One of the parents in my practice, the mother of a bright, early-identified, early-amplified, thriving AV toddler, was discussing her son’s preschool options. Should he enroll in a local class for children with hearing loss, or attend the neighborhood preschool with his hearing peers. “I wonder,” the mother asked, “is it ever “too early” to mainstream?”
From an Auditory Verbal perspective, the answer to this question is, “No!” With the important caveat, of course, of, “It depends.” What do I mean by that?
Principle Ten of Auditory Verbal Therapy states, “Promote education in regular schools with peers who have typical hearing and with appropriate services from early childhood onwards.” As a Certified AVT, I believe that children with hearing loss can learn to listen and talk. I believe the parents are their children’s first and best language teachers, and that language learning happens in the home. I believe children learn to talk by being surrounded by hearing peers who speak better than them and that, given proper access to sound and therapy that helps children learn to listen, they can pick up on important speech, language, and listening skills in typical classroom environments.
As a general rule of thumb, if a child’s communication skills are within one year of their hearing peers, a typical classroom placement is not only appropriate, but beneficial! Children benefit from access to typical peers, who will model age-appropriate speech and language skills. Additionally, there’s social integration from day one — you’re not “the kid with hearing loss” who mainstreams at an older age, you have the chance to grow up with your classmates from the beginning. One of the benefits of the Auditory Verbal Approach is that it allows children to become who they would have been — with or without the hearing loss. I encourage families: if your intent was to homeschool, homeschool! If you were planning on attending the public school down the block, go there! Religious school? Why not! Bilingual charter school? Let’s do it! If the child has the skills necessary, there’s no reason to hold back.
Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. For various reasons, placement in an auditory-oral classroom or OPTION school is a great choice for some children and some families. But it is a complete myth that just because such a program exists for children with hearing loss, and just because your child happens to have hearing loss, that they must attend, or that all children with hearing loss must start off in a specialized setting before entering the mainstream. It’s all about finding the Least Restrictive Environment. For a child who is within-range of his age-level peers, the LRE is a typical classroom, where, with minimal modifications, he can benefit from high-level language models. For a child with some catching up to do, or additional diagnoses, the LRE might (but not always!) be a classroom with specialized Teachers of the Deaf. A special placement is great… if it’s right for your child. But sometimes, specialized just means specialized, not better for your child’s particular situation.
There’s no such thing as “too early” if your child is ready. Don’t be afraid to take that leap and chart your own course. If you’re interested in help charting your child’s educational course, contact me! Together, we can consider your child’s unique needs and draw up a plan for success.