BY J. FREEMAN KING, ED.D
Without deep and meaningful communication with parents, peers, teachers, and other significant others, there are no shared meanings, no shared experiences, no development of identity, and inadequate transmission of world knowledge.
The educational decisions of parents, school administrators, and teachers can lead to the educational success or failure of the deaf child. Without a doubt, the decisions made carry with them a great responsibility to be well-informed concerning the unique needs of the deaf child.
Some parents of a deaf child never progress beyond the perceived barriers that might be encountered in their child’s life, resulting in social, psychological, and educational damage. Before this impasse is reached, school administrators and teachers can be catalysts who assist parents in understanding that with acceptance of their deaf child and ensuring that the child is given an accessible language for the development of world knowledge, the child has the potential to progress normally in the academic, social, and emotional realms.
Parents are often inundated with so much information regarding communication and educational methods that they have no idea where to turn. To assist school administrators and teachers in understanding the various methods employed in the education of the deaf child, the following explanations should prove instructive:
1. Listening and spoken language method: As the name indicates, the primary emphases of this method involve the teaching of speech and the use of the child’s residual hearing (either through amplification systems, hearing aids, or cochlear implantation).
2. Manually-coded English systems: The theory underlying manually-coded English systems is that if one simultaneously signs and/or finger spells in English word order and speaks English, the deaf child will encode this communicative attempt as English.
NOTE: However, sign languages are natural languages with grammars independent of spoken languages. Linguistic research has shown that sign languages are natural languages: (1) they develop naturally over time among a community of users; (2) they are acquired through an ordinary course of language acquisition by children exposed to them, and; (3) they are grammatically organized according to principles found in all other human languages.
3. Bilingual/bicultural approach: This is an educational approach that embodies two languages, American Sign Language (ASL) and English, and two cultures, the hearing culture and the Deaf culture. Proponents of this approach assert that literacy in English can be achieved by first providing the deaf child opportunities to acquire a visual language (ASL), and then bridging from this language to learning the written form of English.
4. Cued Speech: Cued Speech incorporates eight hand shapes and four hand locations near the face to supplement the lip, teeth, and tongue movements in order to eliminate the ambiguities of speech reading. This is the least used communication and educational method.
5. Total Communication: This is an inclusive term that typically indicates that speech and signing (whatever the form) are used simultaneously. This method of communication is neither American Sign Language nor English in their full forms as languages.
Educational Placement Options
Some of these educational placement options include:
1. Mainstreaming: This option involves placing the deaf child into the hearing classroom with an interpreter, and is housed in a local public school. The rationale is that placement with hearing children will result in proper socialization of the deaf child into a hearing society. The question begs to be asked whether or not socialization can possibly occur without deep and meaningful communication among the deaf child, his/her peers, and the teacher.
2. Residential programs: Students remain at the residential school during the week, and return home on weekends, holidays, and the summer. The residential school is advocated as being the optimum placement for educational, social, emotional, and linguistic growth of the deaf child in that one-on-one instruction occurs between a qualified/certified teacher of the deaf; the child has a peer group with whom communication is natural and free-flowing; and there is usually an abundance of adult Deaf role models.
3. Day class programs: As the name implies, this is an educational placement in which the child is afforded the opportunity to attend classes during the day, and then return home in the afternoon. This type of program is typically found in larger cities where there are larger populations of deaf children. The day class program might be either a regional program or a self-contained classroom in the local public school, or a charter school program.
From the various options available, one can easily understand the consternation that the parents encounter. The question that administrators and teachers can assist the parents in answering is whether or not the deaf child is primarily a visual or an auditory learner: Does the child best access information and language primarily through the visual or the auditory channel? Once this question is answered, the parents can investigate the various methods and placement options, and choose the option that best addresses the child’s strength, the option that plays to the child’s ability, not his/her perceived disability.
Rationale for Early and Consistent Communication
Communication involves shared meanings. Without deep and meaningful communication with parents, peers, teachers, and other significant others, there are no shared meanings, no shared experiences, no development of identity, and inadequate transmission of world knowledge. Deep and meaningful communication is a precursor to language development, whether it is a visual or a listening and spoken language.
