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Options in Deaf Education — History, Methodologies, and Strategies for Surviving the System

by: Cheryl Zapien July 15, 1998

“Anyone who has ever tried to present a rather abstract scientific subject in a popular manner knows the great difficulties of such an attempt. Either he succeeds in being intelligible by concealing the core of the problem…by offering to the reader only superficial aspects or vague illusions, thus deceiving the reader in arousing in him the deceptive illusion of comprehension; or else he gives an expert account of the problem in such a fashion that the untrained reader is unable to follow the exposition and becomes discouraged from reading any further.”1

The subject of deaf education is highly charged both emotionally and politically. There are no perfect answers and no simple ones. On the average, deafness is confirmed at 2 ½ years of age in the United States. Most parents are aware that something is awry well before that time and the vast majority of pediatricians tend to put off early testing. Many valuable months have passed by the time there is a confirmation of deafness. Most parents find themselves in the untenable position of being told that they need to make important decisions about their child’s schooling yesterday. Concurrently, many are in a mental spin regarding the fact that they now have a deaf child. If this scenario is not bad enough, there are conflicting views as to the best way to educate a deaf child. This article’s only purpose is to clarify and classify most of the methods available to parents.

Definitions of each of the methods will be discussed as well as what they can and cannot provide to the user. Other issues that are vital to understanding deafness or deaf education will be discussed. In addition to a number of excellent resource books and materials, I have interviewed a number of professionals who work with deaf children and have years of experience in the area. Then I went to the experts—the parents of deaf children and the Culturally Deaf/medically deaf (D/deaf) adults who make up the broader community of people who have experienced living deaf in a hearing world. Each of these people has a story to tell and wonderful advice to share. They have willingly shared their lives and given their time. Their stories and their wisdom .are woven into this article. I commend these people to you.

This article is informational and does not support one method over another. In all likelihood, someone will surely disagree with something in some portion of this article. It is a natural consequence of presenting a number of, oftentimes, conflicting methods. I have tried to be thorough with all the methods that I have covered. This article, however comprehensive, cannot cover all the information that is available. I have provided a list of resources for your continued education.


For at least a century, the education of deaf children has been polarized into two main camps, the manualists (those who sign) and the oralists (those who rely on speech and speechreading for communication). In addition, there is a third camp, those who use cued speech. Cued speech is not really speech at all, but a visual representation of English sounds. In relative terms, it is a new method that will be discussed later. If parents understand the history behind the controversy, they will have a better chance of being able to filter feelings from fact. “They [parents] need to learn the difference between opinion (emotionally based) and fact (researched).”2

During the early 1800’s, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet went to England to learn a teaching method suitable for instructing deaf students. When he approached the Braidwood school, they were unwilling to share their instructional method. Braidwood’s methods were oral in nature, reliant on speech and speechreading. Fortunately a French priest, Roche-Ambroise Sicard, a brilliant teacher of the deaf, was on tour demonstrating his method while Gallaudet was in England. Gallaudet went to the demonstration and was impressed with Sicard’s sign language method. He brought Sicard’s methods and Laurent Clerc, a gifted deaf teacher to Connecticut.3

These dedicated men established the Hartford school, later known as the American School for the Deaf in 1817. The method used in the School was sign language. During the next sixty-three years, sign language was the order of the day. About one half of all teachers of the deaf were deaf themselves and a number of deaf individuals established their own schools.4 During this golden era of signed deaf education, Congress established the National Deaf Mute College in 1864. Today, this institution is known as Gallaudet University.5 However, the trend toward using sign language to educate the deaf changed after the Conference of Milan.

he Conference of Milan was an international conference on the virtues of the two major instructional methods used to educate the deaf in that time period. The best educators in the world were in attendance. Although the United States traditionally used signed language to teach the deaf population, other countries used oral methods. Prior to Milan, there was always bickering between educators as to which method was superior, sign or speech. It is important also to remember that the participants of this battle royale cared deeply for the children under their care. However, their very human preferences and agendas have haunted all of us to this day. A parent respondent shared this insight “NO One has one right way to raise a deaf child, any more than anyone has one right way to raise a hearing child. The politics involved in deaf education are nauseating and who suffers the most in the end are the children themselves.”6

In 1880, the two did battle at the Conference of Milan. The conclusion of the Conference was that the oral method was superior. This changed the course of teaching history for the next eighty years. Within ten years, the number of deaf teachers of the deaf dropped to one quarter of total teachers. Within the next twenty years the number of deaf teachers teaching deaf students fell to one fifth of the total.7 Regrettably, many talented deaf teachers went into retirement during this period of time. Milan affected members of the Deaf community profoundly, professionally and personally.

Signing in the classroom became a forbidden thing. Anecdotally, people have shared stories about being forced to sit on their hands. It was not uncommon for children to have their hands slapped for signing. The issue of corporal punishment, when seen in the light of earlier teaching practices, does not seem cruel. Children, both hearing and deaf, were disciplined this way when they disobeyed. However, upon reflection, these deaf children had poor communication with their teachers and no effective way of communicating among themselves. The fairness of harsh discipline under these circumstances is questionable. As a result of these attitudes and practices, signing was done in secret and ASL was often taught to the younger children by the older youths in the residential institutions.

Sign was forbidden because educators believed that if a profoundly deaf child signed, he would not learn how to speak since speaking is a difficult skill for a deaf child to learn.8 English is a truly difficult language to speechread. Many words look identical upon the lips. In order to speechread effectively the individual must have an excellent grasp of the English language. Most deaf people in the time period being discussed had never heard English and did not have a grasp of the language, yet they were expected to learn their lessons and learn to communicate without having the necessary tools to do so. For many deaf individuals, the frustration caused by this system and the poor scholastic results achieved by the system added fuel to a bitter situation.

Then in the early 1960s William Stokoe wrote and published Sign Language Structure.9 This work proclaimed that American Sign Language (ASL) was, indeed, a true language on a par with any spoken language. From this point forward, various forms of signed communication, were used more frequently in the in the classroom. In 1966, Dr. Orin Cornett designed Cued Speech. This method is not sign, nor is it really speech, but rather a visual way to present the phonology of the English language. Shortly thereafter all of the Manual Codes for English came into being. Total Communication also emerged about this time. The teaching trends begun in 1880 had finally begun to turn around.

Today, the attitudes towards teaching deaf children have changed drastically. Many professionals in the field of deafness suggest a tool box approach. Generally the professionals feel that some form of signing, preferably ASL, is useful to the deaf child. Quite a number advocate using the bilingual model. One professional writes: ”What the U.S. desperately needs ASAP is a TRULY bilingual program for deaf kids in which ASL via signs and English via cues are given equal importance.”10

Regrettably, the damage between the Deaf and hearing communities had been done. Trust between people and establishments take many years to heal. The deaf individuals of this era and their parents must not only deal with the basic challenge of finding a common way to communicate, but they must also deal with the ghosts of the past.


The medical model is distinguished by the viewpoint that deafness is a functional disorder that needs to be fixed. In this viewpoint deaf people are seen as handicapped. “My deafness is a functional defect. I can’t hear anything at all—conversations, music, automobile horns, the radio, Scud blasts. I unquestionably recognize that in one specific area I am, yes, impaired/disabled/handicapped/deficient/deviant in the real world. This causes me a number of problems—some big, some small. It’s obvious to me that I have a set of completely broken, totally useless ears.”11 Generally, people holding this viewpoint consider the hearing condition the optimal model and use the auditory methods to obtain the goals of using residual hearing, speechreading and speech. An individual is deemed successful if he/she gains good oral skills. The use of assistive devices such as hearing aids and cochlear implants is considered appropriate. A person who has this viewpoint is called “deaf”.

