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

How effective will it be for a child using Melanesian Sign Language in mainstream schools?

Question from W.D., Papua New Guinea. Posted March 3, 2017.
Response from Marc Marschark - NTID

As long as the school provides qualified sign language services or the teachers sign (fluently) for themselves, sign language is just as appropriate as spoken language for educational purposes. There still will be the important issue of effective communication with classmates, but hopefully an interpreter can facilitate that. But, even if sign language and spoken language are both appropriate in the classroom, they are not equivalent. Children who use sign language or spoken language have somewhat different strengths and needs, so it is important for parents and teachers to make sure that each child is getting services that match. Teachers may not have been trained in those differences, and some are subtle, so reading current textbooks or other materials will be helpful. Also, even if children are using sign language, hearing aids can be very helpful for those who have some amount of residual hearing. Finally, I should emphasize the words “qualified” and “fluently” in the first sentence. This may not be possible in all places, but for children who do not use spoken language effectively, fluent language models are essential if they are to have the same opportunities and academic outcomes as hearing children.

I currently live in a state that does not have a listening and spoken language program for deaf children with cochlear implants. A bordering state has such a program. My county’s district will not allow my child to go there. Is there a law that they are in violation of? Do I have the right to have my child attend this LSL school?

Question from C.L., Indiana. Posted February 2, 2017.

It is difficult to give a definitive answer without having more information. However, the guiding principle for placement decisions is the IEP. So, if your child has an IEP that calls for the delivery of services that only an LSL School can provide, and the district does not have appropriate services that meet the needs as stated in the IEP, then the district would be required to find a placement that could provide those services.

As far as “rights” go, there is the right to compliance with the regulations on the part of the district. For example, if an evaluation is requested, the district is required to provide one in a timely fashion in order to be available for review at an IEP team meeting. If you feel that the evaluation and/or IEP recommendations are inappropriate, you have the right to reject the IEP. That is, the IEP process should determine the placement based on assessment data. You and your child have the right to that, but not to an alternative placement unless it can be demonstrated that what was being offered by the district does not meet the goals of the IEP. Parental wishes are considered but not binding.

p.s. The same standard would apply through any appeals process.

Can cochlear implants cause a distraction to learning in the classroom for some children. If so, how does a parent know?

Question from S.J., Indiana. Posted November 21, 2016.

When cochlear implants are properly working and appropriate habilitation (e.g., speech-language) services are in place, cochlear implants should not distract children from learning in the classroom. In fact, cochlear implants offer the potential for the child to acquire auditory-verbal information that might otherwise be missed. However, deaf children with cochlear implants are at greater risk for executive functioning delays (which include distractibility and attention problems), compared to hearing children. The causes of these executive functioning delays appear to be speech perception/language delays and early hearing loss, not the implant itself. Research indicates that significant executive functioning delays (which can cause distractibility and attention problems) occur in less than half of children with cochlear implants, but that the rate of executive functioning delays in children with cochlear implants is about 3-5 times greater than that of hearing children.

The best way to know if a child has more distractibility and attention problems than the average child in the classroom is to have the teacher rate the child’s behavior compared to other children in the classroom. Sometimes, teachers will alert parents about concerns in take-home notes or at conferences, but it is often very helpful if a teacher can complete a standardized behavior checklist that compares the child to other children of the same age. Parents may also notice problems with distractibility and attention problems at home. When significant concerns are present, it is recommended that the parents talk to the teacher and to the child’s doctor about these problems, seeking more in-depth evaluation from a psychologist if necessary.

If you are concerned about problems that a potentially poorly-functioning cochlear implant might be causing for a child in the classroom, it is recommended that you first check with the child’s audiologist and speech-language pathologist. The audiologist can check the implant to be sure that it is functioning properly; the speech-language pathologist can discuss any habilitation, speech perception, or language processing problems that might be occurring. A problem with the normal functioning of the implant could be distracting to the child.

