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 M.C., California

I need advice on my child’s upcoming IEP. He was diagnosed at birth with sensorineural hearing loss ( moderate). He will be turning 3 soon and the Local Education Authority District is taking over. We toured the Special Education preschool, and it lacks any children whom are DHH. Composition is mostly ADD, Autistic, and delayed children, which leads to a somewhat hectic/noisy environment. No FM system, teacher is an SLP but not sure if credentialed for DHH. Do we have a leg to stand on legally if we decide not to sign the IEP? The district has no DHH specific programs available, so the private school my child was sent to is an option.

Question from M.C., California. Posted May 7, 2012.
Response from Barbara Raimondo - Educational Policy Consultant

In developing a child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the IEP team must evaluate a child’s needs, set annual goals, and determine services before placement is determined.  If school personnel are proposing a placement before evaluation is done,and goals and services are determined, the school is not complying with IDEA.

Further, in developing the IEP the IEP team must consider “special factors” for deaf and hard of hearing students:  “[I]n the case of a child who is deaf or hard of hearing, consider the child’s language and communication needs, opportunities for direct communications with peers and professional personnel in the child’s language and communication mode, academic level, and full range of needs, including opportunities for direct instruction in the child’s language and communication mode . . .” The IEP team also must consider the child’s need for assistive technology. And the school must ensure that parents have an opportunity to be part of the group that decides placement.

The U.S. Department of Education has clarified what the a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) is for a deaf or hard of hearing child: “Meeting the unique communication and related needs of a student who is deaf is a fundamental part of providing a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to the child. Any setting, including a regular classroom, that prevents a child who is deaf from receiving an appropriate education that meets his or her needs including communication needs is not the LRE for that individual child.” (Deaf Students Education Services Policy Guidance http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/hq9806.html)

In my view the right approach is to work with the school to
1. ensure appropriate evaluations are performed by qualified assessors – what is your child’s language level, primary language, how does your child communicate with others, what are the tools and approaches that support him in communication;

2. develop annual goals that will help your child reach appropriate developmental milestones and access the general education curriculum – for many deaf children goals are needed in the area of language and communication; and

3. determine appropriate services, based on goals, by qualified providers – providers could be teachers of the deaf, speech-language pathologists, sign language specialists, others.

Then the child must be placed in a setting where his IEP can be implemented.  This could be within the district, outside the district, public or private.  Services and settings must be provided at no cost to the parent.  If, after going through these three steps, you become aware of a setting that will support your child’s IEP, you should recommend this to the school district.  Often I hear from parents that they are the ones educating the educators, not the other way around.

Don’t settle for services and settings that don’t meet your child’s needs.  Be an active participant in the development of your child’s IEP and subsequent placement.