Deaf School or Mainstream Program

Pros and Cons of Choosing a Deaf School or Mainstream Program

Deaf school children signing

Although the vast majority of deaf and hard of hearing children attend public schools with or without support services, being mainstreamed, schools for the deaf are still very much a viable option. Benana7 asked on the forum for help with preparing for a debate on the pros and cons of attending a deaf school versus being mainstreamed. Several people on the forum responded (Selected comments follow).

Ilyangel wrote:
Well, here is a website of links to all the schools for the Deaf here in the U. S. You can click on the link to each one to get information.

Here are some other links that might help:

Throw3 replied:
I do know from what has been told me by people who deal with the deaf at a deaf private school, that if a deaf child has been mainstreamed, they were happier once they got into a deaf school. At least that has been the experiences of the children at this particular deaf school.

deafgrrl chimed in:
Several of my friends are special ed majors, and I myself am a product of the special ed system, so I know quite a bit about this. I think that the majority of deaf and hard of hearing kids should be required by law to attend a school for the deaf for at least their early childhood years.

Partial inclusion can and should be an option. I don't think that the purpose of special ed should be segregation. However, part of the reason why schools for the deaf are so bad is b/c most of the students there, didn't get the appropriate early intervention. Most of us dhh students cannot get appropriate EI services at mainstream schools.

Also most special ed at mainstream schools is targeted towards learning disabled or "ADD" slacker kids. As a result, anyone receiving mainstream sped services is targeted as a future slacker who is just going to spend their entire lives on disability, and not accomplish much.

This is secondhand "hearsay" info but... a good friend of mine who is deaf and was mainstreamed was shocked by the low expectations/levels of achievement when he substitutes taught at a school for the deaf. I am hearing and just starting to open my eyes to Deaf culture, but his experience was that it was better to compete with hearing children than to be in an environment where the expectations were lower. Of course, each school is different, but I think kids (all kids) need to be challenged in an age appropriate way and prepared for that big world out there. If that's not happening (at any school--Deaf or hearing), then the school is failing its students.

Published author GinaOliva stated:
I was mainstreamed as a solitaire (my word for being the only or one of a few deaf/hoh kids in the school) during the 50s and 60s.

I am now a professor at Gallaudet University. I recently published a book on this topic; it includes my story and the comments of 60 adults of various ages who were also mainstreamed in the K-12 years. You can order "Alone in the Mainstream: A Deaf Woman Remembers Public School" from You can also read a chapter at the Gallaudet University Press website at Once at the website, click on "Catalogue" and you will find it there.

I wrote this book for parents, teachers, aunts, uncles, etc, of today's mainstreamed hard of hearing and deaf kids. I welcome any comments or questions.

JesKlu exclaimed:
I believe that what you (deafgrrl) said was right. Deaf and hard of hearing kids should attend a school for the deaf in their early childhood years. Then, in my opinion, is mainstreaming them but in self-contained classes for the deaf. This way they are in contact with both deaf and hearing kids. Which, in my opinion, is the best option. Some people think differently, but that's what I think needs to happen.

4my2kids added:
I support mainstreaming because it gives hard of hearing and deaf students more exposure to education. It gives them more options in the future when they finish high school. It helps them become stronger when they are around hearing people, most of the students from the deaf school are not comfortable around hearing people when they are off campus. Parent involvement is very important when their child is mainstreamed in public school. Hard of hearing and deaf students need their parent's support. Hard of hearing and deaf students won't be so isolated if parents be part of the school functions with them and teach them to respect each other. Bullies are everywhere no matter if you're hearing or deaf so we have to be strong and show them we're not afraid. There are even a bully or two in deaf schools. Parents don't realize how much power they have so they can fight to help their child get what their child needs in public school. I agree that public schools need a sign language class. Cochlear Implants can also help mainstreaming deaf children.

