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.

Latest Questions and Answers

My deaf son is in a public elementary school; they have helped him a lot. But, I think he needs a school that can “go a little deeper.” In reading, he needs to understand the words he’s learned. He sometimes acts like he’s afraid to open his brain. I encourage him, telling him he can do it, but I am not the greatest teacher. Can you offer advice? Would it help to ride the bus to school, giving him more language exposure?

Question from M.B., Tennessee. Posted June 8, 2014.
Response from Kimberly Wolbers - University of Tennessee

You’d be surprised – I bet you are his greatest teacher.  You recognize he needs more exposure to language in order to help his reading, and repeated exposure to new words in context and practice using new words in day-to-day situations is a great way to do this.  You have the opportunity in every exchange with your child to provide slightly more complex language input than what he is currently expressing himself.  There is great potential for language growth when new words and expressions are used in the real and meaningful day-to-day moments.  My greatest piece of advice would simply be to communicate for understanding even more.  See if you can increase (maybe even double) the number of exchanges happening between your son and family members or friends.  Then when you sit down to read together (as often as possible while being fun), help him make those connections between the words on the page and the experiences you’ve shared.  Riding the bus could help if he has a friend with whom he can engage in meaningful communication; at the same time, it may not help at all if he is not interacting with others and the language is just taking place around him.

Is there any evidence-based research regarding consistency with interpreters in a mainstream setting? If a student has the same interpreter for a number of years, does this in itself, negatively impact a student’s progress if the student’s use of the accommodations and interpreter is a positive one? My daughter, who is in a mainstream setting, has requested the same interpreter for the 3rd year. I do not see any problem with this; however, I was unsuccessful in finding supportive/non-supportive research, articles, etc. about this issue.

Question from W.W., Florida. Posted June 8, 2014.

No one I have contacted has been able to cite research on this issue, so the simple answer to your question seems to be “no.” Stories shared over the years, though, have never yielded a negative about a deaf student having the same interpreter year after year….and even throughout the school years and into college. One male college student (still with his first, female, school interpreter) said that the early puberty years were a little strange at first, but he was glad he had not changed. High-quality educational interpreters are hard to find in many places. If your daughter has a good one and everyone is  happy, there is no reason to change. Having a variety of sign language models likely would be beneficial for her language development. However, it seems best to have consistency in school terminology and support from someone who knows your daughters strengths as well as her needs. You can find her other language models in other settings.

And here’s an addition of further readings from Christine Monikowski (NTID) who noted that many school districts have guidelines concerning time limits for interpreters working with a single student (typically 3 years)…to insure “professional boundaries” are adhered to:

Crosby, P. (1998, November/December). Looping in middle school: Why do it? Teaching Pre K-8, 29(3), 46-47.

Elliot, I. (1998, November/December). When two years are better than one. Teaching Pre K-8, 29(3), 38-41.

Nichols, J. D. (2002, September). The impact of looping and non-looping classroom environments on parental attitudes. Educational research quarterly, 26(1), 23-41

Is there any good research into the psychological impact on deaf children who are in mainstream education? I am a mature student and a parent of a deaf child in mainstream and am undertaking a research project into this topic with a view to eventually working with deaf children.

Question from D.Y., England. Posted May 7, 2014.

This seems like an easy question but, as with many things in deaf education, the answer is a bit complex. There is an “older” (1980s-1990s, ancient!) literature from the United States indicating that deaf children in mainstream settings were more likely to report feeling lonely and isolated than those in schools and programs for deaf students. While that may still be true in some cases, the fact that the vast majority of deaf children in many countries are now in mainstream classrooms means that the dynamic now is rather different.

For reasons that are unclear, there is very little research on the social-emotional/psychological impact of mainstream education on deaf children conducted in North America (but see research by Shirin Antia and her colleagues). Most of the work in that area is being conducted in Europe, with some in the UK, Hong Kong, and other countries. The recent Teaching Deaf Learners conference in Amsterdam had a number of presentations on the topic, and you can identify/contact the authors by looking at the program. A book based on the conference (Educating Deaf Students: Creating a Global Evidence Base) is due from Oxford University Press, but not until 2015. It will include reviews of work on  various aspects of psychological functioning of deaf students in mainstream and special settings. In the meantime, an “advanced search” of the Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education looking for “mainstream” in  “title or abstract” will yield a variety of relevant articles. You can reach the authors through the site.

