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

I’ve seen and heard Marc Marschark say repeatedly that there is no evidence showing Cued Speech supports reading skills. He also writes “.In its more than 60 years of existence, it has never been found to facilitate the acquisition of reading skills by deaf children who are learning English.”

My question is has anyone ever bothered to do a proper unbiased research study on using cued speech with D/HH students to learn literacy?

Question from C.T., Washington. Posted December 27, 2013.
Response from Marc Marschark - NTID

You’re almost correct. What he says is that there is no evidence to support cued speech facilitating the acquisition of literacy skills in deaf or hard-of-hearing children learning English. He readily acknowledges that there is a wealth of supportive evidence from children learning French. The difference appears to be that French (and Spanish and Italian) have very regular sound-to-spelling correspondence whereas English does not (see Alegria & Lechat, 2005).

Even if he can’t do the math (cued speech was developed in 1965-1966), Marschark explains that if, after more than 40 years,  there are no published studies supporting cued speech for English, the alternatives are that either (a) the research has not been done or (b) there has not been positive evidence. In fact, there has been a number of studies conducted aimed at supporting cued speech for deaf children in the United States, but apparently none have yielded sufficiently positive results and been “unbiased” enough to have been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Cued English clearly facilitates speech reception and may support literacy subskills for some deaf or hard-of-hearing children, but English is simply too irregular for it to be of benefit more generally.

Recommended reading:  Alegria, J., & Lechat, J. (2005).  Phonological processing in deaf children: When lipreading and cues are incongruent.  Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 10, 122-133.

Is there any research available which supports the decision to send hard-of-hearing children to preschool early? We have families sending their children to school during the spring semester (age 2 turning 3), as opposed to waiting for fall enrollment following the 3rd birthday.

Question from S.R., Iowa. Posted December 27, 2013.

I am not aware of any research that supports (or recommends delaying) the decision to send hard-of-hearing children to preschool when they initially turn 3 as opposed to waiting until the fall enrollment following their 3rd birthday.  Children eligible for special educational programming may transition to preschool when they are three years old.  The value of preschool education (e.g., child-centered programming that is center-based) for children who are hard of hearing varies child to child and depends upon many factors such as: 1) individual characteristics and needs of the child, 2) quality of the child’s home and/or other environments to promote language learning and overall development, and 3) quality of the preschool program. Programming may be full time or part-time and may be fully child-centered or include a family-child component. Family involvement in the transition from early intervention to preschool and the determination of services needed to support their child’s development is essential.

It is well-established that early identification and intervention (e.g., specialized support and collaborative family-centered services well-before one year of age) improve the overall outcomes for children who are deaf or hard of hearing.  The Joint Committee on Infant Hearing Position Statement of 2007 recommends that all children who are deaf or hard of hearing with permanent congenital bilateral or unilateral hearing loss, including those with permanent conductive or neural hearing conditions, receive early intervention programming. The Position Statement emphasizes that children with all types and ranges of hearing differences are at increased risk for delays in multiple areas of development.  Outcomes gained as a result of early intervention may be lost in subsequent years without continued and appropriate services.

Children who are hard of hearing are dependent upon the quality of the auditory environment for language development because they are likely to rely primarily on listening and speaking for communication.  Studies point to the importance of the quantity and quality of the language in the child’s environment as well as the child’s opportunities to engage in conversations as factors that influence language development.  There is evidence that suggests that children who are hard of hearing require even more exposure to language than children who are hearing to attain the same outcomes as their hearing peers. Quantity and quality of language input varies according to the adults with whom the child interacts on a daily basis. While some parents and caregivers provide rich, age-appropriate and meaningful language exposure others do not. Another variable is auditory access.  In order to obtain maximum benefit from the auditory input, the child’s hearing technology must provide good quality access to language, must be monitored to assure that it is functioning as designed, and must be used consistently.  The listening environment must also be conducive to maximize auditory access.

