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 am a Teacher of the Deaf in a mainstream setting. I have a teenage student with a cochlear implant. She struggles with feelings of isolation and had a very bad experience at a school for the Deaf a few years ago. She desperately wants to have a friend that actually knows what she is going through but is unwilling to attend any Deaf teen events in the community due to the experience she had at the school for the Deaf. I believed she was bullied pretty severely for having a CI. I would love to help her find a friend that might be going through the same situation so she could videochat or even email. I am having difficulty finding other mainstreamed teens out in the world to with CIs to connect her with and wondered if you had any suggestions.

Question from E.B., New York. Posted February 16, 2015.
Response from Catherine Clark - NTID

Some people at NTID have tried to get funding for a “video buddies” project that would allow students like yours to connect. Students who use different communication modalities, are different ages, have different interests could find friends around the country for video or text chats. Unfortunately, they have not yet found a foundation or organization willing to support the project. In the meantime, here are some possibilities:

Online forums
Hear US Teens https://www.facebook.com/hearusteenspage

There are several active cochlear implant groups on Facebook both brand-specific and general). A few are listed here:
Advanced Bionics www.hearingjourney.com
Connect to Mentor site http://apps.advancedbionics.com/CTM/US
Medel’s Patient Support Group implants@medelus.com
Cochlear Americas: http://www.cochlearcommunity.com/

A new series of captioned interviews with cochlear implant users has been posted on YouTube by an RIT student. The student hopes to educate others about cochlear implant technology and the experience of the users. he first two videos are intended to be educational and humorous.
CI Interview: Braden https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7CFBOay2tyY
Cochlear Implant: Funny struggles https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DujSeNPHB48

Leadership Opportunities For Teens http://www.listeningandspokenlanguage.org/LOFT/
Listening and Spoken Language Symposium http://listeningandspokenlanguage.org/
Biennial Northeast Cochlear Implant Conference http://listeningandspokenlanguage.org/

Empowering teens is also addressed with self-advocacy strategies. The document, Self-advocacy for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students is posted at http://www.handsandvoices.org/needs/advocacy.htm.

I am doing research on the benefits of early language acquisition and teaching d/Deaf babies ASL. I am having trouble locating those who oppose it outwardly in either a scholarly journal or university publication. Do you have any suggestions as to where I may find this information?

Question from A.D., Michigan. Posted February 5, 2015.

I am not aware of credible arguments against teaching sign language to deaf babies, in principle. There are some arguments that sign language can interfere with the development of spoken language, but there is considerable evidence that refutes that position (see below).

At the same time, there also is evidence that children with cochlear implants who are in “oral” programs show better spoken language development than those in sign language or Total communication programs (see below). However, it is unclear whether that is because children with greater spoken language skills (or potential) are more likely to be “oral” programs or dividing children’s – and parents’, early interventionists’ and educators’ – time and resources between two languages is not as efficient as focusing on only one. Without something resembling a randomly controlled trial, this is not a question that is going to be answered easily (see below). Further, the “politics” of the issue are such that even what appears to be support for one position or the other is not going to be accepted by many.

Further reading:
Davidson, K., Lillo-Martin, D., & Chen Pichler, D. (2014). Spoken English language development among native signing children with cochlear implants. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 19, 238–250.

Knoors, H. & Marschark, M. (2012). Language planning for the 21st century: Revisiting bilingual language policy for deaf children. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 17, 291–305.

Lyness, C.R., Woll, B., Campbell, R. & Cardin, V. (2013). How does visual language affect crossmodal plasticity and cochlear implant success? Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 37, 2621–2630.

Svirsky, M.A., Robbins, A.M., Kirk, K.I., Pisoni, D.B., Miyamoto,
R.T. (2000). Language development in profoundly deaf
children with cochlear implants. Psychological Science, 11,

Do DHH students succeed better in academic and other assessments by using ASL or SEE?

Question from L.T., Florida. Posted January 20, 2015.

I’m afraid (or happy) that it is not quite that simple. There are certainly individuals who will argue that deaf learners will benefit more from ASL (American Sign Language) or SEE (SEE1 – Seeing Essential English or SEE2 – Signing Exact English) than the other, or from other forms of communication. The research, however, indicates that there is no one form of signed or spoken communication that is going to work for all deaf learners.

