Educational placement for the social and linguistic success of the deaf child

The professional advice given the hearing parent of a deaf child regarding educational placement can lead to the educational, social, emotional, and linguistic success or failure of the child. Parents are often so overwhelmed with the amount of information regarding communication and educational placement options that they have no idea which is most appropriate for their child. Professionals who embrace one particular method or placement often present their view as the only possible option, and insist that their view is the only choice that should be investigated seriously. One can only imagine the confusion that parents feel as a result of the propaganda bombardment from such a plethora of diverse opinions.

To assist the hearing parent of a deaf child in making a logical and knowledgeable decision concerning placement options, the following information should prove instructive.  


Do determine if your child is primarily a visual or an auditory learner

There is no one better than the parent to make this decision. You have observed and interacted with your child on a daily basis from the time he/she was born. You are intimately aware if your child responds primarily to his/her environment through vision or hearing. Once the question of how the child best accesses information and language is answered, the parents can investigate the various communication methods and educational placement options and choose the one that best addresses their child’s strength, not their weakness.

It is only logical that we should play to the child’s strength. If your child appears to be primarily a visual learner, you should insist that he/she be placed in an educational environment that provides full and meaningful access to a visual language. If your child appears to be primarily an auditory learner, perhaps an educational environment that emphasizes listening and spoken language, but does not exclude a visual language, should be considered. 

Do understand what is meant by an oral/aural or a listening and spoken language educational placement

The primary emphasis of the listening and spoken language (oral/aural) placement involves the teaching of speech and the use of the child’s residual hearing (either through amplification systems, hearing aids, or cochlear implants). This placement usually means the deaf child is mainstreamed into a classroom with hearing peers. This approach/placement typically does not embrace the use of American Sign Language or any of the manually-coded English signing systems in the classroom.

Do understand what is meant by a manually-coded English educational placement

Manually-coded English involves the concurrent production of signs and the spoken language (sign supported speech). There are various sign systems that fall under this category:

  • Seeing Essential English
  • Signing Exact English
  • Conceptually-accurate Signed English
  • Visible English 

It is important for the parent to understand that using signs to support spoken English is a system, not a true language; it is only a code for a language. This placement usually means that the deaf child is placed in a self-contained classroom in the public school with deaf peers and is mainstreamed with an interpreter into selected classrooms with hearing peers. 

Do understand what is meant by a bilingual-bicultural/ASL-English educational placement

This approach is an educational approach that is often used in residential placements, but can also be used in self-contained settings and day class placements. It is an approach that embodies two languages, American Sign Language (ASL) and English; and, two cultures, the Deaf culture and the hearing culture. Goals of the bilingual-bicultural placement include:

  1. Using the natural, visual language of the child to access content knowledge
  2. Developing transfer strategies between ASL and English in order to gain this necessary world-knowledge information
  3. Developing a strong metalinguistic awareness of English and how it is used in different settings and situations

Supporters of this approach maintain that literacy in English can be achieved by first providing the child the opportunity to acquire a visual language (ASL), then bridging from this language to the written and/or spoken form of English. This type of placement includes speech training, where appropriate, but focuses on language access through the visual medium.

Do be aware of the need for early and consistent communication

Communication, which will be a precursor to whatever educational placement option is chosen, involves shared meanings that can lead to an understanding and expansion of world knowledge. Without deep and meaningful communication with parents, siblings, peers, teachers, and other significant people in the child’s life, 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 the language is a visual or an auditory one.


Do not assume that having an interpreter will assure equal access to learning

For the deaf child to fully benefit from the services of an interpreter, the child must already have great visual language skills, a strong background in school-related tasks, and a qualified/certified interpreter. Unless the deaf child is already conversant expressively and receptively in a visual language, the use of an interpreter is a futile attempt at equalizing the communication process. It is also imperative that the interpreter in the educational placement be knowledgeable, skilled, certified, and possess the ability to accurately code switch between spoken English and ASL.

Do not think that placing them into a mainstream setting will be optimum

Mainstreaming involves the placement of a deaf child into the regular hearing classroom with or without an interpreter, and is housed in the local public or private school. Even though many professionals view mainstreaming as the least restrictive and most appropriate placement, it can be the most restrictive and least appropriate environment. The reasons for this include: unqualified and non-certified interpreters, the lack of a peer group, the absence of Deaf adult role models, and the absence of one-to-one teacher-student contact.

Do not assume residential placement is inferior to mainstreaming, inclusion, or day class programs

The residential school is a state-supported educational program usually located in a metropolitan area. Students remain at the residential school during the week, and return home on weekends, holidays, and the summer. The residential school is advocated by some professionals and members of the Deaf community as being the optimum placement for educational, social, and linguistic growth of the 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; there is usually an abundance of Deaf role models; and educational services are focused on the unique linguistic and social needs of the child. Certainly, the major drawback of residential placement is that the child is not in the home environment on a daily basis.

Do not think that a visual language will inhibit or prohibit the development of speech

For the deaf child who has the innate ability and desire to learn to speak, the use of a visual language, such as American Sign Language, can actually complement and enhance the development of speech. Bilingual research is quite explicit in stating that linguistic skills of an expressive and receptive nature in a first language actually promotes the learning of a second language.

Jumping cartoon

The child who is deaf 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 written language, and allowing the child to dream and realize his/her dreams just as his/her hearing counterparts are encouraged and allowed to do. Therefore, it is extremely important that the correct educational placement be assured for the child. It must be a placement that allows for deep and meaningful language access on a consistent basis; it must be an educational placement that focuses on the child’s strength, not their weakness; and, it must be a placement that fosters educational, social, and linguistic growth on a par with hearing peers. 

More expert advice about Kids with Speech and Hearing Challenges

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J. Freeman King, Ed.D.Director, Deaf Education

I am the director of Deaf Education at Utah State University in Logan, Utah. Our program focuses on the training of classroom teachers of deaf and hard of hearing children. I have also been the director of Deaf Education at the University of So...

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