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.


  1. What about deaf children who is far behind in math and language. What does public school with them if they have trouble keeping up with the mainstream setting? Some parents choose deaf school when they discovered their children are not doing well at all in public school.

  2. Hmm..

    You're missing a few things here. Your disadvantage for residential schools are:

    Academics are not up to par.

    Not all teachers are fluent in signs, but they do sign.

    Risk of abuse.

    Interesting view of yours. I went to mainstream and public school during my primary years and deaf school during high school. It worked out well for me but it was bad academically. At the deaf school, in my freshman year, I had a history book (exact same one!) that I had in 7th grade at a public school. I eventually asked for and got my own lesson plan that was different from the rest of the class.

    There are pros and cons for both. Every child is different so, the answer would depend on the child itself. What I know of what goes on at the deaf schools, more likely I will not send them there until they are older...unless they are day students.


  3. Our daughter is ready to be mainstreamed with a cued language transliterator, but our county won't provide it. They insist we keep her in the school that serves all the deaf kids, because they would rather assign a few kids per CLT rather than give us our own. Sucks. (She spends over 2 hours/day on the school bus.)

    1. I know what you mean.My son is 12 and hearing impaired and we live an hour and a half or more from school for deaf.What I don,t like about the school for deaf is my son only get,s speech therapy 30 min. twice a week.THAT IS NOT ENOUGH AS FAR AS I AM CONCERNED! I fell he is being cheated out of learning to talk because they use sign langusge only.

    2. He also has learned a lot of filthy vulgar thing's and they don,t keep a good eye on them and I feel insecure with him being that far from home.It is disgusting.

    3. Your wanting him to speak just because you do is selfish. Which in my opinion is more disgusting than anything Stop trying to fix the boy, there is nothing wrong with him.

  4. I support deaf schools because I am one of the deaf school graduates. They prepared me well for the hearing world. Deaf teachers, deaf houseparents, deaf support staff, and so on...shared their life experiences with us. We had an opportunity to play sports, participate in after school activities like drama, clubs, etc. I dont think I will have that opportunity if I go to hearing school. I am tired of hearing negative stuff about the deaf schools. If I have deaf children, I will send them to the deaf schools. They are no different from public schools. Some public schools are no good. Some deaf schools are no good. You will see some poor doctors and good doctors...same as teachers, and so on.

  5. Candy,

    I was only talking about what I think would be the ideal school for the deaf. I listed what I think would be the advantages and disadvantages of the ideal mainstream programs and schools for the deaf/hoh (whether they are residential, day programs, oral/aural, etc.).

  6. I agree that an IDEAL mainstream environment is extremely rare. Don't forget that qualified interpreters that are willing to work in schools are few and far between.

    I disagree with your statement that mainstream kids will develop more self-advocacy skills than kids from the school for the deaf. Being mainstreamed, my interpreter was the one who advocated for everything, so I never developed self-advocacy skills until I was in college.

    I really liked your post and I think you brought up many great points. This would be a great reference for parents who are considering their options.

  7. Closing schools for the Deaf is really a double hit for D/HH kids, because local school districts cannot be trusted without checking them out.

    Observations of several school districts over many years leads me to believe that for decades, districts have cheated D/HH kids and handicapped kids. Districts have taken state and federal funding for D/HH and for handicapped kids, put the money in general operating funds, and used a fraction for the intended purpose. I also believe that districts have steered students into the Special Ed population to exempt these kids from standardized testing in order to make their district test scores look artificially better and also to pull in more money than they are willing to spend on Special Ed. When NCLB (No Child Left Behind) came along and stopped the testing exemptions, districts were caught in consequences of their deceptions. That is one reason for the loud wailing over NCLB.

    I am aware of the stories and allegations of abuse at some residential schools. My point is that there is no more reason to blindly trust mainstream schools than there is reason to blindly trust residential schools. Parents must thoroughly investigate the options for education for their D/HH kids and check everything. Even then, there are no guarantees. Parents must maintain constant vigilance.

    I can predict a question about the kids who do not have responsible parents, either due to inability or lack of interest. Unfortunately there is no way that these kids will not suffer, short of termination of parental rights and placement with a family with the ability and interest to look after the best interests of the child.


  8. (e, yup I understand that. I realized my wording probably reflected something else. What I meant to say that in your listing of disadvantages, it was, in my opinion, missing some of the disadvantages which I thought should go under your lists of disadvantages of deaf schools.

    If deaf schools improve on these areas, they will have more pros than cons. And, if mainstream improve on the areas they're lacking, they too will have more pros than cons.


  9. Yes, I agree with anon(you should add the timestamp on your blog so I could write "anon[timestamp]" to identify which anon I am referring to) about self-avocacy. As a mainstreamed student, the only thing I learned was not to drew attention to myself, plus I depended on my teachers and parent to take care of my needs. I never learned about cart, interpreters, notetaker, cc, neck loop, etc. I even refused to raise my hand out of fear of embrassass (kids would snickered everytime I do and I felt so stupid - like a dumb blond questions -like one of the recent blog about how students didn't know what "husband" is- or it have already been mentioned or just plain awkward because of time lapse).

    remember your last blog where a yound student want to be just like you? Before you, he didnt know any of these stuffs either.