Public schools have music, orchestra, band, cheerleading dances, school choirs, etc that students with hearing aids and Cochlear Implants can participate in if they're interested.

starbuckkitty commented:
Personally, if my children are dhh I would mainstream them. I would definataly make sure that they had dhh friends, but I would not make them attend a residental school. The standards there are in general lower...

An experienced parent, mandeezmom, wrote:
My daughter is 17 years old. She is very oral and received an implant at 9 years of age. She has spent the majority of her school years in public schools because I believed she would receive a better education... We come from a decent size town, but small in deaf population. She attended large schools, I requested fm systems in each classroom, she had fairly decent interpreters (do to me sitting on the interview panel). The trick was keeping an interpreter because of pay, unavailablity of sub interpreters if interpreter was sick, general ed teachers not wearing the fm device because they felt their voices were loud enough, getting the fm systems repaired, as needed, them sitting my child next to a loud vent, district hiring "warm bodies" as interpreters (if they had one sign language class at a community school given by a teenager, they had the necessary skills, right!) no criteria whatsoever for the hiring of a qualified and skilled interpreter and who determines the skills (someone with no deaf experience).

So, we endured years of this kind of treatment in public schools, with me fighting for all of this all the way. You cannot even imagine the amount of advocating that I done for my daughter in the last 17 years. (I could write a book)

I also checked out our state deaf school even when she was a small child.

I just never felt comfortable with it, at the time, I felt she would be held back if she went there, boy was I wrong. In hindsight, I wished I would have sent her when she hit middle school. After years of fighting and her bombing in 9th grade we made the move and had her ready for 10th grade at the deaf school. This was the best decision I have ever made and I wished I would have done that sooner. It was also very hard, I live many miles away so she lives there during the week and comes home on the weekend. I don't get to see her everyday like before, this was extremely hard, broke my heart. I am okay with it now, because this is better for her, this is what she needs. Mothers sacrifice......... sending her to the deaf school she gained her identity, confidence and self-worth. The deaf school works on the same curriculum as the public schools. She has one-on-one access to education (deaf teacher to student) that isn't watered down by the skill level of the interpreter giving her the academic information.

She has had years of missing chunks of information left out in public schools (NOW things make sense, the pieces of puzzles are coming together). She has gained very close friendships, (no communication barrier) experiences that she could not gain in public schools. She is a cheerleader, participates in sports with hearing teams, she has been a Homecoming Princess for two years in a row, she has friendships with other deaf students all over the United States from this exposure. Since she is very oral, she has gained deaf culture and ASL language, she is bilingual, and this can only help her. Since she has been there, her academics and vocabulary soared, as well as her world knowledge. They are not being held back in that environment whatsoever...

The conversation was joined by motorbike83:
I am deaf and grew up in oral school and didn't like it because of being so far away from my family and my home. I have 3 sisters and 1 brother whom I should have grew up with so I only saw them during Thanksgiving, Christmas, and summer. I went to the deaf school from 9th to 12th grade. I shouldn't have went there because I made very good grades at the oral school and my grades dropped at the deaf school because of sign language. My english also detiorated. There were some things going on in the dorms that parents don't know about and you can't trust supervisors. I think mainstreaming is far the best. I have several very smart deaf friends who graduated from public schools.

RodomJr remembered:
I went to Governor Morehead School for the Deaf in Raleigh from 1963 to 1970, Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf in Wilson from 1970 to 1973 and North Carolina School for the Deaf in Morganton from 1973 to 1977 and all of them had about average 4th grade reading level!...

Another experienced parent, FuzzyFamily, described her experience with her daughter who has additional needs besides hearing loss:
My experience with raising a deaf child has been similar in many ways to yours - my daughter is now 14. She is severe/profound by her audiogram, but is not oral.

We struggled with the public schools, lousy interpreters, being in a ghetto within a hearing school, and never learning to read. One major issue I had with public schools was that they could not seem to get it that a child could be deaf AND have other learning issues - my child has language processing problems, memory problems, and vision problems - multiple learning disabilities, but certainly capable of learning.

