed for your child and included in your child’s IFSP/IEP as he transitions to preschool.  Some states have included a communication plan as part of the IDEA process. There are several examples of communication plans available online. You might want to look at http://pattan.net-website.s3.amazonaws.com/files/materials/forms/Comm-Plan120210.pdf  as an example.

It’s important that you continue to work closely with your child’s IFSP/IEP team as you develop a communication plan that will ensure that your child has the opportunities to acquire language and communication through the modalities (hearing, seeing) that are most accessible to him. This would include opportunities to communicate with peers and adults who use ASL and also those who use spoken language.