Both deaf and hard-of-hearing children benefit from a preschool program that includes professionals with the knowledge and skills to support specialized early learning opportunities and who attend to the individual needs of the child and the quality of the language environment.  Some children who have just turned three years old and are hard of hearing may do well at home or in another environment with consultative services from specialists who can provide family members and other caregivers with support to ensure that the language-learning environment is appropriate and accessible to the child.  Other children will be better off in a well-designed program with educators and other professionals with specialized skills. The measure of effectiveness of any learning environment, i.e., home, childcare program or preschool program, is child outcomes. Children who are hard of hearing should demonstrate the same outcomes as their normally hearing peers.  Monitoring of the child’s progress using appropriate and comprehensive measures should determine the effectiveness of the child’s learning environment and identify any additional supportive services needed.

Which reading curriculum(la) do you recommend using with deaf/hh students? Do you support using cued speech with English speaking deaf/hh students?

Question from D.D., Arkansas. Posted December 9, 2013.

Thank you for providing the opportunity to remind visitors that this site tries to provide people with evidence-based information about raising and educating deaf children. Only in rare circumstances does the site offer opinions or preferences, and then we ensure that the person writing the response is clear about that.

I do not recommend any particular reading curriculum for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. I know of different schools and programsusing different curricula, and I’m not aware of any evidence that suggests that one is any better than the other. The issue is the extent to which the curriculum is appropriate for the student and matches their strengths and needs (and is delivered in a corresponding manner).

With regard to cued speech, I used to be a stronger proponent than I am now. Cued speech clearly supports the reception of spoken language by deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals. I infer, however, that your question relates to reading. There has never been any evidence that cued speech supports deaf children learning to read English.  The evidence demonstrating cued speech to support reading subskills comes from work involving French or Spanish, which are far more regular in their sound-to-spelling correspondence. Clearly, cued speech has its proponents, and some children succeed well with it. But the evidence for supporting the the reading of English is lacking, and has been for the more than 40 years since cued speech was created.

How does my child, who is hard of hearing, qualify for an IEP? Are such children automatically qualified because they have a “hearing loss,” or are there criteria that have to be met?

Question from T.R., San Diego. Posted November 15, 2013.

A  finding of eligibility for special education must be determined prior to the development of an IEP. The determination is made after an evaluation has been conducted by the education department where your child attends. The first step for you to do is to contact the educationl department and refer your child for an evaluation.

Once you have done that, a schedule will be prepared for the assessments to be conducted. When the process is completed, you will be invited to a team meeting to learn about the results. You can ask questions and will receive information about your and your child’s rights under the special education law known as  IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).

The presence of hearing loss does not ensure that an IEP will be developed. The evaluations must show how the hearing loss effects academic progress and the IEP is designed to provide the needed combination of services to support academic success. Included may be modifications to the classroom such as a sound field system or the introduction of an FM system for your child. These services may also be provided if there is not an IEP as part of an accommodation plan.

Contact the school and request a meeting to discuss a referral for an evaluation. Be prepared to share information and remember that the right to an evaluation is assured. The determination of an IEP will occur at the team meeting and you can object to all or some of the findings.

These steps will serve to provide you with a general direction. Without knowing the extent of the hearing loss or current performance is difficult to provide anymore information.

What is the difference between American Sign Language and Signed English? Is there another name that people refer to Signed English? Is it preferable to teach kids Signed English?

Question from S.T, Kentucky. Posted October 31, 2013.

Sign (or signed) languages are not universal languages, nor are they invented ones. They are, like spoken languages, natural languages, grown and transmitted in communities of language users. In the case of sign languages, the cores of these communities are deaf people and their deaf or hearing relatives. Languages constitute one of the most important characteristics of the cultural and psychological identities of various peoples. This process of cultural identification explains why deaf people in the United States use American Sign Language (ASL), deaf people in France use French Sign Language (la Language des Signes Francais), and deaf people in the Netherlands use Sign Language of the Netherlands (Nederlandse Gebarentaal). The structure of sign languages resembles that of spoken languages with their own vocabulary, phonology (albeit in manual form), morphology, syntax, and pragmatics; so ASL is not a form of English.

There are also systems that combine speech and sign according to different rules, and Signed English is one of these (as are Signed Dutch and Signed Polish). These systems differ in the extent to which they represent the lexical and grammatical properties of the spoken language in the sign channel. Some systems are strict, designed to represent the elements of a spoken language 100% in manual components. They manually encode English or Dutch fully, or at least that is the intention.

