What Is Deafness? How Are Deaf Children Supported in School?

Teenager Signing with Others
A Teenager Uses Sign Language. Getty Images

What Is Deafness?

Deafness is a disorder affecting the ability to hear. Deafness includes a complete inability to hear. Under the IDEA, the diagnostic category of deafness does not include people with limited hearing. People with limited hearing would be served under the category of hearing impairment under the IDEA.

The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) defines deafness as the "audiological condition of not hearing." The NAD includes people with very limited hearing who cannot rely upon it for comfortable communication.

What Causes Deafness?

Most deaf children are born to hearing parents. Deafness can be caused by:

How Are Deaf Children Taught in School?

In many cases, deaf children with normal intelligence can learn in the typical classroom -- provided they have appropriate supports in place. There are several different types of supports that can help to ensure academic success for a deaf child. These include:

Appropriate communication techniques. Some deaf children do have limited residual hearing, and may be able to benefit from technologies such as FM systems and personal acoustic system.

A completely deaf child has no residual hearing, so use of spoken language -- even with technologies to boost sound -- will not be effective. American Sign Language is the most common tool for communication; in many cases, a classroom aide trained in American Sign will need to be present in order for the deaf child to learn along with his or her peers.

Appropriate classroom accommodations. Deaf children make extensive use of visual information, so it is very important to seat the child in a location where he or she can clearly see any visual content being presented.

Supportive technologies.  While sound-enhancing technologies may not be useful for deaf children, text-to-speech and speech-to-text technologies can provide tremendous support.  Especially as children grow older, the ability to quickly and accurately interpret and produce spoken language can make a huge positive different in a child's life.

Specialized Educational Settings

Deaf children are entitled to a free and appropriate education in public school. That said, however, some deaf children benefit from and/or prefer specialized schools for the deaf. There are several reasons why this might be the case.

  • Some deaf children find it extremely difficult to interact well with hearing peers, and may find themselves the victim of bullying;
  • Some families prefer that their deaf child be taught in an environment in which their needs are considered across the board -- in sports and afterschool activities, in gym, and in arts programs.
  • The deaf community has a strong cultural component, and some families feel that deaf culture should be a part of their child's experience from the start.  Schools for the deaf provide an opportunity to be immersed in deaf culture.

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