Hearing professionals in the fields of deaf education and the medical sciences have a history of attempting to clone deaf children into hearing children, of thinking, acting, and feeling hearing. The sad indictment is that the deaf person is often successful in the hearing world, not because of their education and medical advances, but in spite of them.
Perceptions of Deafness
How parents, school administrators, and teachers view deafness is crucial: Is it viewed as a disability, a defect that must be remedied, or as a socio-cultural difference? The advice given parents in this area is of utmost importance. The parents’ and the professionals’ view can be the determining factor in the overall development and ultimate success or failure of the deaf child.
When deafness is viewed as a pathological condition, a disability that distinguishes abnormal from normal, there are inherently low expectations for the child. However, when deafness is considered a difference that distinguishes normal Deaf people from normal hearing people, expectations are immediately raised, and the process of labeling that follows the child throughout his/her life are minimized, or at best, eliminated.
The pathological model of deafness focuses on a cure, or the ameliorating of the perceived sensory impairment, whereas the difference model emphasizes abilities and equalities. Given an equal education in truly the least restrictive environment, the deaf child can do anything that a hearing child can do.
Embraced in the pathological model is the idea that primary attention must be given to hearing aids, cochlear implants, and other devices that enhance auditory perception and focus on speech. The difference model focuses on issues of communication access through visual devices and services such as videophones, video relay systems, TV captioning, light signal devices, and interpreters.
Educationally, the pathological model’s major concern is with the production of intelligible speech. The goal of the difference model is the mastering of subject matter content. Inherent in the difference model is that the deaf child be exposed to and expected to master the same curriculum that is required of hearing children.
Socially, the view of the pathological model is that the deaf child should be integrated into the hearing world. The view of the difference model is that deaf people will naturally socialize in both the Deaf and hearing communities. The deaf individual is, by necessity, a functioning member of both cultures; one has only to look at the worlds of work and athletics to realize that integration takes place.
Perhaps, the most insidious element within the pathological model is that of paternalism, the basic assumption being that hearing people must assist those who are deaf in overcoming their disability. The attitude expressed in the difference model is that those who are hearing should work with, not for, the Deaf towards mutual respect and equality, fully realizing that given equal access and opportunities, the Deaf can succeed on their own.
The Influence of Technology on the Deaf Child
Often, the attitude of the general public, professionals in education and medicine, as well as parents, is that technological advances such as hearing aids and cochlear implants will remedy the hearing loss. With hearing aids or cochlear implants, the child remains primarily a visual learner, even though the hearing aid or the cochlear implant can be a valuable tool.
Even with a cochlear implant, the learning of English, especially as it relates to the development of literacy in English, is a problematic process. Christiansen and Leigh in their book, Cochlear Implants in Children, state that scholars whether proimplantation or anti-implantation, have suggested that it is time to stop looking solely at speech and language results, or at cost effectiveness numbers, and to start looking at important psychosocial issues.
The American Society for Deaf Children, in an effort to provide families with unbiased information, has developed a definitive position paper delineating principles that apply universally to deaf children, their families, and the professionals who serve them. These principles apply regardless of whether or not the parents opt for a cochlear implant, hearing aids, related technology, or no hearing technology at all. Following are the principles outlined by the ASDC that apply directly to educational professionals:
• Be informed about the successes of deaf persons from all walks of life, including those who use American Sign Language as their primary language and those who do and do not use cochlear implants.
• Recognize the benefits of early language, including sign language, and work to ensure that deaf children’s language development, whether signed, spoken, or both, progresses at a rate equivalent to that of their hearing peers.
• Refer parents to a wide range of information sources, including Deaf individuals, families with deaf children, schools for the deaf, and local, state, and national parent and Deaf adult organizations.
In summary, the deaf child should be afforded the human right of being Deaf, of establishing an identity of which he/she can be proud, of having a fully accessible language that can lead to literacy in the English language, and allowed to dream and realize his/her dreams as their hearing counterparts are encouraged and allowed to do. •
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
J. Freeman King, Ed.D. is Professor, Deaf Education, at Utah State University in Logan, Utah.
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