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.


I have a 6 year old with CIs, implanted at 11 months; he has perfect speech. We have a IEP meeting soon, and they want to discontinue speech support. He is mainstreamed and has difficulty staying focused in the classroom. Any help at all we can get for his meeting, we would greatly appreciate. Currently we have a ToD an hour a day five days a week, an educational Interpreter, and right now speech 1 day a week for a half hour in a group setting. That is what they are looking to discontinue.

Question from L.W., New York. Posted March 5, 2016.
Response from Linda J. Spencer - New Mexico State University

Speech Language Services are not only limited to working on speech production. Our scope of practice includes vocabulary development, pre-teaching concepts, teaching advanced language structures, phonological awareness skills, comprehension of language as it relates to processing text and creating text, executive functioning including memory, judgement and pragmatics. It is rare to find a deaf child who has skills in all these areas that develop without careful intervention and monitoring. Speech-language clinicians are intrinsic to optimal development of these skills, and this is the tack I would take in this meetings. [Try to find an advocate who can support this in the IEP meeting and make sure it is written into the program.]

Do you have resources and information for parents whose dhh child also has dyslexia?

Question from B.M., California. Posted April 29, 2011.

It is increasingly acknowledged that dhh children can have specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia, and that the impact of this on the development of literacy skills is in addition to, and to some extent independent of their hearing loss. However, current scientific understanding of dyslexia in dhh children is relatively limited, and its diagnosis is difficult to make reliably. Although research is being conducted in this area, as yet there is no generally-accepted set of tests which have been designed for use with dhh children, or tests for hearing children with norms for dhh children, that can confirm the diagnosis. One of the problems is that the degree of hearing loss has a big impact on the development of literacy skills, but the relationship is not simple – some children with severe or profound losses become good readers, whilst others with mild losses struggle enormously. It also makes a difference whether the child’s primary language is a sign language or spoken English, and the educational provision in terms of emphasis on sign language or spoken English. Therefore it is difficult to provide specific advice, but the following websites may provide useful information on dyslexia in general, in dhh children, and some teaching/remediation resources.





This is a follow-up question to a response I was given about reading and my profoundly deaf daughter (see Query from S.S., below, from April 10). First of all, thank you for the great information – it will be very helpful as I continue to try to support her reading progress. Since my daughter has no access to auditory input whatsoever, I would need to depend on something like visual phonics to teach her how to decode words. It also makes sense that when a person does that they would want to provide language instruction in a Signed English system so that there is a connection. My daughter does learn concepts best using more ASL, and it comes very naturally to her, so I feel that she would need to continue that as well, and therefore use of the most appropriate system depending on what was being taught at the time would probably be best. Example, if she was in English class doing reading and writing work that would be a time to use an English-based system, and if she were in Science class trying to und erstand a concept, I would hope that teacher could explain things more conceptually with more ASL (of course this gets in to many other issues as well, such as finding a school that can provide that kind of instruction). Anyway, I am still confused about something, it seems that even if she were able to decode words well, since she can’t hear them at all, how does she make sense of what was decoded? Say she decodes “dinosaur” perfectly, isn’t it correct that those “sounds” (even with visual phonics) together don’t have meaning unless she has encountered the word before. I hear “dinosaur” and know what it means, but she could decode “dinosaur” and it could mean anything if there is no prior connection. So even if I had signed the word dinosaur to her many times using ASL/CSE or anything else – unless she has encountered the word and been taught it prior to decoding it, it still has no meaning either reading it or decoding it. Doesn’t that lead me to the same conclusion as before — s he will have to be taught every new word, and memorize it, in order to read even if she can decode it? Am I misunderstanding the link between decoding and understanding what is decoded?

Question from S.S., South Dakota. Posted April 14, 2011.

You are not misunderstanding the link between decoding and comprehension.  While decoding skills are necessary for learning to read, they alone are not sufficient for comprehension.  As in your example, a child can “sound out” the word dinosaur but if she does not know the word dinosaur in English, she will not understand the word that was decoded.  The fact that she understands the concept of dinosaur or is able to sign dinosaur in ASL is useful in a broad sense; however, this knowledge is not adequate to achieve success in the reading process as it gives her little knowledge of the English word.

In order to address this issue, deaf children require access to some form of face-to-face English (e.g., contact signing, Cued Speech, signed form of English, speechreading, etc.) in sufficient quantity and quality so that they can acquire the language that they are going to need to make sense of text. While we recognize that it can be challenging to consider the balance between the two languages in your daughter’s life, there is no way around the fact that she will need control of English vocabulary, grammar, and syntax in order to read and write it.

