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
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
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
- Are there programs for reading, literacy
- 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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org with