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.

Question from E.K., Pennsylvania

I have a daughter that is 10yrs old and uses a cochlear implant to hear. She is mainstream and is presently performing at an average level. My concerns are that I have noticed some of her weakness in math and reading. These are not easily identified as to what is the underlying cause for the weakness. Are there techniques that her teachers and I can use to help her in these areas?

Question from E.K., Pennsylvania. Posted June 21, 2011.
Response from Marc Marschark - NTID

I have talked to a couple of colleagues about this, because I have to confess that my first thought was to be impressed with that your daughter is doing so well. English and math traditionally have been the most difficult areas for deaf children, and as much as I wish we had the solutions (note the plural), we have not made a lot of progress in the last few decades. Certainly, kids with implants are doing better on average than kids without implants, but they still generally perform behind hearing peers. That, in itself, is a clue of where we need to look for some answers.

All of this doesn’t mean anybody’s giving up! There is a lot of work going on today concerning the cognitive and linguistic underpinnings of deaf children’s learning, trying to identify ways in which teachers can build on their particular strengths and accommodate their particular needs rather than assuming that ‘deaf children are just hearing children who can’t hear.’

The first suggestion would be to find a good school psychologist to do a full evaluation of your daughter, perhaps including neuropsychological testing to identify those strengths as well as needs. And, historically, one-on-one teaching/tutoring has perhaps been most effective. Although there are some people who argue that we need to move away from “drill and practice,” the evidence suggests that deaf children need and benefit from it. Missing a lot of incidental learning (even with cochlear implants) means that some of what hearing children learn implicitly has to be provided explicitly to deaf children and repeated sufficiently so that it becomes automatic. Indeed, the lack of “automaticity” which comes from over learning is one of the consistent factors in the literature about deaf children’s learning… although one that seems widely ignored.

Finally, you seem to have the most important ingredient. While most people obsess about deaf children who are poor readers, there have only been two studies that have looked at what makes for the better readers. Both studies have indicated involved parents to be the key. And clearly, your daughter has that!