There are claims that deaf children will learn to read better if they learn a manually-coded form of the spoken/written language (like English), but there is little evidence to support that claim. Although systems like Signed English have the advantage of being more English-like, they do not “hold together” structurally the way natural languages like ASL do. Different children will find different modes of communication easier to master, and one could probably argue either way. ASL is a true language and at the heart of the Deaf community, however, while Signed English is an artificial sign system intended as an educational tool and is not often used in conversation.

Recommended Reading:

Holcomb, T. K. (2013). An introduction to American deaf culture. New York: Oxford University Press.

Marschark, M. (2007). Raising and educating a deaf child, Second edition. New York: Oxford University Press.

I am living in India and fostering a 6 year old boy who has 95% hearing loss. He used to live in an orphanage and came into my foster care in July. Prior to this no one noticed that he was deaf. I want to look into getting cochlear implants for him, but have been told that because of his age and that he has gone 6 years having no auditory input, the CIs won’t work. Thoughts?”

Question from N.C., India. Posted October 30, 2013.

Amazing that this child went six years until his hearing loss was discovered. This used to happen more than we would like to admit here in the United States, but thanks to newborn hearing screening we are usually able to diagnose hearing loss much earlier now.

Several things that make me curious relate to whether or not to pursue the option of cochlear implantation. I am curious as to whether this little guy has any vocalizations and how he makes his needs known. Do you have a sense whether he is bright and learns quickly? The reason I ask this is that sometimes children who are quick learners are able to slide under the radar and perform well in many arenas and their hearing loss gets over-looked. Alternatively, children who have multiple developmental delays in motor skills, learning, self-care, and if they have a lot of health issues as well, their hearing loss goes undetected as other health issues are the focus of intervention. I am also curious as to whether he ever had some hearing. If he does have the ability to vocalize he may have had hearing at one point in time.

First of all, I think you need to assure that this boy has access to language. As a child with profound hearing loss without amplification/implants he will need to have access to a signed language so that he can learn to communicate with the world. At this point, access to language (sign) is a main priority. In addition, I would also encourage you to advocate for a cochlear implant evaluation. He may indeed be a wonderful candidate. We know that children who learn quickly, who have had hearing, who have support to learn to listen and who are exposed to speech consistently will learn to produce the sounds of their language and within 4 years of CI listening experience, they may be able to produce a majority of the sounds, even if they get a relatively late start.

I have a 7 month old son, and although his hearing is fine, my wife and I would like to teach him sign language. We have seen a lot of books out there but I thought I would ask you and get your advise as to which book(s) you would recommend.

Question from S.J., Rochester, NY. Posted October 28, 2013.

One thing I think you would want to avoid are “baby sign” books that offer artificially-created signs (designed to make money for the authors). If you’re going to sign with your hearing child, you might as well use a natural sign language – in our case American Sign Language. Many schools now accept ASL as satisfying their foreign language requirement.

Folks in the NTID Department of American Sign Language and Interpreter Education have offered three recommendations:

The Gallaudet Dictionary of American Sign Language 

 The Gallaudet Survival Guide to Signing

Basic Course in American Sign Language

They are available from Amazon and other retailers.

I am a Teacher Consultant for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students. I have a parent who is interested in purchasing a neckloop for her daughter who has a bilateral hearing loss and utilizes hearing aids. The parent was wondering if there is a source for reading reviews on neckloops or other equipment that an individual with a hearing loss may benefit from, before purchasing something, as the equipment is not cheap.

Question from J.O., Indiana. Posted October 24, 2013.

Assistive listening devices are an excellent augmentation to hearing aids for many children, however there are many options and it’s important to select the right one.  The parents’ first step should be to consult with their daughter’s clinical or educational audiologist.  The audiologist can determine which types of neckloops or other technology are compatible with her current hearing instruments.  The audiologist can also help select a type of assistive device to best match her needs.

Prices can range from $40 to several thousand dollars for different types of technology, and it may not be necessary to spend a lot of money.  Conversely, if the parents decide to invest in a more expensive system they should be sure that the system will work with their daughter’s current and possibly also future hearing instruments.

Some types of technology can only be purchased through an audiologist or hearing aid dispenser.  Others can be purchased by the consumer directly.  If the neckloop is purchased independently, there are often user reviews on the vendor’s website such as Harris Communications (www.harriscomm.com).  Another vendor with useful reviews and an informative newsletter is Beyond Hearing Aids (http://www.beyondhearingaids.com).

