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

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Charlie has always been in a special education classroom and was only minimally included in classes with “typical” children, but, by being in a mainstream school, he did have some (if limited) chances to interact with other children and to be part of the life of school in our community. But when he entered middle school and had to contend with the hormonal changes of adolescence, we had — very sadly — to agree, Charlie needed to attend a separate school for autistic children.

Charlie has indeed thrived at the county autism center he now attends. The school is housed in a large and recently built facility, with its own gym and swimming pool (though students can’t use it too regularly, due to the need for lifeguards and other safety concerns). When a child has a severe behavior problem, there are plenty of trained staff on hand and, too, there are no stares. It’s a school for children with behavior issues, communication and cognitive disabilities, extremely sensitive sensory systems, and sometimes things happen. When my son was in the middle school of the town we used to live in, he was essentially segregated, as he spent almost the entire day, including lunch, in one small classroom. In his current school, he eats in the cafeteria and has music, art and Adapted Physical Education a couple of times of week. At the middle school, he couldn’t participate in music or art as he had in elementary school, because his needs were so far — were too different — from those of the other 6th, 7th and 8th graders.

My son has a lot of neurological challenges and, especially during his adolescence and teenage years, a school placement as understanding and accepting as the one he’s in has been the right answer. Outside of school, my husband and I do as much as we can to give Charlie opportunities to participate in mainstream society.

For many other students with disabilities, placement in a separate school amounts to segregation and limits their learning and other opportunities severely. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), students with disabilities must receive a “free and appropriate education” in the “least restricted environment,” in a school setting that least limits their opportunities for social and other interactions. However, too often — as in the case of my son at the middle school — a mainstream setting is in effect a separate one, despite what a school district claims.When grappling with the question of separate schools or mainstream placements, the one issue we have to keep at the forefront is: Are mainstream schools and those who oversee them truly making real accommodations for students with disabilities or just creating programs that suit their budgets, but not what students need?

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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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