Our son was born deaf and has cochlear implants. He is now 6 years old and in regular classroom with assistive devices. He seems to have a real trouble focusing and some issues with getting angry, upset, crying at times and arguing with adults. We are wondering if there are things we can do to help him gain better control of his emotions and get better focus.

Question from A.B., Oregon. Posted April 28, 2014.

It’s very important to remember that using assistive listening devices can be extremely stressful and tiring.  Cochlear implants have become very sophisticated and can be highly effective for many children and adults.  But, many children and adults still need to work quite hard to make sense of the auditory input they are receiving and process all that information.  School can be tiring, too.  So, one first step is to look at the times and situations that are most difficult for the youngster—the situations that bring up the most tears, anger, and arguing.  These may be times when he has been listening and working extra hard to hear and understand everything and everyone and is tired and worried that he hasn’t gotten it all.

Tracking the times and situations that are most difficult can also help teachers and parents to intervene before the child has reached that peak of frustration and can no longer regulate their emotions (leading to crying, arguing, and anger).  Once a child has “gone over the edge,” so to speak and is very upset, adults can mostly just help them gain control again.  That might mean getting away from the situation, waiting out the outburst, keeping them safe, etc.  But, if adults are able to recognize the warning signs, then intervening before control has been lost is possible.   Helping children learn to manage difficult times while they are still in control of their emotions can be done through conversations, modeling of appropriate behavior, offering alternative activities, and basic empathic statements.   And always remember to show children things they can DO when upset, as opposed to telling them what they should not do.  Not doing things is much harder than having an appropriate alternative.

How do I get public school to pay for an outside comprehensive evaluation for my 5 year old hard-of-hearing child. Her three-year IEP is coming up. The school does not have personnel trained on hearing loss to do the testing, but they argue that they have the right to do their own testing. Please advise.

Question from M.M., Massachussetts. Posted April 23, 2014.

In order for an appropriate IEP to be developed there must be evaluations conducted by the school district using licensed or approved staff. I would suggest that you put your request in writing and include that the fact that because the district does not employ staff trained to conduct such an evaluation for a child with a hearing loss an outside evaluation is needed.  Remember that your child is entitled to an Independent Evaluation (known as an IEE ) and the district must comply. Include in your request the particular evaluations that you wish to be conducted outside the district.

As for payment, there are different avenues for you to consider. First, you may, but are not required to, share the cost with the district. This option would mean that you would have to share financial information with the district. Second, if you are income eligible, the district will cover the full cost of having the evaluation conducted. Third, you can agree to pay for it yourself.

While it is hard to imagine how a three-year review could be conducted without this information, I would recommend that you make clear in your request that in order for your child’s services to be developed, evaluations must be conducted by qualified staff and, as it is a three-year review, the evaluations must produce the needed information to develop the new IEP.

Parent rights for IEEs are detailed in the federal special education law known as The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and those rights along with your state provides for parents can be accessed on the Department of Education’s web site in the state where you live. Finally, if the initial evaluation conducted on your child included an evaluation by an audiologist and your child uses assistive listening equipment, it is not likely that an appropriate IEP can be developed without having this type of evaluation being conducted as well.

I have a 5 yr old son who was born deaf; he has a serve/profound hearing loss. He has limited sign language and no speech. His behavioral is the problem. I just can’t seem to control him – he is so active. Is there anything i can do to help him so he can be able to focus more and be able to learn?

Question from R.A., Florida. Posted April 22, 2014.

Language is crucial to children learning how to regulate their emotions and their behavior.   In children with very limited language, great patience is required from adults, as these children are missing an important tool.  There is no simple solution, but Ross Greene has argued that all children want to be good and would be good if they could.  Behavior that is not cooperative or compliant is not because children want to misbehave, but because they cannot organize to do what is asked.  The adult’s job is to remember this point (easier said than done!) and help them learn to organize.  The area of psychology that has had the greatest success dealing with behavior difficulties in children with low levels of communication has been Applied Behavior Analysis.  This approach, though, requires effort from the adult who is practicing it, reinforcing children for approximations of cooperative behavior and not allowing and certainly not reinforcing uncooperative behavior.   There are specialists in most urban areas who provide ABA services, both in schools and in home; you might ask about that.

