Something's Missing In Early Intervention For Deaf Children

During a Language Readiness for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children forum hosted by the Pennsylvania Society for Advancement of the Deaf, it was agreed that early, unrestricted access to language is critical for cognitive and linguistic development.

The attendees at the PSAD forum represented varying organizations with varying approaches on how to serve deaf and hard of hearing children.

American Sign Language, Listening and Spoken Language, hearing aids, cochlear implants, itinerant teachers, interpreters, Communication Access Real-time Translation (CART), mainstreaming, deaf schools, and bilingual education.

Given that any combination of modalities can coexist, PSAD chose not to focus on the argument of whether one is better than the other.

Of more concern is the fact that there are still too many deaf and hard of hearing kids who fall through the cracks with significant language delays. PSAD’s goal, then, is to objectively identify why this happens and address the issue accordingly.

Although PSAD is in the beginning stages of a statewide collaboration for more effective strategies, a quick look over the deaf education landscape already reveals a pressing need.

There aren’t enough deaf people involved in the process.

During the critical language acquisition years of 0-5, there need to be deaf professionals, deaf mentors, and deaf role models involved from the outset. Strangely, they are often excluded when a newborn baby is first identified as deaf.

This needs to change. Common sense dictates that if you want to understand what it’s like to be deaf, ask a deaf person.

An audiologist can tell you the degree of a deaf person’s hearing loss. A doctor or surgeon can give you an in-depth presentation on the anatomy of the ear and how it functions.

But only a deaf person can accurately explain what it means, and what it feels like, to be deaf. This is valuable information that cannot be ignored. Yet it often is.

If you just found out that your child is deaf and if none of the consultants who advise you what to do about it are deaf themselves, there’s a gaping hole in the information you are being provided. It’s best to get the whole story if you want to address the whole child.

Again, it is no longer about whether “this” is better than “that.” It’s about 100 percent accessibility and filling in whatever gaps, as early as possible, that may exist in a child’s journey towards language acquisition.

Parents have a right to know everything from the very beginning. No more waiting until their deaf child has a chance encounter with another deaf person at age 15, finding out they have a lot in common, and then wondering: Why didn’t anyone tell us about this before?

Emerging research has continued to prove that there is no harm (and in fact, there are many benefits) in exposing deaf and hard of hearing children to all of the opportunities that are available for them.

Today, many deaf adults look back on their school days and wish they had those opportunities.

As one of those deaf adults, I remember all too well how I struggled in the mainstream, yet my teachers repeatedly said “He’s doing fine.”

How could they speak like that on my behalf? Without checking with me first? They meant well, but they’re not deaf.

I’m not saying they were wrong. I’m saying they simply didn’t understand. There was no way for them to understand. There’s no way they can understand the world as seen from my point of view. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.

As the father of a deaf child who was initially mainstreamed, it hit me hard when I saw his teachers repeating the very same “He’s doing fine.” Unbeknownst to them, this kid who was doing fine would come home and tell me he couldn’t stand being the only deaf kid in his school.

Our stories are just the tip of the iceberg. But if you include us, we can provide valuable information for the next generation of deaf and hard of hearing children.

Liz Hill, a PSAD board member who moderated the language readiness forum, hit the nail on the head when she shared an article titled Principles and Guidelines for Early Intervention After Confirming That a Child is Deaf or Hard of Hearing. It drives home the point of including qualified deaf professionals in Early Intervention. I agree wholeheartedly.

It’s kind of ironic how inclusion used to be a bad word in the deaf community (its misuse led to deaf children being isolated in the mainstream, away from deaf peers and role models). It’s now exactly what we’re calling for in Early Intervention.

The inclusion of deaf professionals in an area where they have so much to offer.