I am looking for research based articles on Evidence Based Practices to teach literacy to children who are deaf. We are currently using multiple interventions one of which is Visual Phonics. I cannot find any research to support this as an evidence-based practice. Do you have any resources or suggestions?

Question from A.C., Vermont. Posted November 5, 2016.

Depending on the age of your students and their hearing abilities, Visual Phonics may be an effective strategy to improve your students’ phonological awareness skills and ability to sound out words. However, the long-term relationship between Visual Phonics instruction and decoding is unclear. Narr (2008) discovered that the number of years Visual Phonics had been part of instruction did not correlate with the decoding abilities of these readers.

Two other instructional strategies that you may consider if you have older readers or those with little functional hearing are: lexicalized fingerspelling and morphological instruction. Lexicalized fingerspelling is rendering the fingerspelled word smoothly. The fingerspelled word looks more like a fingerspelled loan sign. During instruction, the sign, lexicalized fingerspelling and the printed word should be presented simultaneously to the students. Later, the students can link the lexicalized fingerspelled word to the printed word (Haptonstall-Nykaza & Schick, 2007) more reliably.

Morphological instruction includes teaching affixes and root word meanings and the rules for combining morphemes as part of daily literacy instruction. Morphemes are the smallest part of the language that retains meaning (uni + cycle = unicycle). Morphemes tend to be spelled the same across words even when they are pronounced differently (magic vs. magician). Teaching DHH students morphemes and their meanings allow them to read using patterns that are accessible through the printed word. The students can break down the word into its morphemes, determine the meanings of the morphemes, and reconstruct the word to determine the word’s meaning (Trussell & Easterbrooks, 2015). Morphology instruction gives the students the tools to decode the words for meaning and improves their reading comprehension through vocabulary (Nunes, Burman, Evans, & Bell, 2010).


Visual Phonics for young students:

Bergeron, J., Lederberg, A., Easterbrooks, S., Miller, E., & Connor, C. (2009). Building the alphabetic principle for children who are deaf or hard of hearing. Volta Review, 109(2–3), 87–119.

Lederberg, A. R., Miller, E. M., Easterbrooks, S. R., & Connor, C. M. D. (2014). Foundations for literacy: An early literacy intervention for deaf and hard-of-hearing children. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 19(4), 438–455. http://doi.org/10.1093/deafed/enu022

Miller, E. M., Lederberg, A. R., & Easterbrooks, S. R. (2013). Phonological Awareness: Explicit Instruction for Young Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Children. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education. http://doi.org/10.1093/deafed/ens067

Beal-Alvarez, J., Lederberg, A., & Easterbrooks, S. (2011). Grapheme-phoneme acquisition of deaf preschoolers. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 17(1), 39–60. http://doi.org/10.1093/deafed/enr030

Tucci, S. L., & Easterbrooks, S. R. (2013). A syllable segmentation, letter-sound, and initial sound intervention with students who are deaf or hard of hearing and use sign language. The Journal of Special Education. http://doi.org/10.1177/0022466913504462

Trezek, B., Wang, Y., Woods, D., Gampp, T., & Paul, P. (2007). Using visual phonics to supplement beginning reading instruction for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 12(3), 373–84. http://doi.org/10.1093/deafed/enm014

Visual Phonics for Middle School Students:
Trezek, B., & Malmgren, K. W. (2005). The efficacy of utilizing a phonics treatment package with middle school deaf and hard-of-hearing students. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 10(3), 256–71. http://doi.org/10.1093/deafed/eni028

Haptonstall-Nykaza, T. S., & Schick, B. (2007). The transition from fingerspelling to English print: Facilitating English decoding. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 12(2), 172–83. http://doi.org/10.1093/deafed/enm003

Morphology instruction:

Trussell, J. W., & Easterbrooks, S. R. (2015). Effects of morphographic instruction on the morphographic analysis skills of deaf and hard-of-hearing students. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 20(3), 229–241. http://doi.org/10.1093/deafed/env019

What is the best way to teach a child who is deaf to attend to sign?

