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Education Opportunities for Deaf People

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Guidance for Hearing Impaired

Deafness is often considered an invisible disability and because of this people often feel that it is a lesser challenge to people that suffer from it than with many other disabilities. People also regularly incorrectly classify the ability to hear into only two categories: hearing or deaf. However, quite a few people that are considered deaf or hard of hearing have at least some level of hearing. Deafness and hard-of-hearing are generally considered relatively rare disabilities because they are thought to only affect about 1% of the population. However it is actually believed by many experts to be true that at least some level of hearing loss will affect about 15% of children that are school age. If we include children with middle ear infections into this equation, our numbers jump to about one in three children that are suffering from some type of hearing loss on any given day. (Itinerant Connection: The Impact of Hearing Loss on Children) There have been some advances in the detection and treatment of hearing impairments in the last few years that seem promising. In the last 20 years, three developments have dramatically changed deaf education in the United States: universal newborn hearing screening, early intervention services, and the development of cochlear implants. (Lenihan, 2010) There have been several acts passed in the past few years that have made it mandated that all children have their hearing tested before leaving the hospital. (NCHAM: STATUS OF EARLY HEARING DETECTION AND INTERVENTION IN THE UNITED STATES) This has led to many children getting the support and treatment that they need earlier on in life, when the most success can be had in that treatment. Of course some children do still manage to slip through the crack and generally dont receive support until later in life when they may already be passed their language learning prime. Educating and guiding both the children that receive early intervention and those that dont can pose a challenge, but today parents can at least count on the fact that despite their childs disability they will receive an education.

The formal education of deaf children is actually a relatively new thing. Until the 16th century most deaf children were treated as little more than animals and many people thought that the deaf were sub-human. Aristotle is said to have thought that because they couldnt speak the Greek language they were inferior. Many early Christians believed that deaf people were being punished by God and so were generally rather cruel to the deaf. Cruelty and indifference were the norm for the deaf and life was generally hard and unpleasant for them during early civilization.

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One of the first turning points in the education of the deaf took place in the 16th century when Spanish aristocrats began sending their deaf children to Benedictine monks. The monks were tasked with caring for these children and they also undertook the challenge of education for the youngsters. One of the common vows that these monks took was the oath of silence, and so they had developed a way of communicating via an early form of sign language. This made them perfectly adapted to teach deaf children a way to communicate. Pedro Ponce de Leon attracted much attention and admiration when he taught his deaf disciples to talk. (Plann, 1997) This really challenged the ideas that people had regarding the deaf because it proved that they could learn and were fully human.

The work of the monks made it apparent that these people could learn and made their educations something that was not only achievable, but worth doing. This helped pave the way for deaf people throughout Europe to begin receiving an education. There were two great pioneers in the education of the deaf in Europe, they were, Samuel Heinicke and Abbe Charles de LEpee. Heinicke opened a school that was based on verbal communication in Germany. His students were taught to mimic sounds if they had any hearing, or to just mimic the movements of his mouth if they didnt. In Paris Epee was opening his own school that was based on manual gestures that later became the basis for some forms of sign language. Although Heinicke’s oral method and pe’s manual method are decisively conflicting, the action of each to establish a school for deaf education contributed to the creation of deaf communities. (Itinerant Connection: A Brief History of Deaf Education) Both men helped to popularize the education of people with little or no hearing and helped to shape deaf education for future generations.

The first formal education for the hearing impaired available in America was at The Connecticut Asylum for the Education or Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Persons in 1817. The program was designed by Thomas H Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc who favored the Manuel method taught by Epee. They believed that this method was more easily mastered by people that had not been previously exposed to written or spoken language. Because Manualism, the exclusive use of sign language to provide instruction, was the first method to be used in America, it was difficult to gain support for schools that taught via spoken language and speech reading. (Itinerant Connection: A Brief History of Deaf Education) The “Second International Congress on Education of the Deaf” met in Milan, September 6 – 11, 1880. It was a turning point in the history of the deaf education. It was decided there that deaf students should be taught orally and that the use of sign language should be banned. America was the only country to speak against this technique, but eventually Oralism caught on in the US as well. Unfortunately, it was discovered in 1960, after nearly 100 years of teaching with only the Oral method, that this method was highly ineffective, and even damaging to some students. With this information it was decided that instruction should shift back to Manual instruction in spite of resistance from hearing administrators. It was also during this time that ASL, American sign Language became recognized as a true language.