English-based signing systems (like SEE) were developed on the assumption that they would help deaf children learn to read English, but there is little evidence that they work any better than American Sign Language (ASL), which is a natural language (rather than an artificial sign system) but does not easily map onto English. Regardless of language and modality (signed or spoken), the key to deaf children’s academic success (and other aspects of growth) is early, effective access to language and being surrounded by it consistently. “Effective” is emphasized here because what is effective for one deaf child might not be for another. It is essential that deaf children are evaluated (and regularly re-evaluated) to determine how their language is progressing and whether whatever language(s) they are using is the most appropriate.
Sorry, there are no silver bullets.

For more information on what we know and what we don’t know on this issue, see this eBulletin on the Raising and Educating Deaf Children website.

I currently work as a nanny for a family with small children but previously worked for the school system as a sign language interpreter. I was trying to find some resources on an Early Language Development Curriculum for deaf children and their parents. I would love to be able to offer families a service in which they have their deaf preschool children (0-5 ages) learn cognitive/ fine motor skills/ language development through ASL. I have read some of the previous posts, and found a very interesting link to the NCSD family sign language (FSL) based through the UK. I would however be very much interested in learning if there was a similar program here in the United States.

Question from A.M., North Carolina. Posted January 7, 2015.

There are a number of excellent ASL-related sites available through the website of the American Society for Deaf Children.

I work as a teaching assistant in a primary school and work one to one with a deaf child aged 4. The main educational focus for this child is to develop their understanding and ability to use sign language however I’m not sure which way would be the best way to teach this?

I am able to use a basic level of sign language. The student has picked up some signs on their own like drink, toilet and food; however, this is a very slow process, does anyone have any tips?

Question from L.A., England. Posted December 23, 2014.

Your question which is massively important for the pupil with whom you are working. You clearly recognise that the situation you describe is not working, and you are absolutely right to voice your concern.

For this or any child to acquire a language, accessible, fluent language models are necessary, and consistent use is essential. That means that if sign language is the goal, the child will need to be surrounded by fluent and consistent language at school and at home. This may be a huge challenge for the whole family, but it’s an essential ingredient to long-term success. It would be helpful to have them look into NDCS family sign language curriculum.

It would appear from the description of your situation that both you and this child are being put in an untenable position. It is unreasonable for you to be given the responsibility to teach the child sign language: a highly-skilled sign language user trained to work with young children in an educational setting, ideally a native signer, is needed for the child’s future language, cognitive, and social-emotional development. With only a handful or words/signs at the age of four there should be a clear, focussed and frequently monitored language development programme in place for this pupil. If the child already has had extensive exposure to sign language, it also might be worthwhile requesting a cognitive evaluation just in case there are other factors at play.

The circumstances will of course be more complicated than you are able to express in a few short sentences, and it is important, therefore, that a much more detailed and extensive review of the situation is undertaken. In the first instance, you need to discuss this with the class teacher, SENCo and teacher of the deaf as soon as possible.

My daughter is thirteen and deaf and recently got a cochlear implant. How does she qualify for a free iPad? She attends a school for the deaf and needs the iPad to communicate at school through FaceTime. Please help. I can also provide doctor documentation if you need it upon request

Question from D.K., Delaware. Posted November 24, 2014.

Well, we haven’t heard of free gifts coming with cochlear implants, but a quick google search returns this: http://www.wonderbaby.org/articles/ipad-funding-special-needshttp://www.wonderbaby.org/articles/ipad-funding-special-needs

If the iPad is desired for personal communication with friends and family, I do not think this is something that either insurance or the school system would pay for. You probably qualify for a free videophone based on your daughter’s deafness and use of ASL. Applications can be found here.

There many alternatives to Facetime that can be used on computers (Mac or PC), other tablets, or smartphones, including Skype and Google Hangouts. If your daughter has access to a computer or smartphone with a video camera, then there is no need for the iPad specifically as alternative video chat software can be used.

If there is a specific therapeutic reason for having the iPad, such as a communication training app or other educationally based app, it may be possible to request that the school system purchase it for her. First, the IEP would have to be changed to indicate the specific need for it. The iPad would be school property in this case but it may sometimes to be possible for the student to use it outside of the classroom, situationally-dependent.

Lastly, some low-communication individuals do use alternative and augmentative communication devices like a DynaVox, but these are costly devices. There are some alternative apps that may be useful for these individuals, and in these cases it may be possible that health insurance might approve the iPad as medically-necessary. It doesn’t sound to me like that’s the circumstance here.

I have a seven month old daughter just diagnosed with profound hearing loss. What are the main things I should be doing with her immediately (apart from starting sign language, which we did before she was officially diagnosed) to promote her language and literacy acquisition down the track?