On the other hand, the cultural model of deafness defines the deaf individual as a linguistic minority with a distinct language, culture and mores. “Deafness is viewed as a difference, a difference which in no way connotes inferiority.”12 The individual is viewed as a visual being whose natural language is ASL or any other naturally occurring signed language. The individual does not need to be fixed. “We always said Kathleen was “diagnosed” as deaf. In 1991, due to exposure to the Deaf Community, our perspectives and ideas changed completely! We now say that Kathleen was “identified” as deaf. She wasn’t and isn’t sick. She didn’t need to be “fixed”.” An individual is deemed successful if he/she attains fluency in ASL. A person with this viewpoint is considered “Deaf”.13

Why can’t a person simply be deaf? This observation/question from my twelve-year old deserves an answer. Most of the people I interviewed are not extremists. Individuals who are members of the Deaf Community are able to communicate and become friends with members of the Hearing Community and visa versa. One deaf author comments “I understand all too well why the world of Deaf Culture may be somewhat intimidating to hearing parents. But it shouldn’t be. It improves communication, enriches lives. Like I said, it can bridge worlds together…The mistake here is having an ‘either-or’ mentality (i.e. your child will either sign, or he will speak).”14

Irene Schmalz, an oral deaf parent shares these thoughts: “It [Deaf Culture] is a matter of personal opinion and it is wonderful for those who wish to be a member.”15 The value of understanding that there is more than one way to approach deafness, lay in the ability to decipher the mindset behind all the “wonderful” advice that is frequently showered upon parents of deaf children.


Prior to 1975, “more than one-half of the children with disabilities in the United States did not receive appropriate educational services that would enable such children to have full equality of opportunity. One million of the children with disabilities in the United States were excluded entirely from the public school system and did not go through the educational process with their peers...because of the lack of adequate services within the public school system. Families were often forced to find services outside the public school system, often at great distance from their residence and at their own expense.”16 Due to these gaping failures on the part of the American educational system, Congress passed a series of laws that were aimed at addressing the problems. The first of these was the passing of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This combined with Public Law 94-142 (the 1975 Education for All Handicapped Children Act) assured a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for every child with a disability. Then in 1986, Public Law 94-142 was further amended by Public Law 99-457 (Education of the Handicapped Amendments of 1986). Finally, the 1990 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)17 was enacted. The IDEA now refers to the entire package of laws that assures a decent public education for all children with disabilities.

One of the most important things a parent can do for their child is to know the law, their rights under it and then take a proactive stance towards their child’s education. “Parents should think of themselves as their child’s only advocate in a complicated legal dispute. IEP lawyers who deal with a particular district eventually will want to compromise on an individual’s IEP to preserve their cordial relationship with the district. Parents should learn the IEP process and look for a parent who has successfully gone through fair [due] process as a mentor.”18 Parents must be effective advocates for their children and they need to understand what the IDEA mandates the schools to do.

The IDEA requires:
  • Early and unbiased evaluation of hearing loss in school-age children
  • Unbiased evaluation of deaf children using a variety of communication methods, including sign language.19 “Each local educational agency shall ensure that tests and other evaluation materials used to assess a child under this section are provided and administered in the child’s native language or other mode of communication, unless it is clearly not feasible to do so…”20
  • In addition the IDEA and supporting Public Laws require that:
  • Disabled children need to be placed in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) that is as close to their home as possible. Due to the communication issues inherent in deafness, the LRE clause required more careful definition by the Government. In 1992, the Department of Education issued a Notice in the Federal Register designed to clarify the issue of what is meant by LRE and Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). The Policy Guideline points out that “the major barriers to learning associated with deafness relate to language and communication, which, in turn, profoundly affect most aspects of the educational process. [The] communication nature of the disability is inherently isolating, with considerable effect on the interaction with peers and teachers that make up the educational process. This interaction, for the purpose of transmitting knowledge and developing the child’s self-esteem and identity, is dependent upon direct communication. Yet, communication is the area most hampered between a deaf child and his or her hearing peers and teachers.”21 Further, “The Secretary is concerned that the LRE provisions of the IDEA and Section 504 are being interpreted, incorrectly, to require the placement of some children who are deaf in programs that may not meet the individual student’s educational needs. Meeting the unique communication and related needs of a student who is deaf is a fundamental part of providing a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to the child. Any setting, including a regular classroom, that prevents a child who is deaf from receiving an appropriate education that meets his or her needs, including communication needs, is not the LRE for the individual child. Placement decisions must be based on the child’s IEP. The decision as to what placement will provide FAPE for an individual deaf child—which includes a determination as to the LRE in which appropriate services can be made available to the child—must be made only after a full and complete IEP has been developed that addresses the full range of the child’s needs.”22
  • Children with disabilities must be offered a continuum of placements ranging from hospital environments to school environments.
  • The IEP Team must develop an IEP [Individual Education Plan] for each child with a disability. The IEP Team must “consider the communication needs of the child, and in the case of a child who is deaf or hard of hearing, consider the child’s language and communication needs, opportunities for direct communications with peers and professional personnel in the child’s language and communication mode, academic level, and full range of needs, including opportunities for direct instruction in the child’s language and communication mode; and [shall] consider whether the child requires assistive technology devices and services.”23
  • The Law also requires that parents are included in the IEP discussions and are to be a part of the IEP Team.24

In addition to all of these laws, the Bilingual Education Act of 1988 provides the legal definition of the terms native language and limited English proficiency. Deaf students were included in its terminology for the first time.25 Yet with all of this legal coverage, many of the parents responded that getting what they felt their child needed was like pulling teeth. One parent noted that the only thing the courts require is that the schools provide a LRE and a FAPE; they do not have to offer a program in which the child will excel. Another parent wrote “ We have had to fight every inch of the way with the school district to get what my daughter needs. When she started kindergarten they did not agree she needed a transliterator and we went to due process hearing twice in order to get her what she needed. They originally claimed she was such a good lip-reader that they did not see “need”. Going the due process hearing route is perhaps the most stressful thing I have ever done in my life. However, if she does not get a qualified transliterator next year—we may have to do it all over again. Our stance is that we want her to have access to the same information as the hearing children in her classroom.”26

Unfortunately, part of the problem is lack of knowledge. Deafness is considered a low incidence disability. It is a disability that requires personnel with highly specialized skills and knowledge. Teachers and aides with these skills are costly. Interpreters are as well. School systems, with ever tightening budgets, may have difficulty justifying the cost. As a result, they try to do with less. If they think the child can survive mainstreaming, they will push for it. Moreover, the item that ultimately determines the issue in many cases is not what the parents or administrators want but rather, what the child needs.27

The situation is not hopeless. Many parents have gotten what they felt their child needed, but they knew their rights and their child’s rights. Know the statutes (local, state and federal) that are pertinent to your situation. Get the amended IDEA 97 and and a copy of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). Go through them with a fine-tooth comb. Some areas of the country have departments within special education that will help you understand the rules. Each State should have an advisory panel for “the purpose of providing policy guidance with respect to special education and related services for children with disabilities in the State.”28 In addition, the Department of Education has a hotline. “They will explain to any district over the phone or in person exactly what its responsibilities to the child and to the family is.”29 Several states (North Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, and California) have passed a “Deaf Child’s Bill of Rights”.30 These Laws were passed to legislate closer adherence to the policy guidance found in the Federal Register. Talk to your State Representative and ask why your State does not have a Deaf Child’s Bill of Rights. Others, like Massachusetts and Michigan, have a maximum feasible benefit statute. This means that children should be provided with services that allow them to meet their maximum potential instead of their average potential.31 Parents need to become political advocates for their children as well as educational advocates.

