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Sign of the Day - MENTAL HEALTH

Education Options for Children that are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

General Interest   |  Tuesday, April 24, 2012

By John Miller

We have received questions from parents, family and friends of newly identified children with hearing loss asking about what we know about educational options. Let me begin by saying that making educational decisions for you child is a very personal decision and takes a lot of thought and discussion with professionals that have specific knowledge of the services available in your area. There are many different education options to explore. You need to determine what is the best fit for your family.

Educational Options
 

Early Intervention / Preschool Programs

Early intervention / preschool programs are typically for children from birth to four years old. They aim to develop early language and communication skills, as well as provide support and resources for parents. These programs may be provided by a variety of local organizations, such as public schools, government (health and human services departments), residential schools, and private organizations.

When researching what types of programs are offered in your local area, find out who the programs are intended for and who teaches them. Some programs may be for a more inclusive group of children with a variety of special needs or they may be specifically for children that are deaf or hard of hearing. Teachers may have a degree in special education or have training specifically in deaf education. These distinctions may not reflect on the quality of the program, but are important to understand when evaluating your options.

Residential Schools

A residential school is an institution where students typically go and live full time while attending. These can be private or state schools. All the students in the school are deaf or hard of hearing. They are often educated by deaf teachers or teachers who are trained in deafness. Some residential schools offer day-only options for students that are able to commute from home.

PROS:

  • Students will be around other deaf and hard of hearing students.
  • Education is tailored to the needs of deaf and hard of hearing.
  • Schools often incorporate sign language.
  • Most schools offer a variety of extracurricular activities, including sports and clubs, where the students interact with other deaf residential schools.  These activities can help foster a larger Deaf community for the student.
  • Students build relationships and are involved in Deaf culture and community.
  • Often there is access to strong deaf role models.

CONS:

  • Students are usually away from home and their families for long periods of time.
  • Children can feel isolated from their families.
  • There may be expenses involved in this type of schooling.

You can find a list of Schools and Programs for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students in the United States on the Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center Website.

Oral Day Schools or Sign Day Schools

Oral Day Schools or Sign Day Schools are schools that provide education for deaf or hard of hearing students, but they are day schools and the students return home each day. Oral Day Schools focus more on auditory and oral skills and do not incorporate sign language. Sign Day Schools do use sign language.

PROS:

  • Students will be around other deaf and hard of hearing students.
  • Education is tailored to the needs of deaf and hard of hearing.
  • There may be additional pros, similar to those of residential schools.

CONS:

  • The availability and location of these types of schools may eliminate them as an option for families who don’t live near one. They are often located in higher populated areas, like metropolitan cities.
  • There may be expenses involved in this type of schooling.

You can find a list of Oral Deaf Schools in the U.S. on the Oberkotter Foundation Oral Deaf Education Web Site

You can find a list of Schools and Programs for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students in the United States on the Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center Website.

Mainstreaming (Public School)

"Mainstreaming" has a long history of being a controversial topic in deaf and hard of hearing education. Mainstreaming is when a deaf or hard of hearing student attends a local public school with hearing students. The experience can vary greatly depending on the support services the school has to provide and the needs of the student.

The best way to find out what the services are in your local area is to contact the local public school district or regional service district and see what they have to offer. Because deafness is considered a “low incidence disability” by government education code (meaning there isn’t a large number of deaf children in a concentrated area), there is limited funding available and every school district handles it differently.

Having a general understanding of how the educational system is structured can help you understand how to navigate it. Typically a group of individual schools will make up a school district, and in parts of the U.S. there are also intermediate school districts that manage multiple school districts. Because there isn’t always enough funding for individual schools to have their own deaf or hard of hearing program, many times the programs will be controlled at the district or intermediate school district level and students are bused to one central location for education.

Here are some examples of how mainstreaming can vary:

  • Regular Classroom
    The student is in a regular classroom with hearing students and all instruction is from the classroom teacher(s). There are little to no additional support services provided for the deaf or hard of hearing student.
  • Regular Classroom with additional support services
    The student is in a regular classroom with hearing students, however, there is some support in addition to the classroom teacher(s). The support may come from an additional teacher, teacher consultant, teacher of the deaf, speech/language specialist, or interpreter. The support may be provided within the classroom, where the helper would co-teach or work with the deaf or hard of hearing student in conjunction with the main teacher addressing the entire class, or the student may meet with the specialist after class, outside of the classroom.
  • Resource Room
    The student is in a regular classroom with hearing students, however, they leave the classroom for designated periods to receive special instruction. Some students may be with other deaf or hard of hearing individuals during this period, or they may be with other students with special education needs, such as physical or cognitive disabilities – that is an important distinction to be aware of.
  • Self-Contained Classroom
    The student is in a class, separate from the regular classroom, with a teacher for the deaf.
     

PROS/CONS:

The pros and cons of mainstreaming and the quality of that education vary greatly depending on the environment and type of support provided for the student. Mainstreamed students can feel isolated if they are the only deaf or hard of hearing student and may lack access to deaf role models. One advantage is that mainstreaming allows students to stay at home with their family, opposed to living away for schooling.  With resources being shared across school districts, students are often bused to one central location where they are with a group of deaf and hard of hearing students as well as hearing students, yet they may also have a self contained classroom that they can go to throughout the day for additional support. This allows the deaf and hard of hearing students to participate in any of the school's extracurricular activities, such as sports or clubs.

Homeschool Environment

Homeschooling is when students are educated by parents or tutors outside of the formal setting of a public or private school (like at home).

PROS:

  • Parents have the opportunity to tailor the education experience specifically for their child.
  • The student doesn’t need to live away from home for schooling.

CONS:

  • The student may feel isolated from peers.
  • When there is only a single education provider for an extended length of time, there may be less variety in teaching methods and perspectives that a student would receive in a typical school setting where they have a new teacher every year.
  • There may be significant costs associated when a tutor(s) are hired or a parent leaves their job to do homeschool instruction full time.
     

Making Education Decisions

Again, making education decisions for your child is a very personal decision. Some things to think about:

  • The best thing you can do is research your options and be an advocate for your child’s needs. Every child is different – with different learning styles, different personalities, different strengths, and different levels of hearing loss.
  • Education quality varies from school to school. No matter the type of education you choose to pursue, make sure that you learn what you can about the specific school and talk to other parents with children there if possible.
  • There is not one education option that is best for everyone. Every student and family is different and has different needs.
  • Hearing parents might want to connect with deaf adults who can provide advice on their own education experience.
  • Try to build positive relationships with school administrators and teachers. They may be able to help increase the options and opportunities available with the education system.

Please feel free to share your own experience by leaving a comment.

 

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