Question from M.W., Switzerland. Posted November 16, 2014.

You are already doing the most important thing: asking questions. Next, but not unrelated, you should look into family-centered early intervention programs. Descriptions of these, the issues you need to be aware of, and the questions you should be asking can be found in two articles recently published and available from the Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education. Click on “Read Highlighted Articles for FREE.”

Meanwhile, enjoy your daughter and engage in as much communication as possible by talking to her, signing to her, and through touch. Just remember to get her (visual) attention before communicating. You will do great!

My son is five years old. He is hearing impaired and has worn hearing aids since he was two. He is well-educated with ASL and so are we. He has the worst behavior problems at home if things don’t go his way; he starts throwing things, screaming, crying, and hitting anyone in his way. We don’t know what to do anymore. Please help.

Question from R.C., Florida. Posted November 11, 2014.

One of the first questions I would ask is regarding language. Often kids who have difficulty understanding or expressing themselves (verbally or in sign language) resort to behaviours to get their points across. Does your son have age-appropriate language acquisition? If his language is age-typical, then my next consideration is that these behaviours may be indicators of a mental health issue, and he should be assessed professionally by someone knowledgeable about deafness and mental health. Finally, it is not uncommon for children to act differently in different settings. Home is usually very unstructured compared to school and he may also be repeating the same behaviours there if he found them to be successful at home in the past (that is, getting his way). You might check with the school and see if he behaves differently there. If so, his teacher might be able to give you some advice. There may even be a school psychologist who can advise you.

I am needing help with explaining how an 11th grade student who is deaf with ASL as his first language and English as his second language and uses an ASL interpreter in class is struggling with learning Latin IV. He uses a CI and hearing aid.

Question from A.D., Ohio. Posted October 30, 2014.

Research on deaf signers who have ASL as their first/preferred language has clearly shown that their skills in using spoken/written English vary enormously. Those who acquire ASL earliest tend to be better at English overall than those who learn ASL later, but many do struggle with English as it is for them a second language (just as learning say French would be for a native English speaker). Learning then additional spoken/written languages beyond English is even more challenging for the deaf student, particularly when they are being taught alongside hearing students via interpreters. This would be like a native English speaker who can read and write French as a foreign language trying to learn Latin as an additional language in a class full of monolingual French speakers where the class was taught exclusively in spoken French and interpreted (just for that one student) into spoken English. There has been very little research on acquisition of additional/foreign languages by deaf signers in these kinds of situations, but it is clear that such a student must be given proper support in order to achieve the same level of success as his hearing peers.

We have a 5 year old, bilaterally implanted son who has been mainstreamed into a general education kindergarten. He is awesome at reading people’s body language and just assuming answers to questions. He is an awesome parrot. [But these do not mean he is understanding fully.] The school continues to say that he is a typical 5-year-old boy and that he has adjusted well to being mainstreamed.

He is a very visual child, and we use sign language and spoken language to communicate at home, but the school says they cannot accommodate that, even though we know that there is an interpreter around the corner who has a contract with the school. Is there any way to get sign language into the classroom? We were originally told that if they got an interpreter for him they would need to get one for every foreign language student in the school. Which we know is against the law.

He went to the deaf school for half a day last year in Pre-K, and were told that that was all they could offer him, as he is so advanced due to us working so hard with him. But his working so hard has come back to bite us. He now comes home tired and burned out, not wanting to listen to us anymore. All we want is for him to get the same education as his hearing peers, please help!

Question from L.W., New York. Posted October 9, 2014.

You and your child are going through a difficult time that needs to be resolved as soon as possible. Your mentioning that he is in a mainstream setting suggests that he has had an evaluation through special education and has an Individualized Education Program (IEP). If he has, I would suggest requesting a meeting to review his current placement. If an evaluation was not done, you can request a referral for an evaluation through special education.

Your child is entitled to have access to the curriculum and to instruction in the classroom based upon the evaluation and the IEP (it is important that the assessment regarding modalities of instruction be done by someone knowledgeable with regard to hearing loss). If that access requires an interpreter, then it is the school department’s responsibility to provide that service, assuming that it is part of the IEP. There should be no negative consequences for your child because he has had opportunities (with your support) to develop his skills. The goal of special education is to insure that all children achieve to the greatest extent possible given their capabilities. Your son’s strong abilities are no less worthy of support than if he was weak in the same domains.

With regard to the school’s response to your request, not speaking English is not a disability. A child who is a native speaker of a language other than English does not qualify for special education services. That argument is a “red herring” and has nothing to do with your son’s situation.