The State of Deaf Education Today

By Yishane Lee

Have advances in technology, changes in attitudes, and decades of research influenced how children with hearing loss learn and are taught?

The answer is a resounding yes on all counts, and the result is a change in what “deaf education” actually means today. In our Spring issue of Hearing Health magazine, three respected, experienced educators in the field of educating children with hearing loss weigh in with what these changes are and what they mean.

Susan Lenihan, Ph.D., is a professor and the director of Deaf Education at Fontbonne University, in St. Louis. She has four decades of experience, instructing teachers, speech-language pathologists, and early interventionists. She describes the educational experiences of children diagnosed with hearing loss as dramatically changed from a few decades ago.

She writes that early identification of hearing loss in newborns, thanks to universal hearing screening (an effort that HHF was instrumental in advocating for), provides children with earlier access to listening devices and intervention services.

“Listening technology (such as digital hearing aids, cochlear implants, and classroom audio systems) provides better access to higher quality sound at younger ages than ever before. Infants and toddlers can be fit with hearing aids during the first weeks of life. Research shows that when children with severe to profound hearing loss begin using cochlear implants between 6 and 18 months of age, listening, language, and speech development improve.

“Many children who learn to listen and use spoken language when they are young will receive educational services at their neighborhood school. Advances in sound field technology (a teacher using a microphone whose sound is transmitted to room speakers) and FM systems (a teacher using a microphone whose sound is transmitted into a receiver worn by a listener) provide needed support for students who benefit from enhanced sound from a distance and in noisy environments.”

As a result, she says, “Increasing numbers of children with hearing loss are receiving elementary and secondary educational services in their neighborhood school rather than in a specialized school for students who are deaf.” In a word, they are mainstreamed.

Patricia M. Chute, Ed.D., the dean of the School of Health Professions at the New York Institute of Technology, and Mary Ellen Nevins, Ed.D., the national director of Professional Preparation in Cochlear Implants, detail how changes affecting education as a whole are touching education efforts for children with hearing loss.

“National efforts to engage and empower families to be their child’s first teachers—regardless of whether that child has a hearing loss—open the door to the possibility that children with hearing loss born today will be kindergarten-ready, and as such, will be primed to learn with typically hearing peers. As children with hearing loss increasingly are mainstreamed, attending their neighborhood school, they are set to benefit from the same changes in education affecting all schoolchildren.”

They concisely summarize the revamped focus in educational goals this way:

“Traditional approaches to public education have focused on the three R’s: reading, writing, and ’rithmetic. But now the three R’s may be considered the three T’s: teaching, technology, and transitions.”

Read more from these educators in our story “The State of Deaf Education Today” in the Spring issue. It includes a profile of a now-college-age student who was fitted with a cochlear implant at age 6 and successfully mainstreamed into her local public school.

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