  10. Also in response to David's comment.

    I was viewing a video in Deafcube by a lady who gave another view of deaf schools vs hearing schools. She pointed out that she wished she went to deaf school and stayed in dorms. Her parents are deaf and she had a bad childhood. Her point is that having deaf parents don't always mean a child will have the best. She attended mainstream, had both good and bad experiences. But felt dorm life away from her dysfunctional deaf family would have been a lot better.

    I think that the answers, again depends on a lot of factors.


  11. Interestingly enough, I would have done the opposite if I had a Deaf child. I would have mainstreamed him/her in primary school and middle school.

    Then, in high school, I would offer him/her the option to try out the Deaf school for 9th grade. If it works out, great. If not, then he/she can finish schooling in a mainstream environment. A moot point, as I don't have children.

    The main advantage of a mainstream placement is access to the general curriculum as mandated by the State in which they reside in. I don't know about Deaf schools generally; maybe the majority of them do access the general curriculum. (I do know that they subject their students to state standardized testing.)

    As for self-advocacy skills, they can be implemented in the student's IEP and followed up by regular school personnel at the Deaf school.

    Generally speaking, Deaf schools produce leaders; these students go through classroom discourse and interactions with their peers on a daily basis in a natural environment using ASL.

    Lastly, there are bad and good Deaf schools, just like there are good and bad mainstream placements. It's up to the parents to proactively monitor their child's educational progress and adjust accordingly if adverse conditions happen.

  12. Candy,

    Yup, it depends on a lot of factors. This is what a lot of people do not take into account when they claim this or that would be better for ALL.

    It really depends.

  13. I've added to list of disadvantages of mainstream:

    "Even if the student has a sign language interpreter, a highly qualified one, they will still miss out on what is being said for the most part, because they will be provided the interpreter's interpretation of what is being said not what is actually being said word for word. Also, it would be impossible for the interpreter to sign every single word that is being said especially in side conversations and group discussions. Lack of access to information via spoken language is one of the greatest concerns I have about a mainstreamed deaf or hard of hearing student. "

  14. And I have added time stamps to the comments, so that it will be easier to describe which anonymous you are referring to.

  15. (e was talking about hypothetical IDEAL environments and saying, all else being equal, she would choose the school for the deaf. I agree totally.

    The ideal environment is one that prepares one for all other environments by giving a SOLID academic base to start with. My son, Deaf and totally acculturated with his school for the deaf, was able to take mainstream classes part-time in his junior and senior years of high school and even to take a full year of community college that was transferred to a college for the Deaf.

    I don't think raising him in an ideal mainstream school would have the same effect: missing the full peer interaction and renforcement would have left him with weaknesses in academic applications: for example, defending a position or discussing all aspects of a topic. He would have instead learned to cope--submerged in a majority and to coast along instead of competing.

    Speaking of disadvantages, especially "abuse", was oppositional thinking. Abuse can occur in mainstream environments more readily than in the modern school for the deaf.

    As for academics being not up to par in public schools...public schools are notorious for "passing up" kids who don't work or even meet the grade so that there are far too many barely-literate high school graduates all over the country. To say it about schools for the deaf in general as an argument against them is a red herring.

  16. Yes dianez. I've mentioned many time that public school will do that. My younger brother have a learning disablity and they put put him in a full time self contained class for people like himself. He graduated with a modified diploma (and this was after NCLB) To say " if I send my deaf child to public school, he will be on par with hearing student as far as acdemically" but no, if they feel your child is not doing well in class, they will change it and your child will end up getting a modified diploma. I almost did if they didn't pull me out when I was 10th grade (most kids with mild LD get a chance to earn a regular diploma, but for my brother and few other friends, they couldn't have that chance. My brother struggle to write and spell. But he is an excellent artist:)

  17. Opps I meant 9th grade (my middle school went from 7-9th grade so I forgot about that)

  18. I am a mother of a deaf child and an Education Assistant Auslan in his school. We have a bilingual school. We have deaf classrooms in the morning and then the children intergrate in the afternoon. Some of our students are in heaaring classes full time. If the children have no other special needs, they flourish in the hearing classes and benefit from having Interpreters and other deaf children around them. The whole school is learning sign language, so Assembley items are all signed. We have had some children come because they were bullied in hearing schools. The only negative is that they can spend an up to an hour on the bus both ways.( some love it for social reasons)

    1. This sounds like an amazing school- where is it located?

  19. I have heard of a Montessori Deaf School in America which is amazing, becouse it is so visual and hands on. All the children were level with hearing peers.

  20. i want school,speach and boarding for my child


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