Question from J.B., Florida. Posted October 11, 2016.

There are a number of strategies that deaf parents and teachers use to ensure that deaf children attend to (signed) communication and maintain that attention. You can find a description of some of these strategies in a recent posting on the Raising and Educating Deaf Children website.

My son is deaf and also has autism. Is there any research related to a dual disability? The current school system in our county is trying to remove his sign interpreter and replace with someone who signs of a toddler level, he is in middle school. Any information would be helpful.

Question from J.B., Florida. Posted October 3, 2016.

The Raising and Educating Deaf Children website (www.raisingandeducatingdeafchildren.org) recently posted a series of bulletins on deaf children and autism (see the July 2016 postings). There are several that should be useful for you. In addition to the information contained in the bulletins themselves and addresses of the authors, you will find free access to research articles from Oxford University Press.

My granddaughter is 19, she is hearing impaired and has just come to live with me. She went to school in the Caribbean. She would like to attend college but I don’t know where or how she should start: whether she should go to high school and do the high school diploma or get her GED and move on from there. What do you think she should do? So far, there is no high school in the area with a program for deaf students.

Question from J.C., Florida. Posted September 29, 2016.

The Florida Department of Education has a dedicated page for finding information about services for school age students who are deaf or hard of hearing (DHH) in the State of Florida. Here is the link: http://www.fldoe.org/academics/exceptional-student-edu/ese-eligibility/deaf-or-hard-of-hearing-dhh.stml Every county has a DHH Coordinator Contact which can be found here: http://app4.fldoe.org/EESSContacts/ . Every county must offer students who are DHH a full continuum of services from ages 3 to 21. Some of the smaller counties must collaborate to provide services. An explanation of the continuum of services can be found in the “Florida’s Education Opportunities for Students with Sensory Impairments” http://www.fldoe.org/core/fileparse.php/7690/urlt/0070161-edoppsensory.pdf.

As for the age of the student, I would recommend they start with the guidance counselor at the local high school to see if any school credits will transfer from the Caribbean. At 19 she may still have time to earn a standard diploma, but it depends when her birthday is because she only has until she is 21. Florida does have a 3-year diploma option. Only a guidance counselor can determine if it is possible to earn a standards diploma.

The young woman should also apply for Vocational Rehabilitation: http://www.rehabworks.org/. They can help guide the student to post-secondary options. If the student wants to attend college, then they would need to speak with the college about what programs are available for students with disabilities to earn their GED and then a postsecondary program. http://www.stateofflorida.com/colleges-in-florida.aspx I am most familiar with North East Florida where there is Florida State College at Jacksonville and St. Johns River State College have bridge programs and are experienced at working with students who are DHH.

Another resource is Florida Centers for Independent Living, http://www.floridacils.org/. They have 15 centers statewide. They provide resources, training and support.

The final resource that may assist the family is the Family Network on Disabilities (FND), http://fndusa.org/. They provide support and information sharing for children ages birth to 26.

I have a son who is deaf…or so we thought. We had an ABR done recently, and he has no permanent hearing loss. Great news! I still feel that he has hearing issues. Small ear canals, frequent ear infections, but no permanent hearing losses. He also has oromotor issues that are congenital. He can’t drink, can’t eat more than purees, drools, right sided weakness, low tone, etc. He’s had 4 oral surgeries. It makes sense that he can’t talk. He did say his first word this summer, “Go!” So, I want him to learn ASL. He started at 30 signs 6 months ago, and now he has a vocabulary in excess of 250 signs.

We had an IEP meeting last week. brought 3 doctor reports and a speech therapist report that all indicate that he needs to be taught sign language in his classroom. The school “accepts” but will not teach ASL. They want him to use an iPad with pictures. I feel that all of his gains in speech are linked to his sign language acquisition.

I did reach out to the school for the deaf. We are signed up to do some of their outreach programs. He’s not deaf, so they won’t/can’t help us. I want my son in a Total Communication class. There is one about 20 minutes from our house.

How can we get what (we feel) our son needs?

