When a child is prelingually deafened or hard of hearing (usually prior to 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. In this post, we’ll take a look at the situation in the United States.
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 in America.
Research schools online
A listing of oral deaf education programs in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom can be found at http://www.oraldeafed.org/schools/index.html. 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.
Visit Schools in Session
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. Check also if there are any TESOL options available for hard of hearing children. If your kid speaks English fluently, no problem, but if that’s not the case, you want to check out this option.
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 and see if they have foreign language skills if that’s what you’re looking for. 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? Were they educated abroad? These are key components of successful programs.
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?
- Are there foreign language programs?
- 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 the children, at a later point in their education, also be ready for the GED test rather than a common high school track?
- 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 the 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. Make sure you’ve got your career control system in order and 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.