I have 3 deaf children. The reason I am writing is my son who is 10 can barely read at a 1st grade level, yet is on the high honor roll. Which I am very proud of. It seems as though they are just passing him along without no great concern for his reading. I have expressed my concerns everytime his IEP comes along and they say that it is a success for a deaf child to graduate at a 4th grade reading level which is absurd. My son wrote me a note one day and it said “mom I want to learn to read”. That just broke my heart. If there is anything you could recommend for me to try to teach him as much as I can at home it would be appreciated. Most of the recommendations I get from his school are way too expensive. I do as much as I can to help teach him, but I am a high school dropout who didn’t really pay much attention when I did show up. Which I truly regret. Didn’t realize as a kid my actions in school would affect the way I am able to teach my children. It seems to me when they passed the No Child Left Behind Law they left behind deaf and hard of hearing children and others with disabilities. I contacted my state senators and they told me to write a letter to all our state reps and senators. I just want my children to grow up and go to college and be functioning adults. I have done lots of research which is how I found your website, but I am not that well educated and need help. Which is why I am contacting you in hopes you might be able to help me help the thousands of disabled children in Illinois. I also would like to try to address the fact that 90% of deaf and hard of hearing children have two hearing parents and out of that only about 88% of them know sign. That is a shame when you cannot communicate with your child. Which I am sure it has a lot do to with finances and education. I have a hard time, but have been learning for years and I am decent but not great. So please if you could help it would be forever appreciated.

Question from Dawn M., Mattoon, IL. Posted March 1, 2010.

We are working on this at several levels. Most generally, Jenny Singleton (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign) offered several things to think about, although different issues may arise depending on whether your children are at the Illinois School for the Deaf or mainstreamed:

“What specific reading objectives are listed in the IEP and what specific focused instructional support is proposed for each of the reading objectives (and what evidence is there that the school followed through with the plan?).  If it appears that the school is continuing to push son forward with low expectations, that is of course concerning. Has anyone assessed his sign language fluency? Is he “on target” age-wise for his sign language development?

“Do you have an advocate who attends the IEP with you?  One resource that might be helpful is the Midwest Center on Law and the Deaf to think about whether you want to take further steps in determining whether the school personnel are developing and following through with appropriate IEP objectives.”

I also contacted Barbara Raimondo, Esquire, Policy Consultant, who provided helpful information with regard to remedying your situation through the IEP process. You can find that here: IEP Process.

Meanwhile Karen Roudybush (Reading Specialist at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf) offered the following…after emphasizing that “grade level reading remains the goal and that a fourth grade reading level remains unacceptable.”

There are a few things that you can do to support your son’s reading.

First and most importantly, READ, READ, READ. Initially, you need to find a topic/story of interest for him. Start out with easier materials, moving to more complex.  How well does he recognize words?  What does he do when he comes to a word he doesn’t know?  Does he keep or reading, reread, look for know chunks (meaningful or common spelling units) in the word?

Help him to increase his vocabulary.  Then find those new words and concepts in print everywhere.  Move from over using simple words (e.g., ‘big’) to more robust and less common words (‘enormous,’ ‘huge,’ ‘gigantic’) and talk about the differences in these words.

Help him classify texts:

Fiction (story) NonFiction (fact)
want to enjoy it learn from it
look for characters, what is topic, what do you know, want to learn?
beginning, middle, & end? (see story map) what did you learn?
Graphic Organizers – narrative story Graphic Organizers – see KWL

Encourage him to begin to ask questions while he reads. Look at the questioning strategy.doc for some questions he can use repeatedly depending on the type of text.

Summarize as he reads.  Have him retell as he’s reading and help him with his misunderstandings.

Some great web sites are www.fcrr.org You can find support for all the big ideas in reading including vocabulary and comprehension and word attack.  Look under the student center activities search tool.  You can pick an area of need and get support materials to address the need.   www.readingquest.org has comprehension strategies that help support non fiction text understanding.

I like reading a to z http://www.readinga-z.com/ Although it’s a pay-for-use site, it offers leveled books from pre-primer through fifth grade in fiction and nonfiction with support worksheets and evaluation tools.  It also offers advice for teaching various skills.

Evaluate his reading strengths and needs and capitalize on his strengths and work on his needs.  I hope this helps.