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 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.
Response from Marc Marschark - NTID

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.

Is it appropriate to place sign dependent deaf students, who have “low” language and “low” IQ scores, but no other diagnosis, in special ed classes with non signing special ed teachers?

Question from L.L., Texas. Posted March 6, 2014.

It is never appropriate to place deaf students (or anyone else) in a classroom in which they cannot communicate with the teacher (or vice versa). Determination of an appropriate school placement for a deaf or hard-of-hearing child should be made on the basis of a thorough assessment by a school psychologist or other individual(s) who are qualified and able to communicate with the child. Specifics of the placement and the student’s needs to be made explicit in an IEP.

However, the fact that you are asking such a question suggests that there is more to this than it might appear.  If any particular student is “low language,” how do you know s/he is “sign dependent”? Is the student being described as low language because s/he does not use spoken language? Has the child been exposed to sign language from an early age but still is not acquiring it in an age-appropriate manner? Is the child from a family that uses some other language at home? Has a formal assessment of the sort suggested above actually been conducted? Ultimately, school placement should be a parental decision  (various states and countries vary in this respect), but it must be an informed one. Parents  in the United States have rights with regard to their children’s educational services (see Recommended Readings). Other “interested individuals” typically do not.

Recommended readings:

“Importance and Need for the Continuum of Educational Placements,” by Barbara Raimondo, Esq., coming April 1 to www.raisingandeducatingdeafchildren.org.

Raimondo, B. (2010). Legal advocacy for deaf and hard of hearing children in education.  In M. Marschark & P. Spencer (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of deaf studies, language, and education, volume 2 (pp. 31-40).  New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Is there research to support why an additional year of preschool is considered appropriate for a child who is deaf and uses cochlear implants to develop language skills rather than moving on to kindergarten placement?

Question from A.H., Virginia. Posted March 4, 2014.

There does not appear to be any literature on this nor any general conclusions about what is or is not appropriate. It would definitely depend on the individual child and a full assessment of that child’s abilities.

How many children between the ages of 2 to 3 years old are deaf or have hearing loss? Are there hospitals for these kids?

Question from G.C., California. Posted February 24, 2014.

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIH), 2 to 3 children out of 1000 are born deaf or hard of hearing (at least 95% of them born to hearing parents). Another 2 to 3 out of 1000 will become deaf or hard of hearing by age 3 due to severe otitis media (ear infections) or other illnesses/accidents.

It is unclear why you might think they need hospitals, other than for the usual medical reasons, but there are audiology (e.g., for hearing aid fitting) and speech-language clinics (for those who will use spoken language rather than or in addition to sign language) in a variety of settings including medical centers, universities, and private practices.

The high school I work at as an educational sign language interpreter will soon be enrolling a young girl from a refugee camp. The student has a hearing loss, but it is not known to what degree. She has had no formal learning experiences except for a few years in the refugee camp she lived in. I would like some resources in order to help the student be as successful as possible. At this point, she will be mainstreamed because there is not a teacher of the deaf full time at this high school. Can you suggest some good resources to tap into in order to help this student with language acquisition?

Question from S.C., Colorado. Posted February 11, 2014.

This profile of a student arriving from a refugee camp, sadly, is not uncommon.

A principle that Dr. Gilbert Delgado established in his groundbreaking book The Hispanic Deaf, published in 1984, is that above all, each student has to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. This seems like common sense, but unfortunately, we often hope that there are solutions that we can pull off the shelf or recommend for whole categories of students.

With that principle I mind, I can recommend the following:

Where is she coming from? Are there other refugees from the same refugee camp and country in the school district? What resources exist in the community for this group of refugees. People who are providing community support for the refugees should have more information that can be relevant. It is important to network.

How does the student communicate with her family and people in her environment?

If she is hard of hearing, does she speak? What language? What language does the family speak?

Does she use gestures and home signs?

The student’s hearing loss should be determined as soon as feasible.

If the student is hard of hearing, and high school age, hearing aids are not likely to be effective without one-to-one therapy.  This may be a goal a little further down the road.

Placing a student with a hearing loss in mainstreamed classes with an interpreter is not an appropriate placement. Unless she and the interpreter share a sign language, she has no access.

