|What's New/News: Vol. 1, Issue 3|
|Someone e-mailed me earlier this month to ask me about the social stigma attached to deaf individuals with learning disabilities. Since I taught children with hearing impairments for many years, I found the question intriguing. You see, most deaf children have learning disabilities imposed either by a lack of early intervention and improperly prepared teachers or as a result of their primary disability. The lack of early intervention is easy to address but complicated to solve. Unfortunately, by the time deafness is recognized in a child, the possibility of the child developing a learning disability is great. Therefore, almost all children with hearing disorders have learning disabilities. Their reading levels are generally below fourth grade level. It follows that a stigma, if one exists, would be imposed on most children who are deaf. The reason for this "artificial" learning disability is that deafness is seldom diagnosed early. In fact, although children with hearing disorders can receive educational services from birth, the disability is not easy to recognize early enough to begin an adequate intervention program. Actually, it is easier to recognize near total deafness than a mild to moderate hearing impairment.
A child who has a severe hearing impairment will generally be diagnosed within the first twelve months of life. That child will begin to babble like all other children, but after a while, will stop using sounds because she will not receive any feedback for the noise she produces. The child will not turn her head in response to noise. As a consequence, most parents will discern a problem. That child if recognized as deaf during the first year of life will have missed the pre-birth months of hearing sounds within his mother's womb and post-birth language exposure at a critical time in the normal development of language. After the hearing impairment is diagnosed then it can take months for the parents to arrange school services and associated therapy for the child. Then, the services are provided a couple of times per week. Education is generally aimed at helping the parents communicate with the child. While the parents' are learning, the clock is ticking. The child is receiving very limited exposure to language.
The child with a mild to moderate hearing loss is another matter altogether. The child may go for years without the discovery of the loss. Why? Because the child hears something, parents and professionals often deny that a problem exists and/or the disability is misdiagnosed. The child often develops language. Her speech may not be perfect but a speech problem is common among children and correctable with speech therapy. Parents swear the child can hear because she hears the door slamming. The child listens to loud music on the radio. The child does respond when the parent finally yells at the child. When the child is taken to the doctor to be tested, the physician often does a preliminary screening, which is performed by poorly trained staff in a noisy examination room. The child often passes the screening or, the physician suggests other reasons for the child's poor performance--mental retardation, wax in the ears, Attention Deficit Disorder, etc. While the parents' are having these other possibilities explored, the clock is ticking. The child is receiving a distorted version of language and no amplification (hearing aids). Worse yet, the child can be misdiagnosed. Just four years ago, a child who had been labeled "mentally retarded" was discovered to have a moderate hearing loss. Once that child began to receive proper services and amplification, the boy blossomed. Within a year, the child was taking classes in the general school program with some assistance from a visiting (itinerate) teacher.
A misdiagnosis can be a major disservice to a child. The complications of having a hearing loss are numerous. Picture the hearing child. That child is bombarded with language from the time she is born. She hears her mother and father talking. She hears her siblings. She hears all sorts of human language from the radio and TV. Then picture the child with a hearing disorder. That child has lost the first year of language development. During the week, a teacher may visit the child a few times and provide exposure to language or the child may attend a school program for part of the day. Until the parents' learn to communicate with the child, the child is exposed to language only during those brief, planned periods of the day with almost no language exposure during the other hours of the day.
Now, combine the very limited exposure to language that the child with a mild, moderate or severe hearing disability receives with the ever-present battle over how to teach language to the child with a hearing impairment. One side argues that the deaf child should be taught speech while learning to use his or her residual hearing by way of a hearing aid. That method is easier for most parents to understand and it prepares a child to enter the "hearing world". The limitations of this method, in my opinion, are that:
Another teaching method combines the use of amplification (hearing aids) with sign language. This method permits the child to use her residual hearing while relying on her undistorted sense, her vision, to see language. Such a limited approach, in my opinion, does not allow the child the opportunity to explore the multiple facets of language and it prevents the child from integrating into the "hearing world" if that integration is desired. The third method of teaching language to deaf children is called "total communication", a method that has my endorsement because it combines every method available into the teaching of language to a child whose language learning opportunities have been limited. Total communication combines sign language with amplification with speech with visual phonics with standing upside down in a corner to get the child's attention, if necessary. If properly used, total communication can encompass just about any teaching method with an emphasis upon teaching to the child's needs and strengths. Opponents argue against the use of sign language because they feel that the deaf child easily becomes dependent upon sign language and forsakes oral communication (speech). I disagree. I think sign language is a valuable tool that allows the child to "see" language. Obviously, teaching a new language to parents can be difficult and, very often, the parents never become proficient in sign language leaving a permanent barrier between the child and the parents which is never penetrated.
I have oversimplified the methods and the arguments. There are numerous other methodologies for teaching children with hearing disabilities. The arguments, both pro and con, are too numerous to discuss. In addition, there are many different forms of sign language from American Sign Language (ASL) to Signing Exact English to Signed English to Seeing Essential English to some combination of all of the above. Sign language is not standardized by any means.
May I suggest to anyone who is interested in the topic of hearing impairments to explore the following helpful Internet sites and materials:
Please let me know what you think of these sites and materials if you access them. I would appreciate your feedback.
Public Schools, Private Schools, Children with Disabilities & Vouchers
One of the current arguments occurring in Texas concerns the use of a voucher system to allow parents to choose the school that their child will attend. While I like the plan, in theory, I do fear what will become of our children with disabilities if the voucher system was ever implemented. I would want a guarantee that any school accepting federal, state or local funding would accept children with disabilities and provide those children with an appropriate education. Not that children with disabilities are always provided with an appropriate education now under our current system. I was involved in two cases this last month that demonstrate the inadequacy of services provided to children with disabilities.
The first case occurred in the public school system where a free, appropriate education is mandated for children with disabilities. I was an advocate for a high school student with a reading disorder. The mother was concerned because the school was not remediating the child's disability. When I read the child's individual education plan (I.E.P.), I was surprised to see that the parent was correct. How could well-educated school personnel know of a child's reading disability and know the importance of reading to success in our society and not address the disability? In fairness, the A.R.D. committee that made the I.E.P. did modify the student's program to allow the child to get assistance whenever she needed help through the Content Mastery Program (CMC). A teacher could read questions or materials to the child but actually working with the child to teach her to read was not part of the plan. At the A.R.D. meeting that I attended, the reading disability was addressed. I plan to visit the school to see how the program is working this month and again in January. If further modifications are needed for the child, the committee will address those needs early next semester.
The second case involved a child in private school. In this case, I only served in an advisory capacity to the parents. The child is in second grade. He also has a reading disorder. All of his testing showed that this young man is bright. He just is not learning to read. The school's principal and his teacher suggested that the child might be better off in another school. I am not sure how this situation will be resolved. The parents are seeking tutoring for their son.
In both cases, the school personnel were unwilling to adapt to the needs of the child. In one case, the public school that received public funding did develop a program with some guidance, encouragement and a concerned parent willing to find an advocate to assist her. In the other case, I will watch and see and offer my advice as long as the parents want my input.
Disability and Child Support
If you have a child with a disability who is receiving child support, please remember that it may be possible to continue to receive child support as long as the child has a significant disability. That means
that the child can receive child support well into adult life or for the remainder of his life. If you believe that your child with a disability may be entitled to extended child support, contact the Attorney General's office or a private attorney.