We moved halfway across the country to be near the best residential school we could find - and bought a house 7 miles from the school, so she could be either day student or dorm. She prefers the dorm, and we keep open the option of coming home for evenings during the week any time she wants to. Also, she can come and bring friends home if their parents agree to it. She is home on weekends and all holidays. We drop in at the school fairly often, and I've applied for a school nurse job there. I know not all residential schools are safe, but we've done what we can to be sure she has the best of both worlds.

My daughter is a solid member of the Deaf community, still has pretty low level reading skills, uses her voice some, and signs fluently, but in a rather simple form, and leans more toward English structure than pure ASL. She will not be ready to graduate on time, but she's not in the vocational track either.

She is an intermediate level - a delayed graduation/low literacy. I hope she will be willing to stay in school long enough to get a real diploma and not just the certificate of attendance.

A deaf mainstreamed teenager, coollgurll, put in her two cents:
I'm a high school Senior and deaf. I have been mainstreamed all my life.

I have interpreters full time ever since kindergarten. If you ask me if I wish to go to the deaf school, I would say no because I'm really happy the way I am. I know ASL but I like english better because I have some friends who use ASL & their reading is low. I don't want low grades & I make honor rolls. I have different friends hearing, hoh, & deaf plus my boyfriend is hearing... think it depends on each individual & how they do in school.

JoFire04 joined the conversation with her opinion:
I personally prefer the choice of both. I have had a good experience in my education in mainstreamed and residental. I can get more opportunities in a residental school than a public school, but then who knows, it depends on the child itself. If i do happen to have deaf children or hoh, depending (but who cares!), i would have them stay at home and go to school - however in my case, the quality of education sucks in my county where I live. Interpreters suck pretty much. I would home school them with some cases in the academic schools until they reach middle school age and ask them if they want to go to the residental school or not.

I would compromise with them and say, stay at the school for 6 months or so for experience.

...Some people tout "4th grade" reading level at residental schools. depends on the child's parents who have an obligation to oversee the education process and the right to equal education in ANY location, private, public, residental and so forth. Parents have that responsibility rather than just sending them to the residental school because they "can't handle the job of taking care of a deaf child".

deafgrrl replied to JoFire04:
Yeah, and most of those people are anti-Deaf and don't even realize that oral kids AND mainstreamed kids ALSO have poor reading levels. It's not just res schools!

A teen at a school for the deaf, LilQualls, wrote:
I am a senior in Kansas School for the Deaf and i m in 5th grade level, i have a difficult time to improve my writing and reading... just becuase i dont read any book for my spare time... that s what cause me... but look at my mathemics skills, histroic skills. i can read very well... i have a friends in my school they are good at reading but some of them are not good at mathemics, it was vary...

I think deaf children should go to school for the deaf... maybe some of ya forget abt their first language is America Sign Language (ASL)

...I used attend to mainstream school with no deaf program... i did never happy there, until i moved to school for the deaf and im so truly happy now! I m looking forward to my GRADUATION!

Another parent with a combination mainstream/school for the deaf experience, Pua27, remarked:
I don't think that a mainstream school if for every deaf or hard of hearing child. I had my oldest son in a mainstream school in Oregon, and it just didn't work for him. The mainstream school I had him in was a great school. The other 3 hard of hearing children in his class had no problems, however my son really struggled with the mainstream school. It was to hard for him to focus on his teacher and the interrupter at the same time. I now have both of my hard of hearing children in the California School For The Deaf, and what an improvement I have seen in my oldest child.

He is learning so much more being in a class where they only sign. He does receive speech therapy twice a week for 30 min. We have chosen to do total communication with our children. My husband and I are not deaf nor hard of hearing. The other thing I have noticed since we have put our son into a Deaf School is that his speech and language is really coming out.

The other thing I wanted to say was, even the deaf schools have sports programs for their students.

They have a cheerleading squad, Football team, Basketball team, etc..... It's not just mainstream schools that have those programs.

Do you have an opinion on deaf schools and mainstream programs to add to this article? Send it in.

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