Additionally, use pictures, drawings, or photos of the child doing the desired activity and keep them handy (laminating them helps) to point out to the child what is desired of him along with rewards that will be given immediately upon cooperation.  Start with very low expectations so that children are rewarded quickly, easily, and frequently and then gradually make the expectations greater.  Remember also that children often have much more energy than adults, so finding ways for a child to expend his or her energy before asking them to do more quiet activities (e.g., household chores, homework, coming to the dinner table) will be important.  Rewards should be things that the child truly enjoys and that can be given easily and cheaply.  No need for trips to Disney World, but play time with particular games, favorite foods, or other enjoyable activities should be used.  Rewards may need to change as well since children will tire of things.

This approach does not always work quickly and in fact when first employed, behavior tends to get worse as children believe they must be more uncooperative to get what they got before.  But, with time and patience, it can make a difference.

I work with a CI student who is in 2nd grade. He received one implant at the age of 3 and now has two. He is unable to comprehend what he reads for the most part. I realize CI children have difficulty learning to read. My question is: What is your opinion about retention of CI students. This particular child is the youngest student in his grade with a birthday falling just at the deadline day for entering school. I feel he needs another year of language skills (academic and life vocabulary) so that he even has a chance of success. If he were not a CI student, I would recommend retention because of delays and his age.

Question from E.T., South Carolina. Posted April 21, 2014.

If the child needs to be held back, he needs to be held back. Whether or not he has a CI  should not change the educational decisions. At the same time, retaining a child and just giving him the same instruction is not going to solve the problem. I would recommend that first you make sure the implants are working and, second, that the child receives a full diagnostic reading assessment. My hunch is that he needs intensive and explicit phonics instruction but it depends on the results of the assessment.

I read in the New York Times that “all deaf children have some cognitive challenges.” Really?!

Question from S.W., New York. Posted April 15, 2014.

I was surprised to read the New York Times article A Son’s Deafness Prompts a Scientific Journey and learn that its author, Ms. Bouton, with whom I have never spoken, had written that I stated that “All deaf children have some cognitive challenges.” Not only have I never said that, there is no evidence to support such a claim.

When I do presentations about raising and educating deaf children for parents, teachers, and other audiences around the world, one of my clearly stated conclusions, based on the research evidence, is “differences do NOT equal deficiencies.”

Sadly, throughout history, many in our society have believed that individuals who are deaf are less intelligent than those who hear. The evidence simply does not support that perspective. To suggest that “all deaf children have some cognitive challenges” is not only incorrect, it is insensitive. And for Ms. Bouton to be unwilling to correct the record is simply wrong. [But note that a correction now has been posted at NYTimes.com.]

Can you please suggest some good articles, research or data to support having a TOD in a classroom with a 5 year old with significant delays “across the board” (the student has bilateral CIs, no sign language, extreme speech delays [apraxia?])?

Question from J.B., Vermont. Posted April 2, 2014.

Given the huge individual differences among deaf children with multiple challenges, this is an impossible question to answer. You really are (or should be) looking for information relevant to a very specific child, and we don’t have much to go on.  How significant are the delays?  Is the child using the CIs successfully?  What is the cause of the extreme speech delays? Has there been an assessment that suggests apraxia or is that a guess, and if the latter, based on what? Does the child not use sign language because s/he has not responded to it or because s/he has not been exposed to it?

You can find articles and chapters about the educational needs of deaf children with additional disabilities (see below), but you really want to know why that 5year-old should have a teacher of the deaf.  You will not get that from an article.  You are going to need a comprehensive evaluation done by people who know what they are doing and can communicate effectively with the child.  There is no one right answer; it depends on the needs of each child.

Further reading:

Mauk, G. W. & Mauk, P. P. (1998). Considerations, conceptualizations, and challenges in the study of concomitant learning disabilities among children and adolescents who are deaf or hard of hearing. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 3, 15-34.