Parent respondents suggested that other parents take the time to do some hard research. Present the educational establishment with well-researched data. Speak their language. Be persistent. Be involved in your child’s schooling and know your expectations. This is helpful at IEP time.32 Be careful of your own wording. “The courts have said that with the exception of maximum benefit states the child is only entitled to an ‘appropriate’ education. Parents should NEVER tell the school that a particular program or course of study is necessary for their child to get the ‘best’ education. Always, always say it is necessary to get an ‘appropriate’ education.”33 Several parents agreed that it is important to ask to see the draft IEP prior to the IEP meeting. They suggested that parents fill out their own IEP form and present it at the meeting to be combined with the school’s draft proposal. Access to the IEP, the parents felt, allowed them to be better prepared for the IEP meeting. “If they refuse your suggested changes, you have to show that your suggested changes are necessary to make the IEP appropriate. Battles can be won, but choose them wisely.”34 One parent suggested this “Learn to be an advocate—even if it means taking CLASSES to learn to be assertive. Otherwise educators will walk all over you.”35


A vital aspect of choosing the right education for your child is remembering that although your child is deaf, he is an individual. Each person has a different learning style. “We need to understand that no two deaf people are alike; many professionals seem to have a one-size-fits-all mentality when it comes to educational strategies for deaf children. The truth is, there is an ongoing controversy over the best ways to educate the deaf, and most of the arguments center around communication methods. The best thing to do is evaluate, determine the best environment, and go with the child’s strengths.”36 Almost all of the professionals surveyed for this article advocated flexibility when choosing options. Regardless of personal preference, most suggested that parents really examine all of the methods and learning strategies. “Parents need information about all methods, contact with people who follow different philosophies, and plenty of flexibility in the professionals who are helping them make their decisions.”37 Another expert added: “[Parents] need to know they can add other approaches.”38 Many of the professionals and parents felt the toolbox approach useful. “There are options—plural. There is no one option in the educational world of a deaf child. Don’t let anyone try to sell you on any one option while disregarding the others. All kids are different and have different needs. No one option can meet the needs of all deaf children.”39


There are several different types of hearing losses that a child can have. These losses may determine the type of method the parent chooses and it may also determine the educational setting.


Conductive losses are caused by blockage or disease of the outer or middle ear. They generally are less than 60 decibels (dB). Conductive hearing losses are generally treatable by a physician and account for 5 to 10% of all hearing loss.40 Examples of conductive losses are: wax, rupture of the eardrum and deformity of the outer or middle ear structure.41

    Sensorineural hearing losses are losses that involve damage to the nerves of the inner ear.42 These losses cannot usually be fixed. Sensorineural deafness affects both loudness and fidelity of sound,43 making the sound distorted. A common difficulty is loss of the high tones. This is pertinent since consonant sounds are high tones. These sounds help discriminate one word from another. Amplification is not always helpful because the distortion is amplified as well as the sound.44 Different causes of sensorineural losses are: heredity, bacterial meningitis, and excessive noise.45
    Mixed hearing losses are exactly what they imply. It is a mixture of both sensorineural and conductive losses. Mixed losses cause difficulty with both distortion and loudness. “As conductive losses tend to fluctuate, depending on the nature of the loss, mixed losses may also fluctuate.”46
    Central hearing loss involves the auditory centers in the brain. This kind of loss involves the brain-end of the process rather than the hearing end.47
    The progressive hearing loss is one that worsens over the course of time. Individuals with these losses need repeated testing to keep tabs on what is happening with the child and to plan appropriately.48


Another consideration in determining the type of education a child should receive is the time of onset of deafness. If a child has never had the opportunity to learn his parent’s language, then he is in a different position than the child who has language well established. Informed parents may treat the educational needs of the child deafened at 8 years of age differently than the child born deaf. One child remembers sound, the other child does not. One child has already learned his parents’ native tongue and has unlocked the rules to reading. The other child does not have this benefit.

    Prelingual deafness can be defined as deafness that occurs before the child has the opportunity to learn and begin speaking his parents’ native language. This only is true for children of hearing parents. Children of deaf parents learn ASL or whatever sign system the parents already know.
    Postlingual deafness can be defined as deafness that occurs after the child has learned the parents’ native spoken language. Again, this only applies to the child of hearing parents.


The importance of language to the human being cannot be underestimated. It is the one special trait that all human beings seem to possess. The process for learning language is the same for all humans, regardless of culture. Noam Chomsky noted that “the similarities among languages were more compelling than their differences, and postulated a universal grammar: a set of principles underlying the organization of all natural languages that corresponds to an innate ability in the human child to grasp linguistic principles. Language was not something that came from without to shape human thought and behavior, but rather something that come from within, an attribute of the human mind, a biological endowment, innate, and particular to the human species.”49 Parents generally start the ball rolling by modeling their own language. When a child is deaf and the parents are hearing, this process is altered. The many methods and strategies designed to give deaf children access to language are an attempt to circumvent this “wall of silence”.

It is important to understand what language is, as opposed to communication or speech. These are terms you should be familiar with and should consider when you are examining the different options for your child.

    Language is the combination of semantics (vocabulary), syntax (form or structure of the language—tenses, word order, plurality, etc.), and pragmatics (how language is used to meet communication needs). Language has meaningful patterns. Language is arbitrary, its symbols agreed upon by its users. Language is symbolic. Users encode their life experiences into words or signs, then recipients decode the messages to understand the experience. Language is social and modified by experience. Language has grammar. These rules define relationships between words or signs and sentences. Language has meanings that go beyond dictionary meanings. Language is variable among individuals. Language evolves and changes over time. People communicate language through different forms and modalities. Speech, writing and signing are examples of different modalities. Language does not need to have a written form.50
    The ability to have one’s needs understood by another individual. It is not necessary to adhere to proper grammar or syntax to do this. Babies cry. This is considered communication. People who speak different languages often develop pidgin “languages’ to communicate with one another. A mother communicates a message by glaring at her teenager when he burps at the table.
    Speech is articulation and voice quality. A person can have language without speech. An individual that signs in ASL certainly has language, but speech is not a part of the language since it is gestural. “A person can have beautiful spoken language, but poor speech. Hence, the voice quality and articulation are poor, but the ability to communicate clearly in the target language is excellent. Conversely, a person can have poor spoken language and beautiful speech. In this scenario, the individual articulates beautifully, but does not use the proper syntactical structure for the language he is speaking.”51


Perhaps the most challenging issue that parents must meet head on is how to give their child access to a language which he has never heard. Indeed, it is difficult to have native ability in a language which one is not bombarded with daily. Why even bother? ASL is a perfectly acceptable language. It provides a good language base for a child. It is highly accessible and designed for the eyes. These are legitimate observations and good questions.

ASL is a perfect language, particularly for quick and easy communication among individuals who know the language. However, one of the drawbacks to having ASL as ones sole communication tool is that, to date, it does not have one generally accepted written form. The wonderful body of ASL literature has been passed down from one individual to the next in previous generations. Videotapes are now being used to record the wonderful visual poetry and stories shared by those who are members of Deaf Culture. Although individuals choose to remain a part of Deaf Culture, they still should have a means to access the body of literature from other cultures and times for their own edification. Without a written code to represent ASL, there is no way to transcribe the literature of other cultures into ASL aside from filming it. There is also no easy way of getting the vast body of general information available into ASL.

The other reason for learning English is one of practicality. English is the lingua franca of the land. Deaf children need to have the tools to become independent deaf adults. Some deaf children, but not all, will acquire the speech skills needed to communicate their desires within the larger society of hearing individuals. It is important to be able to clearly write if speaking is not an option. Writing and understanding English well are communication tools that will hopefully reap dividends when seeking employment as well.


The goal of the auditory methods is to teach a child how to use his residual hearing so that he may have access to spoken language. “Most deaf children have some residual (remaining) hearing. The brain, which develops rapidly in the first few years of life, needs rich language input during that time.”52“The speech signal is redundant. Since it carries excess information, it is not necessary to hear every sound to understand a message.”53 Additionally, there is also a great emphasis on speech and speechreading. The ultimate educational goal is to place the child in a mainstream school environment.

No one method can unilaterally guarantee success for every individual. Parents that decide to pursue an auditory method need to understand that there are four critical factors that can make the difference between success and failure.

Early intervention is key. “For language to be successful with deaf children (no matter what the educational approach), programs of early intervention must take place during the critical language-learning years of birth through 6.”54 In fact, if children start auditory stimulation after age 3, the process is progressively more difficult. Listening is a "use it or lose it“ skill.55

It is imperative that the parents obtain the services of an excellent pediatric audiologist for their child. The audiologist must know how to set the child’s hearing aid for speech. The child will need audiological testing every 6 months. The importance of aggressive treatment should not be underestimated.56

Good training is a must. If the parents pursue the auditory option, they must be willing to find people capable of training their child. The U.S. is, traditionally, a signing nation. Since the 1970s, there has been a decline in the number of pure oral programs. About thirty percent of the programs in the U.S. are oral programs and there are three oral residential schools. It is conceivable that parents wishing to pursue this option will have to deal with availability issues. They may also need to invest in private schools and speech therapists, since many school programs do not have pure oral programs.

