Evaluating School Programs for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Children
By Paula Rosenthal, J.D.

When a child is prelingually deafened or hard of hearing (usually before the age of 3), many families will seek a special education program to assist the child with his speech and/or language development. Since the average age of diagnosis of hearing loss is 2.5 years to 3.5 years, children often suffer from significant receptive and expressive language delays.

Whether the family chooses oral communication, sign language, a signed English system or total communication, choosing a school can be a daunting task. Due to the relatively few choices of programs available for deaf and hearing-impaired children in each state, many families have become part of a special education migration phenomenon. In essence, they temporarily or permanently relocate all or part of their family to another state so that their child with special needs can attend a program that they deem appropriate.

This article discusses general guidelines for evaluating school programs for deaf and hard-of-hearing children.


A listing of oral deaf education programs in the United States, Canada and United Kingdom can be found at http://www.oraldeafed.org/schools. Each school offers extensive information via this site. The Oberkotter Oral Deaf Education site also offers free videos and information for parents of newly diagnosed children that can be found at http://www.oraldeafed.org.

A comprehensive listing of links to schools for the deaf in the United States can be found at the http://clerccenter.gallaudet.edu. The communication methods taught at these schools vary.

Other places to research center-based and mainstream programs for deaf and hearing-impaired children can be found at http://www.oraldeafed.org/schools and http://www.deafness.about.com/cs.


After determining the communication method you plan to use with your child and researching the schools via the Internet, telephone and mail, narrow the list of schools you are interested in. Request an appointment to visit the school, preferably while it is in session during the year or during a summer program.

Be sure to observe the students who are the same age as your child as well as older students' classes. Take note of their demeanor. Do the children appear attentive and interested in what they are being taught? Is every child given a chance to participate and interact? Are the classrooms brightly lit and organized? How are the acoustics in the room?

Ask to meet the teachers as well as parents of students. Are the teachers energetic, experienced and patient? Are the parents pleased with the progress their children are making? Can parents observe the classes freely? Are parents involved in the school? Is there a parent-teacher association? Is there a formal or informal support group for parents? How do the parents feel about the teachers and the administrators? These are key components of successful programs.

Be Prepared
Arrive for your meeting with the director or principal of the program with a list of questions in hand as well as pen and paper to write down answers. This will assist you in keeping track of each program you visit. Here is a list of sample questions:

  • What is the maximum class size for my child's age group?
  • What is the student-to-teacher ratio in each classroom?
  • What are the educational qualifications of the teachers and classroom assistants?
  • What is the organizational structure of the day?
  • What is the curriculum for the school year?
  • Are there programs for reading, literacy and math?
  • Do the children use FM listening systems in the classrooms?
  • How much "downtime" do the children have during the day? How much outdoor, free play?
  • Is there a playground on site? Is it safe for children with cochlear implants (no plastic)? Are there fields to run in, swings, slides and a climbing apparatus?
  • Is there an audiology department or an audiologist on staff? Who troubleshoots hearing aid, cochlear implant and assistive device problems?
  • How often are hearing tests conducted?
  • Are there children with multiple disabilities in the program?
  • Is educational testing done during the school year? Who does it? How often? Are parents notified or allowed to observe testing?
  • Are parents freely allowed to observe the classrooms? (Check with parents to verify this information.)
  • Are there opportunities for children to interact with normal-hearing peers?
  • At what age and what percentage of the children "graduate" into a mainstream program each year? How is the determination made that they are ready?
  • Can my child enroll for a trial period without making a commitment to a full year of tuition?
  • Is there financial assistance available?

After visiting and observing several schools, you should be able to make a determination based on quality of the program, support, feasibility and location. Remember that it is not unusual for a majority of families at a school to relocate for the program. If you decide to relocate, be sure to find out about local community support for your family.

Choosing a mainstream or special education program for your deaf or hard-of-hearing child can have a significant impact on his life as well as yours. It is important to be thorough in your research and find a program that is compatible with your philosophy and the goals you have for your child. With the right education and support, your child can be successful in anything he chooses to do.

Paula Rosenthal, J.D. is married and a mother of two young children. She, her husband and daughter are all hearing impaired. Her son has normal hearing. She has relocated temporarily with her children for an educational program in the Midwest. Paula is the founder and publisher of Hearing Exchange, an online community of resources and support for people with hearing loss, parents of deaf and hard-of-hearing children and professionals who work with them. Subscribe to HearingExchange News for the latest news and resources on hearing loss on the main page of the site.

Copyright Paula Rosenthal, 2001-2003. All rights reserved. Reproduction of this article requires express, written permission of the author. Send an email to reprints@hearingexchange.com with your request.




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