Vreeland, J. (2014). Educating deaf children with multiple challenges.
www.raisingandeducatingdeafchildren.org

I am a teacher of the deaf in the school for the deaf in Scotland. I have recently begun working with a family whose son, aged 2 1/2 years, has just been diagnosed with a severe/profound loss. He is currently undergoing cochlear implant assessment. The family are very keen to develop both sign and speech as they acknowledge they do not know what the future holds and they understand the need to establish language. It is at this point my question arises. The family home language is Arabic and they have asked about using Arabic sign and speech at home and BSL/English of the home. The boy in question has a hearing sibling who is already bilingual. I am finding it challenging locating any information about the development of 2 sign languages at the same time. Is this an area any research has ever been done in? Is there any advice I can take to the family? The family used the approach of Arabic at home and English outside the home with their hearing son. Can this approach be applied to the development of 2 sign languages? I don’t think this is beyond the family as Mum is a linguist and can speak 5 languages. Her enthusiasm and interest is immense! My concern is whether this too much for the child?

Question from J.R., Scotland. Posted March 7, 2014.

I have been on the lookout for publications on the acquisition of two sign languages simultaneously, but I have not found any. However, there is an increasing number of Deaf couples marrying across nationalities, and raising their children with more than one sign language, so there is anecdotal evidence of children growing up sign bilingual, and from what I hear, the situation is not so different from bilingualism in two spoken languages, or one spoken and one sign language. The biggest challenge to raising functionally bilingual children, however, is not with the children, it’s with the adults. It is very difficult to provide adequate input in both languages, especially if one of the languages is a minority language. Bilingualism researchers estimate that children need much more input in a minority language than is required for a majority language to successfully learn and maintain it at conversational levels. It also helps a lot of the input is from varied sources, including peers; simply depending on the parents to provide input is often not enough. These input challenges are compounded when the goal is to raise the child with 3 or 4 languages.

That said, I am raising my children trilingually, including two very small minority languages, and so far the results are encouraging. My strategy was to greatly prioritize the minority languages in the years before my children entered English-speaking preschool. Until the age of two, we only spoke Taiwanese and Croatian to our children, and they didn’t have much working knowledge of English at all. This made the start of preschool frustrating for them, admittedly, but they learned English so quickly that it wasn’t a problem for long. And it gave them a foundation in Croatian and Taiwanese that we built relentlessly on once they entered school. We invest in multi-week trips to Croatia and Taiwan every year to give them a wider context for using those languages, and to strengthen their relationships with family there. Now, at the ages of 10 and 4, they are both able to use all three languages, although English will undoubtedly become their dominant language.

Finally, as a professor at Gallaudet University, I also signed very extensively with my children when they were young, often in conjunction with spoken Taiwanese. I signed ASL with Taiwanese rather than Taiwan Sign Language, since I don’t know the latter. This actually worked fantastically well for lexical learning and my children quickly amassed a large vocabulary of ASL signs and the corresponding Taiwanese words. On trips to Croatia, the ASL signs also turned out to provide an effective bridge to Croatian: I could speak Croatian and sign key words in ASL, and the children were able to very quickly map the new Croatian word to the familiar sign without having to ask what the Croatian word meant in Taiwanese. I would say that it almost seemed like magic, except that this doesn’t sound very scientific… Of course, as a linguist, I should stress that what I taught my children was not ASL. I mostly taught them just lexical signs, accompanying spoken Taiwanese or Croatian, something akin to what is known as “signed supported English.” This is not a very effective form of sign input for a Deaf child to learn sign language, but my children are hearing, and my goal was not to teach them full ASL.

All this to say that I think learning BSL, spoken English and spoken Arabic should be well within the abilities of this family. The chances of success should be higher than usual, given the parents’ linguistic experience/motivation and the fact that they are willing to give their child early and intense exposure to sign language (something I think is one of the best things parents can do to to ensure the success of a cochlear implant). I would advise against trying to learn Arabic SL and focus on BSL instead. Sign language vocabulary is very easy to learn, but the grammar and phonology can be challenging for hearing learners, so one sign language at a time is probably plenty. Since this family will be trying to teach BSL as a full language to their child, it will be *very* important to find native signing BSL models and peers for the child, and to not limit their BSL use to lexical signs accompanying spoken Arabic sentences (feel free to use Arabic words with BSL signs for vocabulary learning, but my point is that there needs to also be times when BSL is used on its own). There will be plenty of time for the child to pursue Arabic SL (there are actually multiple, distinct sign languages used in Arabic-speaking countries) later once he or she is a bit older and has established BSL and spoken Arabic.