There is a need for high-level parental involvement. “Learning spoken language requires more effort and is a slow process. It requires a lot of work.“57 Parents are urged to talk to their kids as much as possible. Language doesn’t just happen in therapy a few times a week. Language happens all day long and the primary teacher is the parent.58

There are two major types of auditory training. Auditory/orall training not only stresses auditory training, but also trains a child to use speechreading and contextual clues to receive information. . Children that have auditory/oral training tend to pick up sign as a second language so that they can communicate with signing peers.59

Auditory/verbal (AV) training only trains the child to use his residual hearing. Children that have successful AV training tend to be completely mainstreamed into hearing society.

Auditory /oral training is the more traditional of the two approaches. The main focus of this type of training is to teach the child how to use his residual hearing. The earlier a child is given hearing aids, the better. Humans are uniquely programmed neurologically to develop the auditory pathways for language usage in the early years. Once this brief window of opportunity is missed, the neurolinguistic capabilities will forever be diminished due to retrograde auditory deterioration.”60 In addition to training residual hearing, the child is also trained to speechread. Speechreading is challenging for several reasons. “Only about 30 percent of English sounds are visible on the lips, and 50 percent are homophonous, that is, they look like something else. Look in a mirror and ‘say’ without voice the words ‘kite’, ‘height,’ and ‘night.’ You’ll see almost no changes on your lips to distinguish among those three words. Then say the following three words—‘maybe,’ ‘baby,’ ‘pay me.’ They look exactly alike on the lips.”61 In order to speechread well, the individual must use high level mental gymnastics. He must make an educated guess on much of what he sees, using situation and context. This almost always requires an excellent grasp of the target language. Many prelingually, late-diagnosed deaf simply do not have the exposure to English to pull these gymnastics off. Most deaf individuals do some speechreading. Some individuals truly have a knack for this skill. Since the goal in auditory/oral training is for the individual to both understand speech and communicate through speech, speech therapy is a necessary component in the training process. Speech therapy involves one-on-one interaction for many years and a great deal of repetition is involved.62 The immediate benefit of this method is the ability to communicate with the wider hearing world. There are some studies which “support the notion that the emphasis on the English language as the mode of communication results in higher reading levels than with signing approaches.”63 One talented college student shared that going to Oral Day School was “an awesome experience. I learned to be confident and to be a leader.”64

Each method has its own type of challenges and the auditory/oral method is not different. The method is one that requires many, many years of hard work on the part of the child, his parents and his teachers. Often, there is little gain for many years. “For a deaf child to benefit from amplification (if this is, in fact, possible), it will take time and effort.”65 One deaf respondent shared these thoughts: “Today, with my hearing loss I probably would have been taught Total Communication. I would have understood things at an earlier age, but I’m convinced I would not be speaking as well as I am today. I really did not speak intelligible speech until fourth grade.”66 Another respondent that was deafened by meningitis shared this: “ I think that if I had to learn sign after losing my hearing, this would have seriously interfered with the processes of re-learning spoken language and learning to read, if only by taking time away from them. It took about three years to re-learn how to understand English.”67 Hard work aside, there is also the issue of cost. Quality oral programs are not always available. Quality speech therapy and private schools may be required. “With few exceptions, the successful implementation of the Oral approach has been achieved in private school settings for an array of possible reasons.”68 All deaf oral respondents shared a combination benefit /disadvantage to this method. They all had extraordinary study habits and developed an impressive work ethic. In order to succeed in the mainstream, they all had to study harder, and in greater depth than their hearing peers. Many were unable to speechread their teachers because they constantly moved about the classroom or faced the blackboard. They compensated by reading other material on the subject. One respondent shared this: “Because I could never understand my teachers in the classroom, I am largely self-taught. I missed (and craved) classroom interaction and participation. But I think the skills I learned to succeed in school are ones that have helped me throughout my adult life—love of learning, self-discipline, resourcefulness, learning to depend on myself, ability to research all sides of an issue.”69 A number of adults, especially ones that were raised orally and learned to sign later, felt that they missed a lot of information. Group and noisy situations were considered particularly challenging. One respondent felt that this method is not recommended for profoundly deaf children. He shared this insight: “The oral approach rarely succeeds for a profoundly deaf child. By the age of five a child might know a handful of words, but would have missed the most important years for acquiring language.“70

The auditory/verbal method (AV) is totally reliant on a child learning to use his residual hearing. “The auditory/verbal philosophy is based upon the belief that children with all levels of hearing loss have the basic human right to the opportunity to develop the ability to listen and use verbal communication.”71 No effort is expended on honing speechreading skills. As a matter of fact, if a child tries to speechread during therapy, the therapist covers her mouth to hide visual clues. Speech training is a part of AV therapy. AV Therapy requires one-on-one interaction. It is very intensive. The goal for these kids is to go straight into the mainstream. They usually do not go into any deaf education programs. AV Therapy is not widely available. This method is only for children that are aided young. In addition, these children must have some residual hearing when they are aided. Absence of cochleas contraindicates this method.72 Specialists, called auditory verbal therapists, train these children.

The benefits of this type of approach are that if the therapy and the child work together well, the child can go straight into mainstream education. Drawbacks connected with dependence on speechreading are eliminated.

One of the method’s biggest drawbacks is lack of availability.73 There are only 50 –100 AV therapists in the US and Canada. Another potential drawback is the question of whether distorted sound is a good basis for establishing the native language and, if so, is language gained early enough to be useful?74


What is Cued Speech? It can be defined as a visual picture of the speech sounds and sound patterns that are used in the English language or any of the other 50 languages and dialects for which cueing has been adapted. Dr. Orin Cornett invented Cued Speech in 1966 at Gallaudet University. In American English, this system uses eight different handshapes in four different locations near the mouth. The shapes and locations in combination with the mouth movements eliminate the ambiguity of speechreading.

“Deaf children learn the cues much like they learn signs—a cued sequence represents a concept when it is connected with that concept.”75 Cued speech is also known as cued language or cued English. It visually encodes English speech sounds and patterns when aural encoding is incomplete or inaccurate. Cued speech is a finite system which provides access to languages, rather than being a language itself. Cued Speech is not meant to replace ASL; each provides visually clear communication – ASL in the signed language, Cued Speech in the spoken language. The major purpose for Cued Speech use is to develop a child’s language. It is not intended to help a child’s speech. “Cued Speech does indicate the pronunciation of words and can be very helpful when used in conjunction with good articulation therapy.”76

Cued speech has quite a number of benefits. It can be learned in a relatively short period of time. Most parents can learn the system in a weekend. It takes about three to twelve months of consistent cueing to achieve fluency.

Most of the professional respondents felt that both deaf children and their parents would benefit from learning both ASL and Cued Speech. Professionals and parents expressed concern that parents who do not have a native grasp of ASL will be poor language models for their deaf children. Cued speech buys valuable time for the parents. They can begin the process of learning ASL while literally pouring the language they do know into their children during the critical language learning years. “The great majority of children learn language passively through exposure. Deaf children are able to do the same, but only with clear unambiguous access to language.”77

Cued speech positively affects literacy. “Hearing children become literate because they have a strong language base and an internal understanding of the syntax of spoken language long before they ever see the written word.”78 Cued speech can enable the deaf child to internalize the target language. The step of internalizing a language is critical to the process of learning how to read and write. “We learn to read and write by decoding and encoding a language we already know.”79

Cued speech prevents parents from over-simplifying their English because they are communicating in a language they are intimately familiar with. “Hearing people, especially parents, who live with deaf children often ‘dumb down’ their language to make themselves more easily understood.”80 When parents ‘dumb down’ language they use fewer idioms, adjectives, and synonyms. The language they use is anemic. Children need to be exposed to the orchestra of vocabulary and expressions that is within a language to gain native fluency. “A child with good verbal skills and a solid foundation of vocabulary will have a solid foundation for learning to read. This child will be more apt to develop higher level thinking skills and to understand advanced abstract concepts in later years.”81

Children that use Cued Speech speechread more accurately. There is improvement in auditory discrimination. Children who use Cued Speech generally read at or above grade level. Hearing families who use Cued Speech have better communication and fewer behavioral problems. Cued Speech makes it possible to learn to speak a foreign language in a clear and accessible manner.82

Cued speech users do confront some frustrations. One of the greatest frustrations is that it is not used as commonly as other methods. Deaf Cuers are dispersed geographically. Many individuals who cue also sign for companionship with other deaf individuals. They find this association to be really important. “No one but another deaf person can really understand what it’s like to be deaf, and the social support and role models within the deaf community are very important to the deaf child.”83

There are not enough Cued Speech transliterators. Cuers are encouraging interpreter training programs to help meet this need by including Cued Speech in their curricula.

