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For Deaf and Hearing-Impaired Children, Which Schools Are Best?

For Deaf and Hearing-Impaired Children, Which Schools Are Best?
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Should children who are deaf and hard of hearing be educated in separate schools specifically for them, or in mainstream settings? New technologies including cochlear implants and other advancements in amplifying sound and speech have made it possible for children to attend mainstream schools which, some parents argue, will better prepare them for life in a society where not everyone knows American Sign Language. But others say that separate schools for the deaf and hearing-impaired, especially state schools for the deaf with long histories, provide a uniquely nurturing environment.

A New York Times article on the dispute notes that a number of states — Indiana, Kansas, North Carolina, Oregon, South Dakota and West Virginia — have sought to cut the funding for schools for the deaf and hearing-impaired at a time of shrinking budgets. According to a group that advocates for the use of listening and spoken language, Hear Indiana, 20 percent of families choose ASL while the remaining 80 percent “want their children to enjoy the full range of sounds and to be able to listen and speak.” Marvin Miller, president of the Indiana Association of the Deaf, who is deaf, counters:

“Speaking and listening classrooms across the nation are known for their forced exclusion of A.S.L. and expressly forbid any contact with the culturally deaf adult role models.”

“We view this as inflicting violence upon thousands of innocent deaf and hard-of-hearing babies — taking away their language and pinning their hopes on dismal success rates of cochlear implants.”

Advocates for cochlear implant cite far higher success rates for the devices than do critics. Advocates for the use of ASL also say that the “popularity of such devices is drastically overstated.”

But it’s really budgetary issues — rather than real assessments of which educational settings most help students — that are, too often,  the decisive factor. Educating a child in a separate school is more expensive, due to the costs of transportation (which can be around $20,000 per child) and the maintenance of separate facilities. On the other hand, separate schools for children with disabilities can seem more similar to the institutions and asylums of years past, when those with disabilities were “warehoused” away from the rest of society.

The debate about separate schools for children who are deaf and hard of hearing versus mainstream placements is one that resonates for students with other disabled students and their parents. I know that my husband and I wish very much for our 14-year-old son Charlie to be as integrated into mainstream society as possible. For years, we insisted that he be educated in the public schools in our towns.

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Photo of child with a cochlear implant by bjornknetsch

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2:32PM PST on Feb 4, 2014

separate classroom is not mainstreaming...Let's be respectful of DEAF culture

9:53AM PST on Feb 4, 2014

I think that each case is separate. Of my two kids and two stepkids with learning disabilities, one was very comfortable in general society and could defend himself against idiots, two suffered at the hands of bullies but eventually figured out how to negotiate the obstacles of a regular school, and one just completely withdrew, so she was kept in private school until she matured enough to learn how to deal with the "real" world. Each parent should have the option to make the best choice for their child, no matter the disability or learning challenge.

1:32AM PST on Nov 20, 2011


8:30AM PDT on Aug 18, 2011

The Title should say "Deaf and Hard of Hearing" because "Hearing Impaired" means any range of hearing loss from mild to profound deaf. As for schools, it depends on the children's needs. They get a lot of exposure to education in public schools than in deaf schools. Then you think about future jobs for your children after they graduate from high school. Cochlear Implants are wonderful! Some children do well in public schools and some do not. Parents should always be there for them no matter what.

10:16PM PDT on Jul 28, 2011

children canbe very cruel to each other....i would be abit worried about that.

7:49PM PDT on Jul 28, 2011

This should be largely parent choice.

1:49PM PDT on Jul 28, 2011

Some interesting points.

12:14PM PDT on Jul 28, 2011

I understand the concern of having children exposed to a variety of people. My son isn't permanantly residing at school so he has plenty of contact with "normal" children. He has an older sister and brother and one younger brother as well all of which were born hearing. I also have a network of close friends and family who interact with him daily. Maybe I am "sheltering" him but I know what I went through in middle school and high school and children can be so mean. I know that he is a very strong young man and has a bit of a fiesty side in him and I would hate for him to be getting in fights and getting suspended from school due to bullying, when he could be in an environment where his disablity isnt an issue and focus on what he should be......which is his studies.

6:14PM PDT on Jul 27, 2011

I keep reading comments about kids who didn't do well in "normal" schools, so I understand why its better for deaf kids to go to a special school where they fully understand their condition, but dont you think its better for them to join "normal" kids at some point? Perhaps even later in high school or something. I'm not an expert or anything, but what if thats one of the ways for both parties to learn from each other and stop focusing on the minor differences?

3:35PM PDT on Jul 27, 2011

All parents should be able to choose the school that they think will be of the most benefit to their child and we, as a society, should support both types of school. That kids get an education is the most important thing.

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