Coping with and Understanding the Deaf Student
What is deafness?
There are many definitions to the word “deaf.” According to Stephen P. Quigley and Peter V. Paul in their book Language and Deafness (1984), “a child is considered deaf if hearing impairment is so great, even with good amplification, that vision becomes the child’s main link to the world and main channel of communication.” This is a general and relatively vague definition.
Other definitions are based on the degree of hearing loss in terms of decibels (dB) ranging from mild to profound hearing loss. A loss of 35 to 70 dB is generally considered hard of hearing, while a loss of 90 dB or greater is considered profoundly deaf (Moores 1990). Each state classifies what is deaf and hard of hearing in different ranges.
What are the types of deafness?
A conductive hearing loss can be described as a temporary hearing loss due to an ear infection, wax buildup, ruptured ear drum, colds, atresia and otosclerosis (Moores 1990). Otosclerosis can become a permanent hearing loss if not treated. The area of concern with conductive hearing loss is the middle and outer ear.
“A sensorineural hearing loss is a permanent hearing loss in about 99.9% of cases. The causes of a sensorineural hearing loss are numerous: nerve damage due to illness, meningitis, maternal rubella, RH blood incompatibility, scarlet fever, absence of semicoclear fluid, cytomeglovirus, chronic exposure to loud noises (industrial work), premature birth, head trauma, drug exposure, heredity/genetics and unknown causes” (Moores 1990).
The areas of concern with sensorineural hearing loss are in the inner ear.
Community and Culture
The deaf have both a community and a culture. While the idea that the deaf have a culture and community is news to many hearing people, it has existed for a long time. “The Deaf culture has characteristics identifiable to that of other subcultures or ethnic groups. It is born out of shared experiences (life in residential schools) and a shared language, American Sign Language” (Cline 1997). The Deaf community has its own regional, state, and national organizations. They have events ranging from athletic events and community picnics to Deaf Miss America and theatrical performances. There are deaf religious congregations and deaf intramarriage is common. All of these things schools, language and organizations have brought together people with low-incidence disabilities that otherwise would have been isolated in their hometowns. However, “because the majority of deaf children are born to hearing parents, the passing on or transmission of Deaf culture is not familial but from contact with other deaf people in the community” (Mason 1995).
Social & Emotional Development of Deaf Children and their Families
When a new child is welcomed into a family, there is a period of adjustment that the majority of families go through. However, when the child is deaf, it can complicate and add stress to this adjustment for parents unfamiliar with deafness. There are many issues involved with raising a deaf child. Mental health issues are an important area to take into consideration when making decisions for and about a deaf child. There are perspectives in which deaf children are viewed and the perspective a parent may have has an effect on how their child develops socially and emotionally (Henwood 1994).
An important perspective is to view the deaf child like any other child. A deaf child has needs like any other. “They need all the things that hearing children need: communication, love, attention, a sense of belonging, encouragement, friendship, freedom, culture, choices, high expectations, morals, guidance, and an education. These things combine to make a complete child with a good self-image” (Henwood 1994). When needs are not met, they can have potentially devastating effects on the mental health of a deaf child or for that matter a hearing child.
Unfortunately, many parents are unfamiliar with deafness. “The possible disappointment and the overwhelming task of learning about and making decisions regarding their deaf child can take its toll on the parent” (Henwood 1994). One important thing to remember about deaf children is that they are still children. They, like all children, need all of these things and more to develop a healthy sense of self.
IFSP’s and IEP’s
IFSP stands for Individual Family Service Plan. The IFSP is a family centered, legal document. This is a plan for services that may be provided to children identified with special needs, including deafness, from birth to age three. This plan focuses on what services a family needs for themselves and their deaf child. “Services may include home visits, services from a center-based program, sign classes for parents and caregivers, services from a Teacher of the Deaf, Speech Pathologists, Audiologists, Psychologists, and other Health Professionals, as needed” (Kluwin 1992). When the child reaches the age of two years, six months, until the child is three years old, the IFSP includes a Transition Plan. The purpose of the transition plan is to examine preschool educational options for the child (Crocket 1999).
IEP stands for Individual Education Plan. Children from age three (3) to twenty-two (22) have an IEP written and reviewed annually. The IEP is a child centered, legal document regarding the educational needs of the child. “Services that may be considered for the child include: placement options, additional resource services (speech/language therapy, adaptive physical education, educational interpreters, audiological services, etc.)” (Kluwin 1992). Every year, the IEP team meets and reviews the progress over the past year, sets new educational goals and discusses any other relevant issues related to the child’s education.
Educational Placement Options for Deaf Children
There are many options that a parent has the right to choose from for the education of their deaf child. Variations may be seen for the general options listed below. This may be due to the method in which the parent wishes their child to be educated.
Residential schools for the deaf are most often state run schools. They are both an educational facility and a housing facility for large numbers of deaf and hard of hearing students. Some students who live in the area of the school may commute to and from the school each day, while others stay during the week and return home on the weekends (Cocket 1999).
Day schools are located in larger cities and are separate schools for the deaf. They do not enroll hearing students (Crocket 1999).
Day classes are usually district or county run programs on public school campuses with hearing children. Instruction may range from self-contained classrooms with a teacher of the deaf to varying amounts of mainstreaming with regular classrooms (Crocket 1999).