For some families, “a very young hearing impaired child may have trouble expressing himself clearly until his speech skills (or expressive Cueing skills) have caught up with his receptive language abilities. Professionals and parents may opt to provide some children with basic signs to assist them with early expressive communication.”84 There is absolutely no reason that a child exposed to Cued Speech should not also be exposed to ASL concurrently. “Choose a formal communication method based on the information you have and don’t hesitate to add a second—just as you would a second language. Communication is too important to be compartmentalized and inhibited by external rules forced on you by one “camp” or another ASL and Cued Speech look entirely different and they convey two or more different languages. Early childhood is the optimal language learning period and children aren’t easily confused—adults are!”85

Cued Speech can be somewhat tiring to the adults and it is very important to stay in good physical form to prevent repetitive motion injuries. Other professionals are suspect of Cued Speech and are not familiar with the method, often making unfounded negative statements. Cued Speech provides something unique – sensory integrated visible spoken phonemes. Parents must determine whether this is appropriate for their child. It is not right for every parent/child pair. However, “Cued Speech seems to be an awfully good way to establish the language base with a young child.”86


A manual code for English is an artificial system. Its purpose is to present spoken English visually. “Sign codes have been designed to convey, insofar as possible, the detailed structure and grammar of the spoken language.”87 The end goal of using these systems is English literacy. The rules are different from code to code. They all use English word order and they are signed while speaking simultaneously.

The obvious advantage to any of these systems is that they are, in relative terms, easier for parents and teachers to learn. The vocabulary is different, but there is no need to learn a new grammar. These systems are useful to individuals who have not made progress in oral programs. MCEs can start the communication ball rolling. “The frustration level dropped significantly when we added sign to oral language. [There was] almost an immediate increase in vocabulary usage and understanding. The deaf child has a hard time distinguishing a difference with just oral communication alone, when the sign is added, they can see the difference and listen carefully for the difference.”88 Some parent/child pairs have been successful using these methods. These families have made progress with the manual codes. One parent commented: “Joel loves to read and is thankful he learned signed English to help him understand and read English so well.”89

There are disadvantages to Manual Codes as well. Manual codes tend to be slower to use. “On an average signs take twice as long as words to produce.”90 It is very hard to speak and sign at the same time. When native English speakers sign they tend to leave up to 50% of the signs out of any given statement. “The research shows that most parents and many teachers who are trying to use these systems end up leaving out many of the grammatical markers and the children exposed to them end up modifying them to more ASL-like forms.”91 If the purpose of using an MCE is to give a deaf child a language base on which to build, parents need to be aware that MCEs are hybrids. Hybrids rarely perform as well as either of the parent languages. “I am NOT in favor of signing and speaking at the same time. Why mix TWO languages and send a message that is NEITHER.“92 Perhaps the most disheartening fact is that, in spite of twenty years worth of refining these systems, deaf teenagers continue to graduate high school reading at the 3rd to 4th grade level. Literacy has not been significantly improved. “Paul and Quigley cite six studies, all of which include that the average deaf high school graduate reads at the fourth grade level. This argues that the designed signing systems, then, may not be successful ‘when success is defined as empowering deaf students leaving school with literacy and general knowledge at or near the level attained by their hearing peers.’”93

Seventy percent of the programs in the United States are sign-based. Most of those programs use some type of MCE. “Of the remaining 67% of the students who are D/HH and who are exposed to sign in the United States, most are in programs in which sign is used in conjunction with speech.”94 The simultaneous use of speech and sign is known as Simultaneous Communication (SimCom). The two most commonly used Manual Codes are Signing Exact English (SEE-2) and Bornstein’s Signed English.


People who use SEE-2 speak when they sign. SEE-2 was designed “to correspond with the number of morphemes (or smallest units of meaning) of English.”95 So the word “butterfly” is only one sign because butterfly has one unit of meaning. The word “underline” is composed of two signs because it is composed of two morphemes. “If the meaning of the words separately is consistent with the meaning of the words together, then and ONLY then are they signed as the component words.”96 Many of the signs are borrowed from ASL, however, certain signs are distinguished from others by initializing the signs. For example, the sign for team, class and group is the same base sign. The only difference is that the hands are in the shape of a manual “t”, “c” or “g”. Grammatical markers for number, tense and person are added. Prefixes and suffixes are also added to base signs. All articles, conjunctions, and helping verbs are signed. This system has an odd rule. This rule is called the two-out-of-three rule. This rule applies to words that sound identical. A word that sounds like another word is weighed against three different criteria: sound, meaning and spelling. Words that differ in only one category will use the same sign. For example: right (direction) and right (correct) are signed identically. They sound alike and are spelled alike. However, write and right would be signed differently because they are spelled differently and also mean two different things. SEE-2 tends to be less conceptual and more literal.


Signed English is also signed while speaking English simultaneously. English word order is generally used. This manual code was originally meant for young children, however entire programs began using this method. Some signers are more conceptual in their signing, while others tend to be literal signers. Most of the signs in Signed English have ASL origins. Bornstein’s basic rules are: “sign either a word alone or a sign word and one sign marker; fingerspell words not provided in the dictionary; and create plurals by repeating the signs for nouns.”97 Signed English has fourteen affix markers (e.g. –ing, -s, -ed, -y etc.) Signed English has fewer markers than SEE-2 and once the child understands the use of the marker, adult users may drop the marker. The verb “to be” is signed. Homonyms are sometimes signed the same and other times are signed based on the conceptual meaning.


Contact sign was known for many years as Pidgin Sign English or PSE. It is considered a contact language. When people have two different languages and desire to communicate with each other, contact languages are the natural outcome of their communication. In the case of contact sign, the two parent languages are English and ASL. Contact sign is actually its own entity and has influences from both languages. Contact sign was not designed or invented as in the case of the MCE. Contact sign cannot be taught. It is, instead, the natural result of bilingual interaction. The sole purpose of contact sign is communication. Contact sign can be more English in its presentation or more like ASL, depending on the skill of the signers.

Contact sign is a commonly accepted form of communication between deaf and hearing people. Contact sign is used between deaf signers as well. If the parents are in the process of learning ASL, contact sign will be a natural artifact of their learning process. If the parents want their child to learn ASL, they should expose their child to native ASL signers because the child will need good language models.98


ASL or American Sign Language is considered the language of the Deaf Community. It is used in the United States and in Canada. ASL is a visual/gestural language. It is composed of manual gestures called signs in combination with various types of non-manual grammar (mouth morphemes, appropriate facial expression, body movement etc.). Some of ASL’s grammatical features include directional verbs, classifiers, rhetorical questions and the temporal aspect. ASL has its own grammar that does not in any way reflect the grammar of English. Where English is linear and requires many prepositions to create a mental picture of where things are in a sentence, ASL uses the physical space in front of the signer to create the mental picture. Unlike English, ASL is well suited to the eyes. The eyes see “the whole picture” if you will, so a signer can use more than one sign concurrently.

