Parents will find school systems use different communication systems for children who are deaf or hard of hearing. As a parent, you will find the options conflicting and confusing; one of your tasks will be picking among them for your child. Your decision may, in part, be dictated by what programs exist in your area.
Parents’ rights in the special education maze
Every child with a disability enrolled in the public school system is guaranteed a free, appropriate education under a federal law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Federal law stipulates that the education be individually tailored to the child’ss needs through the development of an Individual Education Plan, or I.E.P. Unlike regular education where “one curriculum fits all”, IDEA specifies that special education must be individually tailored to your child’s needs. The law also stipulates that the student should be placed in the “least restrictive environment.” The meaning of “least restrictive environment” has been a source of debate and controversy since IDEA was passed. To some it simply means an environment where a child is most likely to thrive, but to others it denotes an environment most similar to the regular classroom and regular curriculum. Either definition may be applicable. For example, some students may be able to compete in a public classroom (usually helped by tutors, speech/language therapy, etc.), while others may thrive in a private school with more individual attention and support.
In theory, children’s special education services are supposed to be tailored to their needs. In practice, children are apt to receive a generic set of services based on their disability, rather than on their individual strengths and weaknesses. However, unlike general education, special education allows parents to have some say in their child’s educational programming and supplementary services. Before you can influence your child’s educational program, however, you must master the special education maze and aggressively seek what you want. And, remember, you may request a particular service for your child, and the school may agree on it; however, if it does not appear in writing in your child’s special education plan, your request may not be legally binding.
For more information
- Our Education section lists the programs available at Michigan’s Intermediate School District. The site includes contact information.
- For more information on IDEA, contact AG Bell (see below) and ask for its free brochure, A Great IDEA: I.D.E.A. the I.E.P Process and Your Child.
American Sign Language (Bilingual/Bicultural) — In this method, American Sign Language (ASL) is taught as the child’s primary language, and English as a second language. American Sign Language is recognized as a true language in its own right and has a grammar and syntax of its own that does not follow the grammatical structure of English. This method is used extensively within the Deaf culture community.
Auditory/Oral — These programs teach children to make maximum use of their residual hearing through amplification (hearing aids or cochlear implants), to augment their residual hearing with speech (lip) reading, and to speak. This approach excludes the use of sign language.
Auditory/Verbal — The auditory/verbal approach is similar to the auditory/oral approach, except it does not encourage lip-reading. This method emphasizes the exclusive use of auditory skills through one-on-one-on-one teaching. It, too, excludes the use of sign language, but promotes instruction in the regular classroom (“mainstream education”).
Cued Speech — This is a visual communication system combining eight hand-shapes (cues) that represent different sounds of speech. These cues are used simultaneously with speaking. The hand shapes help the child distinguish sounds that look the same on the lips — such as “p” and “b”. Cues significantly enhance lip-reading ability and supplement the use of amplified hearing.
Total Communication — Total communication combines methods to teach a child, including ASL or some other signing systems (SEE or others), finger spelling, speech reading, gestures, writing, speaking and amplification.
Assistive Listening Devices and Services — Equipment and services that amplify speech or make it accessible in some other way. These devices or services can include receivers, transmitters, headphones and services such as C.A.R.T. (Communication Access Realtime Translation), the instantaneous translation of the spoken word into English text using a stenotype machine, notebook computer and realtime software and displaying the text on a laptop computer, monitor or screen.
Much of this information was taken from the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf. We recommend you check out the Association’s website, www.agbell.org