Resource rooms are a place for the child to receive additional services from additional instruction in English or other academic subject areas to speech and language therapy. The child spends the majority of their time in a regular classroom (Crocket 1999).
Itinerant programs are for children who are placed in regular classrooms. They receive “itinerant” services from a teacher of the deaf as additional support. The itinerant teacher often works with a number of students at different school sites. The amount of time and number of days that a child receives services varies according to each student’s need and is usually specified on the child’s IEP (Crocket 1999).
This is only a general overview of the main placement options available to deaf children. “There are many individual circumstances that influence what, if any, additional services may be provided to the child. Some children who are mainstreamed may or may not need services from speech and language therapists or educational interpreters” (Tapasak 1999).
As with all placements, there are variations in mainstreaming options that depend on the individual needs and circumstances of the child. Here are some of the options that may be found in mainstream programs:
? Student placed in regular classroom with hearing children, no additional support. This option tends to be for children with a mild hearing loss. They may use assistive devices such as hearing aids and FM systems (Tapasak 1999).
? Student placed in regular classroom with hearing children, resource support services (may include some or all): speech and language therapy, itinerant teacher services, adaptive physical education, etc (Tapasak 1999).
? Student placed in regular classroom with an educational interpreter. The interpreter’s role is to give communication access to the student (Tapasak 1999).
Educational Interpreters provide communication access for the deaf child in the classroom. Many states do not have any certification process for educational interpreting. It is very difficult to find good educational interpreters. In many cases, the interpreter ends up doing much of the teaching. Many teachers are unfamiliar with how to use and work with an educational interpreter. “An educational interpreter may end up having multiple roles in the classroom as teacher, tutor, interpreter, and aide” (Tapasak 1999). Sign language interpreters are the language models for deaf children in the classroom. For this reason, it is essential that the interpreter be skilled and not equal to or below the signing level of the child in order for the child to develop their language/communication skills (Tapasak 1999).
Methods of Instruction
There are three general approaches/philosophies to the education of a deaf child: oral, bilingual/bicultural, and total communication. There are many factors that must be considered when looking at different programs. Each factor can play a role in the success of any Deaf child in their education.
? Hearing Loss: “the amount of hearing that a child has lost or the amount of residual hearing that a child has will influence the amount of information that may be gained auditorily. The amount of loss can but does not always affect the ability to acquire speech. Some hard-of-hearing children have a difficult time learning to speak, while some profoundly deaf children do learn to speak” (Quigley 1984).
? Identification of Deafness: the earlier a child is identified to have a hearing loss, the sooner intervention can be given. A child with a hearing loss needs to have access to language whether the choice be oral or sign language (Quigley 1984).
? Parental Support: The amount of parental support and involvement, regardless of program choice, is extremely important to a child’s success in school (Quigley 1984).
? Qualified Teachers: It is very important, regardless of program choice, that the teachers have the appropriate training in their method of instruction (Quigley 1984).
In general, oral programs have an emphasis on spoken language and listening. They are taught through oral/verbal instruction or the use of an oral interpreter. No sign language is used. “Oral programs may use one or more of the following strategies/tools for instruction: speech/audiological training, assistive devices, developing listening skills” (Quigley 1984). Many oral programs are private schools, however there are some public oral programs.
“The bilingual/bicultural philosophy recognizes American Sign Language (ASL) as the primary language of the deaf child and uses ASL for instruction and conceptual understanding of material” (Mason 1995). In addition, they teach English as a second language for reading and writing. The child is considered “bilingual” when they have mastered both languages. The “bicultural” aspect of this philosophy is that they teach both hearing and deaf culture. “They teach deaf children to be proud of their deaf heritage. They expose the children to deaf adult role models” (Mason 1995).
Total Communication Philosophy:
The total communication philosophy has many variations. In general, they use a combination of various methods and approaches to meet the individual child’s needs. A combination of sign language, fingerspelling and spoken words is often used. In addition, some programs may include the use of Cued Speech to assist the child in English Access. These programs may use speech and language therapists, audiological training, and assistive devices in the course of instruction for deaf children (Quigley 1984).
Literacy and Academic Development/Achievement
Historically speaking, educational achievement among the deaf has been poor. However, there have been numerous deaf people have become successful. We must remember that deafness is not a mental defect. “The reason for low academic achievement begins with language delays. If a child is diagnosed at two or three years of age as having a hearing loss, there is a high potential for language delays since the child may have been missing large portions if not all of the auditory input that hearing children get from birth” (Walker 1998). Compounded with this, there have been lower expectations on academic achievement of deaf children. In general, a child who is expected to achieve high goals and who is encouraged at home and at school tends to do better. The area in which deaf children have traditionally been low is in reading and literacy in English (Walker 1998). “Every child, including deaf children, needs a rich-reading environment at home. They need exposure to both analytic (grammar, vocabulary, etc) reading and functional (meaning, literature-based, concepts) reading” (Walker 1998).
Deaf children of deaf parents have been known to reach a higher level of achievement and literacy than other deaf children. One of the reasons for this is that deaf parents expected their children to read, there is no question, just as hearing parents expect their children to read.
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