What advantages does ASL have for the deaf child and his parents? All children need a working language and should receive it during the magic time when humans are primed to learn language from birth to three years. “Language is an essential component of normal development for all humans. Children that have an accessible language learn “through informal exposure and through active use.”99 ASL is highly accessible to the deaf child. Kids learn about their world by passively absorbing information. This process is known as incidental learning. Moreover, children who acquire language at the appropriate time also learn appropriate social cues and have fewer behavioral challenges. “Deaf children who learn sign language in preschool do better in academics, learning to read and write English, behaviorally and socially.”100 Many experts in the field of language acquisition question a child’s ability to acquire a second language when they have failed to acquire a first, or native language. There is some evidence that deaf children of deaf parents fare better linguistically than deaf peers born of hearing parents, possibly due to early language acquisition. Since ASL is visual, deaf children will gravitate towards it. “[Since} Deaf people have hearing losses, they naturally gravitate towards a language received through the eyes rather than the ears and a language which is structured for visual, rather than auditory, processing.”101 ASL is also far easier on a child’s eyes than any of the MCEs. Perhaps one of the most outstanding features of ASL is that this language gives average parents the ability to communicate clearly and easily with their children. One parent shared this thought: “Since communication is what keeps us all connected as families and as a society, the child needs to know a communication language which is easy for them.”102 As children mature into the teen years and then young adulthood, ASL can, with the help of an interpreter, allow them to maximize their higher education. “As the only deaf student, though, I experienced a lot of difficulty. Once my school hired a sign language interpreter, I had access to my education.”103

Although there are a number of advantages to using ASL, there remain several disadvantages that should not be brushed aside or ignored. Ninety percent of deaf children are born to hearing parents. The vast majority of these parents are not native ASL signers. Even if their children were identified as deaf within the first few days after birth, they would still be behind the curve. Most languages require five years of steady practice to attain any kind of fluency. The issue of parents being inadequate language models should be a consideration. An early intervention, bilingual program might address some of these concerns. The other concern has to do with the acquisition of English grammar and English literacy. It should never be a forgone conclusion that the deaf child will speak. Some children master this skill and some do not. Therefore written English literacy should never be considered an option, but a necessary communication skill. Since he two languages are very different from each other, English can be taught as a second language. Teachers often use English as a Second Language techniques when teaching English grammar. They also use Signed English as a bridge between the two languages. The best advice that I have seen repetitively is that “the home and school environment must be print rich with books, signs blackboards etc.”104 Another is that parents need to “read with your child. Read some more. Read lots more.”105 Why? Well, hearing children learn language by being bombarded with language night and day. There are a limited number of ways to bombard a deaf child with English. One good way is to flood them with the written word. ASL alone will not provide all of the necessary skills that the work environment demands. Children who sign must have excellent reading and writing skills. They need these skills to communicate with their hearing peers. Perhaps of more vital significance, excellent reading skills allow children access to information. Access to information is knowledge and knowledge is power. “English is ... another avenue to information, in the form of books, newspapers and computers. It’s also a bridge to the hearing world and major job markets, like it or not. It doesn’t really matter if you can sign or speak fluently; if you can’t read or write well, it limits your options in this world. That’s a fact of life we can’t ignore.”106


Traditional Approach

The traditional approach to bilingual-bicultural education is founded on the premise that “Auditory/oral and Total Communication approaches do not meet the linguistic and cultural needs of deaf children; [that] natural sign language, such as American Sign Language (ASL) is the “biologically preferred” mode of communication for deaf individuals and [that] deaf children can acquire verbal language in the written form through the language base of natural sign language.”107 Hence ASL is taught to the child first and then English is taught as a second language. The benefits of such a program are that deaf children receive a language that is highly accessible to them. In the Bi-Bi approach, teachers that are native in the language model ASL for the child. In addition, parents who are hearing may engage a deaf adult who will model ASL in the home environment until the parents’ language skills are adequate. If the child attends a residential school, he also has the opportunity to learn from his peers. Since everyone signs ASL, the feeling of isolation often found among signing children placed in the mainstream is ameliorated. Since ASL is strongly connected with Deaf Culture, children in Bi-Bi programs have the opportunity to learn about, and participate in, Deaf Culture. This method is particularly useful for deaf children of parents fluent in ASL since the parents already know the target language and can model it correctly.

There are several disadvantages to this approach. The first is availability. Outside of the residential schools for the deaf, the Bi-Bi approach is not common. “There may be an insufficient number of deaf teachers and ‘role models’ to serve the population in question.”108 Signing is a difficult skill for hearing parents to master and they may resent having a stranger in their home, should they decide to engage a language model for their child. Bi-Bi does not spend time working on audition or speech. In fact, “it is felt to be morally wrong to impose on deaf children a language they cannot acquire, this, spoken language.”109 This policy can limit participation in hearing culture.

A less traditional, but alternative approach is to pair ASL and Cued Speech together. In this scenario, deaf children have English imprinted via Cued Speech and have sign imprinted via ASL. The language of the family would be a practical consideration in this type of program. If the child came from a signing family, his parents would continue to model their native language and English would be modeled via Cued Speech at school. If the child came from native English speaking family, the parents would continue to model English via Cued Speech. The child would receive ASL instruction by a native ASL signer at school. Speech and audition would not necessarily be proscribed in this scenario. The ultimate goal would be for each child to become bilingual.


Total Communication is an educational philosophy. “Total Communication can best be defined as eclectic, borrowing techniques form a variety of different methods.”110 Ideally teachers can use sign, writing, mime, speech, pictures or any other communication method that works. The method of communication should depend upon the needs of the student and the situation. In actual practice, most Total Communication programs use some form of Simultaneous Communication. Children are encouraged to work on speech and listening skills. “All children are encouraged to develop skill in all areas (sign language, speech and audition), although children are allowed to develop a mode of communication that is best for them.”111

A benefit of Total Communication is that it can provide a “safety net” for children who have difficulty following oral methods by using English that is supported by sign. It also allows the child some form of expressive communication. One of the big disadvantages associated with Total Communication is that it tends to limit a child’s language experience. Children are never exposed to complex English or complex ASL.112 “Dumbing down” both languages prevents children from attaining fluency in either language.


There are a number of different learning environments that can exist for a deaf child. The availability of these environments is dependent on locality. In many cases, if the appropriate setting is not available, parents may need to deal with the local school authorities.


Traditionally, residential schools have had a long and venerable history in this country. They are well known for being bastions of Deaf Culture and most deaf kids who attend them eventually learn ASL. Residential school enrollment has decreased due to two major factors. Since mainstreaming became an option for many children, parents began sending their children to local schools. “At the schools for the deaf, everyone is amazed. Mainstreaming caught them completely off-guard. …They never expected to face losing students to the public schools.”113 Also, the population of deaf children has decreased due to vaccinations like the Rubella vaccination. As a result, a number of schools have closed. For the most part, the schools that remain open have opened Day School programs. In addition, many of these schools have needed to take in children with multiple handicaps in order to keep their doors open. “Enrollment showed a slight decline in the seventies…Then suddenly, mainstreaming got serious, and there wasn’t much money…Suddenly, the school began looking for kids in the really closed institutions, like the Rome Developmental Center.”114

There are real advantages to residential schools. The schools are designed with the needs of deaf students in mind. Some of the schools have excellent programs. The opportunity for peer interaction is available, as are extracurricular activities like boy scouts and after school clubs. “ The students are involved in student government, peer study-groups, volunteer activities in the community at large, sports …all kinds of extra-curricular activities.”115 A child who lives in a locality where he is the only deaf person for miles in any direction is able to meet other deaf children. Deaf kids have adult Deaf role models. “Educators and parents who advocate for the availability option point out that the presence of deaf adults who are well-educated and fluent in sign language has a significant long-term impact on young deaf children’s educational and personal well-being.”116 In many cases, friendships are made that last a lifetime. The children are exposed to the cultural values of the Deaf community and to the language of the Deaf, ASL.

