Here are some of the questions I hear most frequently regarding students with hearing loss and their education, from preschool to college graduation and beyond!
Do students with hearing loss have to go to special schools?
Nope! The Auditory Verbal philosophy advocates mainstreaming for students with hearing loss. For many children who are identified early, receive hearing devices early, and have families that are actively engaged in auditory verbal therapy, this means mainstreaming from day one of school, just like any of their hearing peers. For children whose parents desire a listening and spoken language outcome but require extra support (for any number of reasons: additional disabilities, late age of identification/implantation, etc.), some time in an OPTION school program may be beneficial. OPTION schools are a network of listening and spoken language school programs that have the goal of helping children with hearing loss catch up to their mainstream peers as quickly as possible so that they can be mainstreamed successfully. Children with hearing loss have the right to be educated alongside their hearing peers and to be fully included in society, which, for children, means attending their neighborhood school (or a local private school, or a religious school, or homeschooling) — whatever their parents would have chosen had their child not been born deaf or hard of hearing.
What is the difference between an IFSP, an IEP, and a 504 plan?
In the United States, IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, established a legal framework for children with disabilities to receive a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) just like any other child. Part C of the IDEA law concerns early intervention, services provided to children from birth to age three. An IFSP (Individualized Family Service Plan), is an outline of the goals, services, and supports that will be provided to a child in early intervention programs. Once the child turns three and transitions from Part C (early intervention) to Part B (the school system), they move from an IFSP to an IEP. An IEP (Individualized Education Plan) is less family-oriented and more focused on the goals, modifications, services, and supports a child will need to be successful in school from ages 3-21 (or high school graduation, whichever comes first). Click here for more information on IEPs and IFSPs.
A 504 plan, in contrast, falls under another law, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 504 plans focus on giving the child accommodations (like an FM system or preferential seating) because of his hearing loss, not modifying the curriculum or providing services (like an IEP). Generally, children who are on par with their hearing peers in all areas may move from an IEP (if they ever had one) to a 504 plan. However, because of the differences between laws, some families choose to stick with an IEP. (IDEA has a procedural safeguards in place, like the right to call for an independent educational evaluation or to move to district-level mediation, that ADA law does not, because ADA applies to all areas of public access, not just schools.)
What are my rights as a parent in the educational system?
Parents are equal members of their child’s educational team. Not just members. Equal members. If you feel uncomfortable with the way things are going with your child’s school team, remember that you don’t have to sign anything (other than an attendance sheet) at IEP meetings. You can take paperwork home to review. You can request an IEE (Independent Educational Evaluation) from a Listening and Spoken Language Specialist. You can bring an advocate with you to meetings. You can request that mediation move our of your specific school to the district level. You have rights!
Can the school district determine what communication method my child uses?
Absolutely not! And, “We don’t offer that [AVT, cued speech, ASL, whatever] here” is not an option, either. Each family has the right to choose the communication option that is best for their child and their family as a whole. Some school districts might only offer a certain methodology, but then it is within your rights to request that the district pay for services from an outside provider (for example, pay to send the child to a private OPTION school) or allow you to transfer to another school or district that offers services in your child’s preferred communication method or contract with outside service providers who have expertise in your child’s preferred communication mode. This is all part of FAPE: Free and Appropriate Public Education. IDEA law says that school districts must provide FAPE, and if all the district offers is ASL and your child listens and talks, then you have a strong argument that this is not “A”: an Appropriate placement. Some school districts may, for political reasons, we’ve-always-done-it-that-way reasons, or budget reasons, be very focused on just one way of educating students who are deaf or hard of hearing. They may not have experience with students with cochlear implants, or be informed about the reality of what AVT graduates can do in the mainstream. It’s hard to be the trailblazing family, but gather a good team, get support, and you can do it!
In some cases, a child enters the school system using one methodology but, over time and with assessments, the school team starts to suggest a change in communication option. For example, school personnel might suggest that a child who is struggling with oral communication add sign language to his program. Sometimes, these suggestions are very off-base. Other times, they deserve serious consideration. It really depends on a few things:
Have we gone through a thorough troubleshooting of the child’s current educational program? Does he truly have access to sound, all the supports that he needs, and services from qualified listening and spoken language professionals?
Have we investigated additional disabilities that may be coming into play?
Who is doing this assessment? Do they have expertise in children with hearing loss? Does this person have a compelling interest to promote one communication method over the other or are they a truly unbiased examiner?