Question from M.G., New York. Posted September 7, 2016.

If a finding of special needs is found (which clearly is the case) then the child is eligible for special education. At that point, it does not matter how the school “feels” about the recommendations, the school has to provide services based upon the assessments to provide access to the curriculum. Rejecting sign language because he is hearing is not an appropriate determination if the assessments indicate that as an adoption that will facilitate access to instruction and social interaction. This is a child with multiple needs and the recommendations that were cited do not come close to the extensive level of support the child will need to be able to be successful. Pull out services will not suffice at least not during his early childhood years and the need to intervene comprehensively to promote development is necessary.

So, first, the school should assess the child’s language level, both receptively and expressively. This is the starting point. Then goals should be developed based on the needs identified during the assessment. The overall goal should be achievement of age-level language skills. Age level skills will enable him to access the general education curriculum. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act emphasizes age appropriate skills and access to the same educational material that other children receive, that is the general education curriculum. In other words, the school should be attempting to get the child’s skills to the same level of his peers so that he can participate in the classroom similar to his peers, to the extent possible. Will using an iPad with pictures do that? It’s hard to see how. The fact that you can show that he is succeeding using sign language is helpful.

Once goals are developed, then the services should be determined, such as teaching sign language by a trained teacher. After the services are agreed upon, then placement is made. The placement must be based on the child’s needs and services. If there is a total communication class that would fit the method used in the class, that would seem to be a more appropriate choice. If there is any capacity for spoken language, a simultaneous communication approach may be better in the long run.

Sounds simple, but I know when you are advocating for your child it is not easy. In the end, litigation may be the only way forward, with the experts lined up prepared to make recommendations based on their findings and to have the school system respond on how they will fulfill the requirements. Hopefully, it will not come to that. Meanwhile, a few tools you can use:

First, if you believe that the school has not done an appropriate assessment of his language skills you should request they do (or re-do) that right away. Also, are his goals consistent with getting him to the level of his peers (and helping him continue to progress)? They should be.

Second, as for placement, when a school refuses to change the placement of a child (or for other purposes), it must inform the parents of the reasons. This is called “Prior Written Notice.” See the form developed by the U.S. Department of Education at http://idea.ed.gov/download/modelform2_Prior_Written_Notice.pdf. As you can see, the school must explain the reasons why it refuses the placement, based on evaluation procedures, assessments, and records. You can request that the school provide the information required on this form.

Another law that applies in this case is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Among other things, that law requires schools to ensure that students with speech disabilities can receive information from, and convey information to, others. This communication must be as effective as communication with students without disabilities. The U.S. Department of Education has issued guidance on the ADA and effective communication at https://www.ada.gov/doe_doj_eff_comm/doe_doj_eff_comm_faqs.htm. Under the ADA schools must give “primary consideration” to the request of the student or parent.

My son is 5 years old, with moderate hearing loss due to incomplete development of the cochlea. He attends kindergarten at our neighborhood school in a mainstream classroom. In addition to his hearing loss, he also has a tracheostomy. He is normal intelligence, and his speech and language are at close to age level, but he has some speech intelligibility issues due mostly to the tracheostomy but also due to him hearing sound poorly.

During his preschool years, my son had a single Oticon Ponto Plus worn on a soft band. The district issued him an FM system for use in school (Inspiro with Roger X plug in receiver) for preschool. His speech comprehension and sound articulation dramatically improved with the FM system, since he was able to pick out more of the soft letter sounds during “learn to read” lessons. My son upgraded to Phonak Sky V 70 P bilateral behind-the-ear hearing aids over summer vacation. Our insurance paid for the new hearing aids, but not for integrated FM receivers. The hospital audiologist advised that we should request for the school district to issue integrated FM receivers so that we could purchase and use a Roger Pen system at home. The cost of the Roger Pen system is about $1100, and we are willing to pay for it out of pocket because it seems really awesome and useful. My son has lengthy daily breathing treatments due to his medical conditions, which create a ton of background noise. He’s generally bored and annoyed during his breathing treatments, because even with hearing aids on, he can’t really hear or understand speech around him.