There are some real disadvantages as well. Many families are not comfortable sending young children away to school. Some families feel that the home and family is the best environment for any child. ‘I do not recommend for deaf students to stay at residential schools for a number of reasons. These deaf children need to be with their family where there is love, discipline and nurturing. The residential supervisors’ are not capable of meeting every deaf child’s needs (emotionally and physically).117 Many parents feel that the act of sending their child to residential school isolates the child from the family. Finally, there is the issue of the quality of the education itself. Education quality varies from school to school. “One suggestion for finding out if a residential school has a good program [is to] ask around and see how many of the students there have deaf parents. The deaf community is pretty close-knit, and word travels fast on the grapevine. If a certain residential school is significantly good, many deaf families actually uproot and move into that school’s neighborhood. Also, deaf children with deaf parents experience no language barriers at home…and thus many of them have age-appropriate language and communication skills. The schools that these children attend usually have a curriculum which reflects this.”118

There are three oral residential schools in this country: Clarke School, The Central Institute for the Deaf and St. Joseph’s Institute for the Deaf. They serve the oral deaf extremely well. One young lady had this to say: “ I went to the Clarke School for the Deaf for seven years. It was an awesome experience. I learned to be confident and to be a leader at an early age.”119


The Day School placement is one of the best compromises between the residential school and mainstreaming. Children can remain at home and are still able to take advantage of a school that is staffed with people who have the special training needed to educate deaf kids. The same kinds of programs and accomodations found in the residential schools can be found in the Day School placement.

The disadvantage to Day School placement is availability. Day Schools are found as a part of the Residential School programs. They are also found in metropolitan areas. If a parent’s job requires him to move to a remote area, a Day School program may not be an option.


These programs tend to the needs of children ranging in age from birth to four years. Public schools, local health and human services departments, residential schools and private organizations can run early intervention programs. Some schools have programs that use the services of itinerant teachers. One professional teacher cautioned parents to realize that teachers who deal with children age birth through three are often have a general special education degree. Parents need to seek out teachers who have a Masters degree in deaf education.

The focus of these programs is, in a word, preparation. Preschool is important because if helps children learn how to function socially and within the family. The preschool program emphasizes the following skills: language development, parent-child communication and social skills. These programs also teach strategies for enhancing the child’s development, signing skills and speech training.120 These communication and coping strategies are important as the children enter kindergarten.


Mainstreaming is a placement option in which children go to regular classes and they also go to some special education classes. These classes are called resource classes and are taught by specially trained teachers. Inclusion is a placement option in which the children are totally involved in all aspects of public education. Partial mainstreaming is a placement option in which children spend a portion of the day at the residential or day school and part of the day in public school.

Mainstreaming and Inclusion are supposed to allow deaf children access to regular education. One common complaint about the Mainstream setting is that the children are only in the regular classrooms for non-core subjects such as Physical Education and Art. The children generally learn their core subjects in the Resource Room. The act of placing a child in a Resource Room for a portion of the day can generate challenges. This dual learning environment can produce similar stigmas to those found in earlier generations when children had to leave the classroom for remedial education. In a dual environment, social integration comes into play. Children that are not a part of the classroom for a significant portion of the day have difficulty becoming integrated with their peers. Academic achievement also seems to be lower. Partial Mainstreaming between two different schools requires commuting time that breaks up the school day. This wastes valuable learning time. Students mainstreamed for 5-10 hours a week do consistently worse than students mainstreamed for 16 hours a week.121 “The key is to identify the right kind of program for the child in the first place and closely monitor academic and social progress for signs of the programs appropriateness or inappropriateness.”122

Parents who choose Mainstream or Inclusion environments need to be aware that most children require support services if they have more severe losses. These services include notetakers, well-trained transliterators and interpreters. The children may also require preferential seating so that they can clearly see the teacher. Many schools provide interpreters and transliterators, however, it is not uncommon for schools to secure the services of interpreters and transliterators that do not have appropriate qualifications. Parents need to intercede on behalf of their child if the interpreter or transliterator is not doing an adequate job. A good interpreter or transliterator faithfully communicates all that is said by the teachers and students. They also give the child access to some of the environmental sounds that occur during the interpreting session. Interpreters and transliterators are bound by a Code of Ethics and may not discuss the details of an interpreting session. Children need notetakers in the upper grades because they cannot look down to write.

nterpretation within the Mainstream or Inclusion environment can be viewed from more than one angle. On the one hand, the interpreter can act as a link to classroom and all that is within it. “…I went to a hearing school. As the only deaf student, though, I experienced a lot of difficulty. Once my school hired a sign language interpreter, however, I had access to my education. I was able to stay at my school instead of flunking out.”123 Classroom situations are usually rife with group discussions. The presence of an interpreter can be useful in these situations, since group discussions are particularly difficult for most deaf individuals to follow. Interpreters, however, are not educators. If a child is having difficulty with a concept, the child/teacher pair must always go through a third party. On the other hand, deaf children are often isolated from their peers, even with an interpreter. The free and easy communication that occurs between children is less likely to happen between a deaf child and his hearing peers, even with an interpreter. The learning that comes from that social interaction is also less likely to occur.

A child that is in a Mainstream or Inclusion environment without the services of an interpreter or transliterator has greater challenges. Children that do not have support services miss out on most, if not all of group discussions. They miss out on incidental learning from their peers. These kids can feel isolated from their peers. Many teachers pace the floor or face the blueboard during class. Children that rely on speechreading may have difficulty understanding a moving target or no target at all. Deaf adult respondents frequently mentioned the inability to understand teachers and classroom isolation as difficulties that they needed to contend with during their school years. “The negative aspects were frustrating feelings of isolation and lack of access communication-wise (I missed out on so much content until finally getting a sign language interpreter in the ninth grade).”124

There are positive aspects to Mainstreaming and Inclusion. A child that is in these types of environments has the opportunity to meet and interact with hearing peers. They are also exposed to a regular curriculum. These children often learn how to be self-starters. They develop excellent study habits that serve them well as adults, often as a direct result of the inability to understand the teacher and the other students.


Some public school systems have self-contained classrooms. These classrooms only contain children who are deaf or hard of hearing. The teachers in these classrooms are specially trained in deaf education. The benefit of this kind of classroom is that all the children are using the same form of communication so the issue of peer isolation is addressed. The teacher also uses some form of sign supported speech unless the school has an oral program. This addresses the issue of using a third party to communicate. The child can go to a school relatively close to home, yet will have some of the same advantages as the oral or residential school.

Since the self-contained classrooms are located in regular public schools, the special visual needs of the deaf students are not usually taken into consideration. Special items such as TTY access, visual- paging systems, carpeting in classrooms and emergency flashers may not be available. Children that wish to take part in after-school activities may not find them as accessible as they would in a residential school environment due to communication barriers.


Many times parents and school districts cannot agree on the issue of “appropriate” education. When this occurs, some parents opt to homeschool their children. Homeschooling is currently a popular alternative to traditional methods. An impressive number of parents that have deaf children have decided to either homeschool full-time, or homeschool part-time as a supplement to regular education. Benefits of homeschool education include clear communication, one-on-one attention, and teaching methods that are adapted to the child’s educational needs and learning style. In addition, the child can work at his own pace and the parents can choose a communication system that works for their child. Children that are under an IEP may receive support services from the State. However, some parents do not choose this option and prefer to hire their own specialists. Schools are not open to the idea of homeschooling and recommend against it. One parent said “I was convinced that homeschooling was best academically, spiritually, and emotionally for my other two children, but was constantly reminded that I should never expect to meet Joel’s needs on my own. I was convinced that I was incompetent to teach Joel.”125 Yet parents willing to put in the time and effort to create a quality homeschool program often succeed where school systems fail because the program can be tailored to the child’s needs. When homeschooling supplements public school programs, the results can be astounding. “I spent 1-2 hours in the afternoon homeschooling. As a result, my son is leader in the classroom and is one of the best students in his class. I will continue to homeschool in the areas of weakness in order to keep him on the same level as his peers.”126 Homeschoolers handle the issue of peer socialization through homeschool networks and other activities that include groups of children. “We are grateful for the connections we’ve made through our son’s experience in the regional program for the deaf. Homeschooling can isolate your child from other deaf/hh kids, so it takes extra effort to find opportunities to connect with other deaf kids and their families. The regional program has benefited us with these connections. Some homeschoolers are afraid to be involved at all with the public school system, but for us it’s been a helpful resource.”127