A wonderful resource for parents is the Hearing Loss Association of America (www.hearingloss.org), a non-profit support group for those affected by hearing loss.  Their website has in-depth information about assistive technology and offers special support for parents.  The online forums offer an opportunity for the parent to ask questions directly to other parents and benefit from others’ experiences.

My 11 year old son has only become deaf over the last two years, the result of a neurological condition. He has good vocabulary, great speech and rounded communication skills following 10 years of growing up in the hearing world. His reception method is primarily speechreading, supported by some residual hearing. (His deafness is Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder – which for him particularly impacts speech perception).

Some professionals are recommending that he fully embraces Total Communication, becomes more integrated with Deaf peers and in particular learns British Sign Language. I am not sure. He has no experience of signing (other than basic alphabet), and has a preferred an oral/aural approach. I want to help him learn more about Deaf culture, but I’m keen that we take advantage of his 10 years of open communication to make sure that he doesn’t lose the ‘advantage’ he’s had.

Is anyone aware of any research on “late” presenting deafness in children, and the pluses and minuses of investing in BSL at this age.

Question from S.M., London. Posted October 21, 2013.

It might be useful to separate out the two issues in this questions, that of diversity of language support and Deaf culture.

In terms of the language issue, the first thing to stress is that  there are no ‘minuses’ of learning some BSL or Sign-Supported English (SSE)  at any age. Nothing will be lost; there can only be gains if you opt for this type of environment.  Your son may find BSL useful for learning or for socialising at some point (or a bit of both)  or, more likely, find that  SSE is a useful mediating  tool for mixed deaf and hearing interactions and some support for listening and also literacy development (now or in the future). In either case, learning BSL and meeting and learning with other deaf children will be supportive and will not  change his spoken language trajectory, only add  a layer of support.  Most children that he meets will probably also be using a mix of sign and spoken language for different purposes at  different times and you will find in any TC setting that this flexibility  is normal and  expected and managed by the hearing and deaf adults.

With regard to the other question, about Deaf culture,  entering into some sort of TC environment  will immediately offer your son  access to diverse deaf children and adults. In itself this will extend his understanding  of deafness  as he sees other ways of being and interacting in an environment where deaf and hearing  children and adult rub along together. This is perhaps a more natural way to  engage with Deaf community and culture which is entirely contextualised and nowhere near as overwhelming as seeing Deaf culture as a very separate land.

Given, as you say,  the advantage that your son has had, I would suggest that keeping his communication options open would be linguistically and culturally positive and enriching if this would sit comfortably with family routines, practices and  preferences.

Is research on Cued Speech being taken into account when evaluating and recommending a communication mode that promotes literacy in deaf children?

Question from R.M., Colorado. Posted October 13, 2013.

The wording of your question makes it a difficult, or perhaps sensitive one to answer (especially for someone who has been an advocate of cued speech). For those know unfamiliar with it, cued speech involves the use of handshapes and locations around the mouth to distinguish speech sounds that look the same. It thus supports the visual perception of speech (i.e., speechreading or lipreading). A recent study involving a large nationally-representative sample of deaf high school students indicated that over 50% of their parents thought they were using cued speech in school. The true figure is less than 5%, suggesting that many parents (and perhaps students themselves) are not familiar with the terminology used in educating deaf students.

Because you are writing from the United States an honest answer to your question would be “if research on cued speech is taken into account when evaluating and recommending a communication mode that promotes literacy in deaf children, it should not be used.” Cued speech has been shown to support the acquisition of reading-related subskills, when used both at school and at home, among deaf children who are learning French and Spanish as their first language. In its more than 60 years of existence, it has never been found to facilitate the acquisition of reading skills by deaf children who are learning English. According to Leybaert, Aparicio,  and Alegria (2011), well-respected proponents of cued speech, this likely is because relative to French and Spanish, the sound-to-spelling correspondences of English are highly irregular.

Recommended reading: Leybaert, J., Aparicio, M., & Alegria, J. (2011). The role of cued speech and language development of deaf children. In M. Marschark and P. Spencer (Eds.) The The Oxford handbook of deaf studies, language, and education, volume 1, 2nd edition (pp. 276-289). New York: Oxford University Press.