February 27, 2011

Deaf & HOH Students: To Mainstream Or Not

Is it better to mainstream a deaf or hard of hearing child in general education classes or to send him or her to a specialty school for deaf and hard of hearing students, whether they have oral/aural programs, predominately use sign language, use the bilingual (ASL/English) approach, or use total communication?

In my opinion, it really depends on the types of schools that are available, the area you live in, what type of family the child comes from, communication and education preferences, and the child's personality, abilities, and skills.

But, let's say the ideal schools for deaf and hard of hearing students are located near the family's home and are known to produce excellent students. And let's say there are several ideal public schools (general education) nearby that are also known to be excellent. You are not sure if your child would fare better in general education or a school for deaf and hard of hearing students. What would you do? Which schools should you send your child to?
Let's look at what an ideal school for deaf and hard of hearing students may look like and what the advantages and disadvantages could be. 
  • The school for deaf and hard of hearing children will most likely have more resources and information about hearing loss and educating deaf and hard of hearing students on site than the typical public school (parent sign language classes, technology, deaf and hoh adult role models, technology, first hand knowledge, etc.). 
  • At a school for the deaf, all the teachers would ideally hold a degree and be certified both in general education and deaf and hard of hearing education. 
  • For students who use sign language, there would be no need for interpreters, because ideally the teachers would be fluent signers themselves. 
  • Class size would most likely be small, providing more opportunities for one-on-one instruction. 
  • Without much effort, the students will have full access to the information taught in academic settings.
  • The students will also be surrounded by others like them, which could help with their social skills, self esteem, and developing a healthier sense of self. 
  • They won't have to be pulled from class for special services as much as they would in a general education setting. Most likely they will not have to be pulled for language instruction (depending on their background and whether or not they get the support they need at home). Instead, they may be pulled for other services such as OT, PT, and speech services.
There are many advantages found in a good school for deaf and hard of hearing students. Otherwise, if a school for deaf and hard of hearing students does not have all of these ideal things, it could be a bad choice, unfortunately. But, so would an ill-equipped mainstreamed program for a deaf or hard of hearing student not ready or properly prepared to be thrown in general education classes without much support.
There are only a few disadvantages of attending a really good school for the deaf that I could think of.
  • There would be lack of exposure to a large diverse group of students (hearing or not) and I suppose a lack of exposure to the general population while in school. 
  • There will not be as many opportunities for students to advocate for themselves in regard to their hearing needs in a school for deaf and hard of hearing students, because there would not really be a need for them to. Developing self advocacy skills that we often have to use with the general population is very important.
Let's look at the advantages of mainstreaming deaf or hard of hearing students in an ideal public school.
  • They will be more exposed to the "hearing world" where spoken language is used predominately. Students will learn how to adapt to certain challenges and to advocate for themselves within environments that are tailored more for the hearing population. 
  • There will be specialists at the school to work with the classroom teachers and set up the classroom environment and help provide accommodations that will work best for the d/hh student.   
  • The general education students will be exposed to deaf and hard of hearing people, who they may not meet or come across often outside of school. 
I can think of some disadvantages of mainstreaming a deaf or hard of hearing child in even an excellent public school that would be able to provide appropriate accommodations and services needed.
  • Many public schools have large classes, often 20 students or greater.  
  • The deaf or hard of hearing student could be pulled often from academic classes for special services such as small group instruction and speech. 
  • They will not be surrounded by other peers like themselves, especially those who are of similar age. Often, they will be the only deaf or hard of hearing student in a classroom. Sometimes they may be the only deaf or hard of hearing student in the entire school. Also, there will most likely be no hard of hearing or deaf adults to serve as role models and mentors. 
  • Even if the student has a sign language interpreter, a highly qualified one, they may miss out on what is being said sometimes. It would be impossible for the interpreter to sign every single word that is being said especially in side conversations and group discussions.
Which learning environment would be more beneficial depends on the child and a number of factors.
With the recent news that some schools of the deaf and hard of hearing may be closing, parents will have less choices in how they would like to educate their child, other than to mainstream them or send them to a private school. What are families to do when there are hardly any resources or good schools for the deaf and hard of hearing located nearby? Some families do not have the luxury to relocate or put in more time and money to provide their child the best kind of life that they would be happy or fortunate enough to give them.

Shutting down more schools for the deaf will only exacerbate the problem.