Are there other motivations (is changing communication method best for the student or just more convenient for the school district)?
What IEP goals should I request for my child?
I can promise you now that you will never see a list of sample IEP goals or a “goal bank” on this website. Why? Well, asking someone, “What IEP goals should my child have?” on a website, listserv, or web forum is like going up to a stranger on the street and saying, “What medicine should I take?” or “What car should I buy?” or “What movie should I see?” Each person’s answer will be specific to their own likes, dislikes, preferences, and experiences… not to you or your child. Just because an IEP goal worked for one family does not mean it is appropriate for your child in any way, shape, or form. Remember that the first word in IEP is individualized. IEP goals should be based on your child’s needs as determined by formal assessments, not a list found online or the opinions of other parents.
What I can tell you is this: HERE is a guide for how to create a comprehensive IEP. There are no set goals, but rather suggestions and guidelines for how to write strong goals and how to make sure your IEP covers all areas of your child’s development. If you have questions about your child’s educational program or want help creating an IEP that is tailor-made for your child, contact me! An educational consultation may be just what you need.
What accommodations should I request for my child?
Again, see above. A laundry list of accommodations doesn’t mean that each one is right for your child, and I find that lists tend to spark ideas in parents that lead them to over-help in ways that are not always in the child’s best interest. Remember our goal is to give access, not advantage and to create a just-right challenge: what is the minimal amount of help the child needs to be as successful as possible as independently as possible?
Can my child attend a private school? Can we homeschool?
Sure! If the child’s skills are up to par, why not? However, your child may not be able to access all of the same services at a private school as she would in a public school program that falls under IDEA. Some school districts will provide special education services to private school and homeschool students (e.g. speech therapy, or allowing you to use an FM system), but you may have to travel to your school of zone for services (public school staff might not travel to serve your student in a private school). There’s much more awareness now that children learn in many ways and have a variety of needs, so private schools may have their own support staff to help your student as well. Private therapy is also an option.
Does my child have to attend the local school district’s program for students with hearing loss? Does my child have to be placed in the district’s special education preschool program?
No and no. For all decisions, remember that goals determine placement and NEVER the other way around. Your child’s goals and needs should lead to the appropriate placement. What shouldn’t happen is that the district decides ahead of time where your child “will” be placed and then your choices are to say, “Thank you” or, “Thank you very much” in response. Just because every child with hearing loss has previous been in a self-contained classroom doesn’t mean your child’s can’t be mainstreamed if it’s appropriate for her.
I see this happen often with children transitioning from IFSP to IEP at age three and entering their district’s preschool program. Many districts do not have the critical mass of children with hearing loss to provide a specific D/HOH preschool, let alone one that has a listening and spoken language approach. Often, the district has just one preschool for any child who qualifies due to disability, regardless of what that disability may be. Other times, they have a “language class” for children with any type of speech or language delay. Just because the district’s only special education preschool option is a cross-categorical classroom with children with a variety of different disabilities doesn’t mean it’s the best place for a listening, talking child with hearing loss. In fact, it often isn’t! These classrooms don’t usually provide the high-level language models our children need to learn listening and spoken language. Remember that children learn to speak well by being around people who speak better than them.
My district doesn’t provide listening and spoken language services for children with hearing loss. What are my options?
By law (IDEA), districts must provide a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to students with disabilities. As parents, you are an equal member of the child’s educational team and you have the right to determine the communication method that is best for your child and your family. If your school district cannot provide the services of a Listening and Spoken Language Specialist, contact me! Consultation services with your school staff can help your local team develop a winning strategy for your child. Direct service via teletherapy can help your family benefit from Auditory Verbal Therapy regardless of where you live. Don’t let your zip code determine your child’s future. You have options!
Our local school district has ZERO experience with children with hearing loss. Are we in big trouble? What should we do?
It depends. I’ve had great experiences working with school districts that had little/no experience working with children with CIs because the professionals in that district had wonderful, open attitudes and were willing to learn and collaborate with me as an outside professional on a consultation basis. Sometimes, they were even better to work with than school districts that had had maybe one or two prior children with hearing loss and thought they knew it all… even though their information was outdated or only for different methods of communication. It really varies from place to place. If your family is going to be a pioneer in listening and spoken language education for your district, get a good team of experts on your side (for example, a great pediatric audiologist and private AVT who can serve as consultants to the school staff) and put together a plan to work together with your outside professionals and the district.