Evaluating School Programs for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children
by Paula Rosenthal, J.D.
When a child is prelingually deafened or hard of hearing (usually prior to the age of 3), many families will seek a special education program to assist the child with his speech and/or language development. Since the average age of diagnosis of hearing loss is 2.5 years to 3.5 years, children often suffer from significant receptive and expressive language delays.
Whether the family chooses oral communication, sign language, a signed English system or total communication, choosing a school can be a daunting task. Due to the relatively few choices of programs available for deaf and hearing impaired children in each state, many families have become part of a special education migration phenomenon. In essence, they temporarily or permanently relocate all or part of their family to another state so that their child with special needs can attend a program that they deem appropriate.
This article discusses general guidelines for evaluating school programs for deaf and hard of hearing children.
Research schools online
A listing of oral deaf education programs in the United States, Canada and United Kingdom can be found at http://www.oraldeafed.org/schools/index.html. Each school offers extensive information via this site. The Oberkotter Oral Deaf Education site also offers free videos and information for parents of newly diagnosed children that can be found at http://www.oraldeafed.org.
A comprehensive listing of links to schools for the deaf in the United States can be found on Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Schools_for_the_deaf_in_the_United_States The communication methods taught at these schools vary.
Other places to research center-based and mainstream programs for deaf and hearing impaired children can be found at http://www.deafness.about.com/cs/schoolsus/index.htm and http://deafness.about.com/od/schooling/Schooling.htm
Visit Schools in Session
After determining the communication method you plan to use with your child and researching the schools via the Internet, telephone and mail, narrow the list of schools you are interested in. Request an appointment to visit the school, preferably while it is in session during the year or during a summer program.
Be sure to observe the students who are the same age as your child as well as older students’ classes. Take note of their demeanor. Do the children appear attentive and interested in what they are being taught? Is every child given a chance to participate and interact? Are the classrooms brightly lit and organized? How are the acoustics in the room?
Ask to meet the teachers as well as parents of students. Are the teachers energetic, experienced and patient? Are the parents pleased with the progress their children are making? Can parents observe the classes freely? Are parents involved in the school? Is there a parent-teacher association? Is there a formal or informal support group for parents? How do the parents feel about the teachers and the administrators? These are key components of successful programs.
Arrive for your meeting with the director or principal of the program with a list of questions in hand as well as pen and paper to write down answers. This will assist you in keeping track of each program you visit. Here is a list of sample questions:
After visiting and observing several schools, you should be able to make a determination based on quality of the program, support, feasibility and location. Remember that it is not unusual for a majority of families at a school to relocate for the program. If you decide to relocate, be sure to find out about local community support for your family.
Choosing a mainstream or special education program for your deaf or hard of hearing child can have a significant impact on his life as well as yours. It is important to be thorough in your research and find a program that is compatible with your philosophy and the goals you have for your child. With the right education and support, your child can be successful in anything he chooses to do.
Paula Rosenthal, J.D. is married and a mother of two young children. She, her husband and daughter are all hearing impaired. Her son has normal hearing. She has relocated temporarily with her children for an educational program in the Midwest. Paula is the founder and publisher of http://www.HearingExchange.com, an online community of resources and support for people with hearing loss, parents of deaf and hard of hearing children and professionals who work with them. Subscribe to HearingExchange News for the latest news and resources on hearing loss on the main page of the site.
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