The district audiologist states that the district has a policy of issuing only plug-in Roger X receivers for use at school, and that they won’t pay for integrated FM receivers. Our current IEP didn’t request the use of an FM system for home use, because the old hearing aids didn’t have that capability. Now that the new hearing aids have the capability of home FM system use, we want to use it.

Does a DHH child have a right to use an FM system at home? If a child has the right to use an FM system at home, does the district have to provide integrated FM receivers? Do we have the right to demand one style of FM system (the newer Roger Pen with Roger 18 receivers) over another system (the older Inspiro with Roger X). If we end up having to purchase the integrated FM receivers out of pocket for use with our home FM system, is the school then obligated to use the technology we purchase? We’re willing to prioritize our purchases to spend some money on a home Roger system because we think it will help his hearing overall. If the school says we have to leave his Roger X receivers at school, then we will also have to purchase two integrated Roger 18 receivers for home/school use, which would add another $2000 to this scheme.

Question from J. M., California. Posted August 18, 2016.

I applaud your efforts in advocating for your child.

My background is in clinical audiology and I am not a legal expert, so please know that this response should not be considered legal advice.

The following website, although it is written for the State of New Jersey, addresses many of your concerns: http://www.drnj.org/atac/?p=63

To summarize, the school is only required to send the FM/Roger system home if it is specifically related to a goal on the IEP. You could work with the IEP team to try and add this. Additionally, the school is not required to purchase any particular FM system or receiver, if there is an alternative (i.e., cheaper or more universal) system that serves the same function or enables the student to successfully achieve their IEP goals.

If you do purchase the integrated Roger receivers on your own, you would need to discuss with the school audiologist whether your son would be able to use them at school or not.

I hope this helps and I wish you the best in navigating the IEP process.

My son was implanted at 2 years of age with a CI. He is now 3 years old. He was diagnosed with Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder and he is severely to profoundly deaf. They describe his disorder like a static radio most of the time it’s static but every once in a while he hears something but not enough to form speech or understand what a sound is. The CI was not a guarantee that it would work, but as my husband and I are both hearing and no one else in the family with hearing loss we figured we should give it a try. We have also been signing with him since he was 15 months old. Our son is now in school, and at his last IEP meeting we were told that they probably don’t have the funds for an interpreter or enough children to start a deaf class. I don’t know how to get my son the education he needs! I just don’t think it’s fair. He is very smart, very visual, and has an amazing memory. What can I do and how can I fight for my son’s education??

Question from C.D., Florida. Posted July 26, 2016.

You indicate that your son has auditory neuropathy and received a cochlear implant at age two. Some children with auditory neuropathy will benefit from cochlear implants, but most will need sign language for the very reason you described—auditory neuropathy produces static rather than a clear auditory signal, making it very difficult or impossible to access spoken language auditorily, even with a CI. It sounds like you have been doing everything right for your son by providing sign language since he was 15 months old.

I was sorry to hear that the school’s IEP team decided not to provide sign language for your son. Your son is entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)—the federal law which governs every public school district in the U.S. For deaf students, the IDEA specifically states that communication needs, including the need for sign language, must be considered by the IEP team when making educational placement and services decisions. Furthermore, an IEP team may not use “lack of funds” as a reason not to provide interpreting or any other special services required for him to obtain FAPE.

The IDEA grants parents of children with documented special needs, including deafness, the right to appeal an IEP team decision. Every IEP team must, by law, provide parents with written procedures for appealing an IEP team decision. You should request the written procedures from your school district immediately and file an appeal according to the procedures described in that document.

In my experience, school districts often do not understand the communication needs of deaf children. However, you can and should advocate for your son through well-established legal procedures. In so doing, you will also be educating the school district – paving the way for future families with deafness—as well as for your son. I encourage you to be confident and persistent, because your son has the right to a free appropriate educational program, which in his case should include sign language.