How to Make the Best Education Decisions for Hearing-Impaired Kids

Kids who are deaf or hard of hearing face a lot of challenges, but they’re all surmountable if families make solid decisions early on. Learn what you should consider for your child.

When parents first learn their child has a hearing impairment, they’re full of questions.

How will she be able to learn? Can she be successful in life? Will she be able to go to college? Will she have hearing as well as hearing-impaired friends? Will she be able to hold a job?

The answer is yes to all of these questions. With the appropriate education, students who are deaf and hard of hearing (D/HH) will be just as successful as their hearing peers, and will be afforded the same opportunities.

To that end, when parents learn of their child’s hearing loss, they must make many important decisions as quickly as possible to set their child up for success. Once the hearing loss has been diagnosed, the parents should connect with local early intervention services (if the child is younger than 3) or with the local school system (if the child is older than 3) to begin providing supports.

Early Intervention

First, you’ll need to decide whether your child will use an amplification intervention. If you decide this is the right choice for your family, you’ll need to choose which form of amplification she’ll use (hearing aids, a Bone Anchored Hearing Aid — Baha — system, or cochlear implants). You must also decide which form of communication is best-suited to your family – sign language, cued speech, or listening and spoken language.

It is important to remember that any form of communication is a good choice. Just because one family chooses sign language doesn’t mean that’s the right decision for all families. And just because a different family chooses listening and spoken language or cued speech does not mean either of those is the right choice for all families, either.

Our Choices

Our son Joseph was born at 24 weeks (full term is 40) and diagnosed with Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder (ANSD) at 6 months of age while still in the NICU. An ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist explained that hearing aids may or may not work for our son — and that cochlear implants are sometimes (but not always) effective in ANSD cases.

After an extended “wait and see” period during which we were unsure whether our son would be able to use sign language due to possible vision problems, Joseph was discharged from the NICU, and we began in-home therapy through a local D/HH early-intervention service. We eventually decided to have him fitted for hearing aids, and to begin with an auditory-verbal approach (sometimes called a listening and spoken language approach), knowing he may need to learn sign language later if this did not work.

At the age of 2, Joseph began in a private school for D/HH children that only used the auditory-verbal/listening and spoken language approach. When his hearing aids stopped working, Joseph had surgery to receive his first cochlear implant, which he received at the age of 3 (he got a second just in time for public kindergarten).

Joseph is now enrolled a school in our county that houses a D/HH classroom. He is in a self-contained class with two other students who are deaf or hard of hearing. He mainstreams with a paraprofessional for music, art, and PE (in part because of health complications and multiple food allergies — not necessarily because of his hearing loss).

We have continued with the auditory-verbal/listening and spoken language approach for our family, not because we are in any way opposed to sign language or cued speech, but because this was the best fit for us. This should be the basis for every family’s decisions —what works best for one child may not be effective for another.

Making Decisions for Your Family

Once you’ve chosen an amplification system and a mode of communication, you can then begin to decide on the appropriate school environment for your child. The key to success, as explained above, is early intervention. The earlier a child begins to receive an appropriate education after a hearing loss diagnosis, the more likely that child is to be as successful as hearing peers.

Private, Public, or Homeschool?

Just as in the communication and amplification discussion above, there is no right or wrong answer.

If you’re considering a private school ...

  • How long will your child be able to stay there? Through elementary school? Through high school?
  • Does the school provide a mainstream specialist? Will this advocate attend Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings with you, or will the school send a different representative?
  • What types of schools do students typically attend once they leave? Local elementary schools? Private or specialized schools?
  • Will the school help you collect all of the testing and documentation necessary to transition to a public school or another private school?
  • What is the student-to-faculty ratio?
  • What is the maximum class size?
  • Is the classroom located in a quiet area of the school to allow your child to pay full attention to lessons? If it is located off a major hallway, why? Can the class be moved? Loud or high-traffic environments can cause D/HH students to get distracted easily, perhaps even nullifying the benefits of a low student-to-faculty ratio.

If you’re considering a public school ...

  • How long can your child stay in D/HH classes?
  • Does your have the opportunity to mainstream with typically-able students? If so, when can this begin?
  • Will your child have access to an interpreter if needed?
  • Is this the least restrictive environment (LRE) for your child? Does your child still have the ability to succeed?
  • Are there D/HH classes all through high school or just in elementary school? And will your child continue to have access to support services in certain classes if necessary? If so, what do these consist of?
  • Does the school system expect the students to be mainstreamed by a certain age?
  • Can your child began mainstreaming as soon as she is ready?
  • Is it possible for your child to mainstream for as few as one class a day?
  • Just as in a private school, where is the child’s classroom located?

If you’re considering homeschooling ...

  • Will your child have opportunities to socialize?
  • Will your child (if you choose a listening and spoken language approach) have opportunities to have an age-appropriate language model through peers close in age?
  • Is your child eligible to receive services, such as speech therapy, in your local school system?
  • Do you have access to a curriculum that suits your child?

With so many combinations of options available to families, the only wrong decision is not taking advantage of learning opportunities as early as possible to give your child maximum learning potential and the best chance for future success.

Noodle is home to a wealth of free resources about learning disabilities and differences. While you’re here, find the perfect fit for you using our comprehensive school search tool, and ask questions about the supports available at the schools you’re considering.

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