There is a saying about taking a walk in a minefield. It is advisable to walk where others have already been so that one may be assured safe passage. Deaf education and all its attendant issues are like the minefield in the saying. Fortunately, deaf adults and their parents have walked through the minefield. Most have gotten to the other side in relative safety. As a group, they all strongly suggested that hearing parents talk to deaf adults. All encouraged parents to love and accept their deaf children for who they are. “Accept as a fact that your child is deaf. Don’t try to suppress that fact. Seek counsel. Go into the Deaf Community, meet Deaf adults and see what Deaf Culture is about.”128 Most of the adults would have preferred it if their families had signed and they suggested exposing children to adult role models. All the adult respondents encouraged parents to read to their children as much as possible. “Being a bookworm guarantees consistent exposure to English grammar. Read often with your child and encourage him/her to read on his/her own.”129 Adult respondents and parents recommended that parents have high expectations for their children. “Expect a lot from your deaf child. You will be pleasantly surprised.”130 Almost everyone stressed that parents need to research the available information, seek early intervention (the earlier, the better) and find a communication method that works for the family. A number of deaf adults suggested a positive and patient attitude towards the child. “Be positive with your child and don’t sympathize with them when they complain. Be your child’s cheerleader and tell him how wonderful he is.”131 Several people suggested that parents make sure that their deaf children are exposed to both speech and sign. One respondent also noted that parents should expect proper behavior from their deaf children and that they need to teach them good manners. “Make sure your child has appropriate amplification. Talk to your child. If you sign, speak along. (If you cue, it’s built in.) Read out loud to your child. (If you sign or cue, sometimes read out loud without sign or cueing.) Teach your child to say things like “please” and “thank you”. “132

Almost all of the parent respondents recommended that parents know the laws regarding deafness and deaf education. They recommended early intervention regardless of communication method. The parents strongly recommended parent support groups. One parent suggested evaluating the child’s progress on a yearly basis. “I re-chose every year, sometimes even more frequently. I still re-evaluated even when she was in High School.”133 Quite a number of parents recommended that parents should not allow the educational establishment to intimidate them. A few parents recommended that, if possible, parents should try to avoid having an adversarial relationship with school administrators. “I believe in the old saying ‘You’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar’. The ‘educational establishment’ is just people who usually are trying to do the best they can, although I’ve met a few that didn’t care for the child as much as their personal agenda.”134 Most of the parents regarded the ‘method wars’ with disdain. They felt, as a group, that the contentious attitude between educators solved nothing and, often harmed the children and parents caught in the middle. “There is so much controversy surrounding the world of deafness and education. I wish more professionals would learn more about every option and be open enough to present these options to every parent who learns his/her child is deaf. It’s hard enough on parents to learn all you can abut deafness without the additional struggle of fighting professionals every step of the way.”135 Ultimately, all the parents concluded that parents are the experts in regard to their children’s needs. “As far as the educational establishment, the most important advice to keep in mind is that these people may be professionals, but they are not the expert when it comes to your child. The parent is the expert.“136


The cochlear implant is not an educational option, but rather a very controversial surgery which may affect the educational option of choice. Children who have this surgery normally need special auditory training to teach them how use the information that they are receiving from the implant. Sometimes Cued Speech is used to help the children learn to discriminate which sound is which. In any case, there is a need for specialized teacher training, since most deaf education teachers are trained to use hearing aids and cochlear implants work quite differently.

A cochlear implant will not make a child hearing. The cochlear implant seems to work best with very young children and with adults who have gone deaf later in life. A cochlear implant, as of this writing is a 24 channel digital processor. “It is an electronic device that bypasses damaged parts of the inner ear to stimulate remaining auditory nerve fibers. Parts of the device are placed under the skin in a surgical procedure.”137 The implants are not always successful and are highly controversial, especially when children are involved. There is also some degree of risk involved. People who want this implant must undergo an intensive screening process. When the implant works well, the results can be nearly miraculous. Parents should thoroughly research all sides of this issue using all the resources at their disposal and then make their own decision based on the facts at hand.


When all is said and done, parents need to remember a few core points. First, your child is a precious gift and an individual. Since children are individuals, they need a wide variety of educational options to choose from. A method that works beautifully for one child will bomb with another. The ultimate goal should be good communication, social skills and an educational background that will allow the child to become independent. Parents and professionals need to remember to be flexible. It might take some time to find the right method or combination of methods. Remember to check all your resources. Go to D/deaf adults. Someday your child will be one. Ask a lot of questions. Go to support group and experts in the field of deafness and deaf education. Read books, contact Associations and of course, surf the internet for information. “Enjoy your child first as a child. Establish and celebrate any kind of early natural communication you can. While ‘Hugs Aren’t Enough’ pointing helps a lot! Don’t be afraid and don’t be intimidated by what zealots tell you.“138 Finally, once you have collected all the information that you need, make your OWN decision based on the facts at hand and on the needs of your child and family.

Sign Language Classes and Courses

Whether learning sign language in order to communicate on a social level, or as a career choice there is a class available for you. Many libraries and deaf awareness groups offer free classes, or there are online resources to work with; but if you want to understand the deaf culture and all the aspects of the language used by the deaf, it is best to seek out professional training. The very best way to learn is by having a deaf teacher, but if that is not possible, it is important to interact with the deaf socially. Sign language courses should cover fingerspelling or sign language classes, language use, grammar, understanding the culture and movement/expression use.

Free Courses

Ohio School for the Deaf offering family ASL classes through their Center for Outreach services program. Once a week evening classes offer ASL grammar, vocabulary and practice of skills. Families will learn about deaf culture and have opportunities to interact with deaf adults.

Michigan State University an index video browser that is set up like a dictionary in order to teach and practice sign language.

ASL University run by Dr. William Vicars, assistant professor of ASL and Deaf Studies at California State University at Sacramento. Dr. Vicars teaches lessons through this site equivalent to 1,2, & 3rd college level. Also includes baby signing.

Baby Sign Language a San Diego, California group offers classes in various venues around the area, including libraries. Get a good start for your baby with a new language that will help you understand them and also begin the basis of a new language in ASL.

Deaf Counseling and Advocacy free class schedules for those deaf that were foreign born that want to learn ASL. Offering both beginner and intermediate classes.

ASL Courses

Clerc Center Education Center a listing of recommended resources, in which to find sign language classes and/or information.

College of Arts and Sciences an undergraduate course called: Methodology of Sign Language. Class covers the principles of manual communication, with stresses on some learning signs and gaining expressive and receptive skills. Scroll down page to find EDU 12.

Austin Sign Language School this is a non-profit school that offers quality sign language instruction for adult students, ages 14 and above, in the Austin, Texas and surrounding areas.

Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf ASL courses that go beyond sign language instruction. Classes promote not only signing skills, but also a greater understanding of Deaf culture. Classes are available for children and adults.

Ohlone College provides students with the knowledge and skills of ASL. This program has it all. Learn all aspects of ASL while interacting with deaf students and have seminars, deaf studies workshops and more!

Columbus speech and Hearing while not a certification program, this course helps those who work with the deaf or have friends to communicate. It is also a great beginner’s course for those who are going deaf or are hard of hearing.

Western Oregon University Courses are taught by fully qualified Deaf faculty. ASL meets the states second language requirement for the Bachelor of Arts and courses qualify for diversity credits.

Harvard Deaf Awareness Classes are taught by highly praised Manuel Martin, an instructor from the Rhode Island School for the Deaf. All levels are offered and students will be exposed to topics associated with deaf culture, including the history, famous individuals associated with deaf culture, and the effects of technology on the deaf culture.

Vancouver Island University a prep level course is the starting point for career development in the field of ASL. Students who successfully complete all three levels of ASL can pursue careers as interpreters and instructors. A free information seminar is also available.

LaGuardia Works This program includes a five-course sequence focusing on communication with Deaf individuals, as well as all other aspects of the language. A bonus is access to a state-of-the-art ASL Language Lab.

Shoreline Community College offering 9 different classes in ASL, from general to specific project focuses.

Idaho Council for the Deaf this site lists local education programs, colleges, private tutors and educational resources for home study.

Bellevue College offers seven courses covering beginning language to advanced ASL. Advanced classes cover refinement in signing within a cultural context.

The original deaflinx.com site was written and authored by Amy Frasu. Deaf Linx is now run by Ericka Wiggins. Here are the Facebook and Twitter pages for Deaf Linx.