If she doesn’t know English, under Federal law, including Title IV of the Civil Rights Act, her language needs must be addressed. “ELL students must be provided with alternative services until they are proficient enough in English to participate meaningfully in the regular program.” https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/qa-ell.html

Regarding resources for language acquisition, all students entering special education are required to have a full educational evaluation. These professionals should, after evaluating the student, provide goals for language and literacy development. Materials used should be at a basic level, and because she is an adolescent, not designed for very young children. If there are other hearing students in the district who also lack formal schooling, what has been done for them?  Does the district have ESOL specialists? What materials does the district have for teaching English to students new to the language?

These are very broad and general suggestions for a complex issue. Without more specific details, such as how the student communicates, family language, specifics about the school district, it is difficult to be specific. Finally, a sign language interpreter should not be responsible for language development of this student. I do not believe this satisfies Federal Law requirements for alternative services to assure acquisition of English.

I work in schools in Madrid Spain. We are debating the usefulness of Cued Speech for reading in deaf children with CIs. What are the latest results on this and how generalizable to Spanish children are these results?

Question from M.P., Spain. Posted February 5, 2014.

There are reasons to believe that Cued Speech may help deaf children with cochlear implants to learn to read and write. Cochlear implants provide auditory information that may be not precise enough to develop accurate phonological representations. Consequently, the reading and spelling skills of children with implants may be delayed compared to the acquisition of these skills by hearing children (with the same instruction). Those children who receive Cued Speech combined with the audio-visual input may develop more precise phonological representations, and better phonemic awareness which is an important skill for learning to read.

There are at least two empirical studies showing better reading, spelling, and reading related skills in deaf children with cochlear implants exposed to Cued Speech compared to deaf children with implants and not exposed to Cued Speech:

Leybaert, J., Bravard, S., Sudre, S., & Cochard, N. (2009). La adquisicion de la lectura y la orthographia en ninos sordos con implante coclear : Efectos de la Palabra Complementada. In : M. Carillo & A.B. Dominguez (Eds). Dislexia Y Sordera. Lineas actuales en el estudio de la lengua escrita y sus dificultades  (pp. 201-219). Malaga: Aljibe.

Bouton, S., Bertoncini, J., Serniclaes, W. & Colé, P. (2011) Reading and reading-related skills in children using cochlear implants: Prospects for the influence of cued speech. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 16, 458-473. 

I have a 5 year old son with mild to moderate, sensorineural bilateral hearing loss. He is currently in private school and his teacher identified him as needing an FM system. Who is responsible for providing/paying for the system – the public school, private school or parents? He does not have an IEP, only a 504 plan with the private school. Thanks for any guidance or information.

Question from M.R., New York. Posted January 16, 2014.

Given the fact that your five year old son does not have an IEP, the public school does not have any responsibility to provide equipment. A 504 plan includes  accommodations to the academic program. You may consider referring your son to the home district for an evaluation. If it is determined that his hearing loss is effecting his progress through the academic program, he would receive an IEP, and the school would be responsible for providing such equipment.

A word of caution, however: If the loss is minor and he is doing well in school it is unlikely he will be found to be eligible. As his teacher was the one who recommended an FM system, I would suggest you meet with the private school and investigate how they can provide it. I would also suggest if that fails if the home district could be approached about offering a loaner.

What is the average ACT score for students with a unilateral hearing loss? Is it lower than the national average for hearing students? My daughter has microtia/atresia of her left ear and is a great student but has taken the exam multiple times with a highest score of a 26. Wondering if her hearing loss is some of the issue.

Question from K.W., Michigan. Posted January 3, 2014.

As far as we can tell, ACT (American College Test) scores are not available for sub-populations like students with unilateral hearing losses. Generally, however, even mild and unilateral hearing losses will affect spoken language comprehension, especially in noisy environments (like classrooms). It may be that your daughter has other skills that allow her to compensate in school, but standardized entrance tests tap a variety of  knowledge and abilities, not all of which necessarily are reflected in her school grades. (I am assuming that your daughter has not had difficulty understanding spoken instructions during the ACT test administration.)

It is wonderful that you (and presumably her daughter) aspire to higher ACT test scores, but you might want to recognize that students with almost any degree of hearing loss generally struggle academically as well as with standardized tests;  a composite score of 26 is quite good in that context. The Gallaudet University website, for example,  indicates that as of 2007-2008, deaf and hard-of-hearing students only have been required to have a composite score of only 14 to gain entrance.  Compared to deaf and hard-of-hearing students currently enrolled in baccalaureate programs at Rochester Institute of Technology , your daughter’s score put her in the top 50%.