Education for the deaf continued to improve and advance over the next 40 years and now many deaf children are educated with their peers in regular public and private schools. There are also still schools just for the deaf that specialize in their specific learning needs, but children are no longer required to only attend these schools. This is due in part to the IDEA act that was originally created in 1975 and has been revised many times over the last 36 years to further protect all children with disabilities and their families. This act insures that children with hearing impairments are able to receive the same level of education as any normally hearing child.

Children that are either partially or completely deaf offer a special set of challenges for the educator or parent. Many of the challenges that face the children and their teachers or parents are the same as with any child, but there is the added component of the communication barrier between the child and the world around them. These children often need a certain amount of extra support and encouragement in their daily lives and their educations. These additional needs can generally be met in the modern classroom or home when an effort is put forth by the adults to meet the childrens needs. Today it is agreed by most people that children that are hearing impaired learn well in a standard classroom among their normally hearing peers. This can of course lead to additional challenges and struggles, for the child, their family and the teaching staff, but the rewards of a regular education are generally considered to be worth the difficulties faced.

One of the greatest challenges that these children face it the challenge of fitting in with their peers. Often these children will have trouble communicating with their peers and may also have some self-esteem issues due to this or their use of hearing aids, etc. It is important to be sensitive to these issues and to help children to feel welcome when you have them in your class. It can also be helpful to educate your hearing student on how to help the hearing impaired student feel welcome as well. All of these things will help to make the transition into a hearing classroom easier for everyone involved.

Sadly it is not uncommon for a hearing impaired student to be labeled as difficult. However, regularly these children are just misunderstood. Often these children are more fatigued than their hearing peers due to the level of effort needed to listen during the day. Increased fatigue levels put these students at risk for irritable behavior in the classroom. (Itinerant Connection: The Impact of Hearing Loss on Children) It can be much more of a challenge for a hearing impaired child to remain engaged in their class because of their fatigue level. It is just more work for most children with a hearing impairment to understand the material and follow what is happening in the classroom.

Because these children have to work so hard for their educations they can often feel frustrated and burned out by the education process. When this happens it is really important for parents and teachers to work together to make sure the child stays motivated and to make sure that they get any additional support they need to excel. Encouragement is often the best way to help keep these, or any child, motivated. It is important to hold high expectations for these children, just like any child, but remember not to add to their stress by asking too much of them. By using the language of encouragement and helping children to see what they are capable of you can really help these kids to overcome their disability and excel in school and in life.

It is also of great importance for parents and educators to consider that often the childs first language is not English, but is instead ASL. When you realize that you need to have understanding for the challenges that will present themselves in that context.

It is important to note here that if your child American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate it is imperative that they be given tests in both languages. When DHH children are given tests solely in English only part of their abilities will be evident. This incomplete view of their developing language does not give the parent (or the child) an overview of their strengths and weaknesses. (Perri, 2010)

It is so important to remember that these children are often just as smart as their normally hearing counterparts; they just have a language barrier that results from their hearing impairments. When parents and educators make the effort to ensure that the child fully understands what is being asked of them and help them to fully communicate their response they can meet their full potential.

While there are many challenges to successfully guiding and educating the hearing impaired youth of the world it is a very rewarding experience to see these people mature into happy and functioning adults. It is important to work on the premise that these children are of the same intelligence and deserve everything that normally hearing children deserve. They may need extra support and encouragement, but when they get what they need they can do just about anything any other child can. We as parents and caregivers need to be willing to put that extra effort forth and we will reap the rewards.


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