By Jean F. Andrews
Dr. Ron Stern, superintendent of the New Mexico School for the Deaf, spoke to the Texas Association of the Deaf in Galveston, Texas on August 3, 2013 about the Child First Campaign. This is a national movement that is working toward ensuring that deaf and hard of hearing children receive full access to educational, language, communication, and socially appropriate programming through multiple pathways of language learning. Fundamental to the Child First campaign, is that at the IEP (Individualized Education Program) meeting where each child’s unique needs are determined, parents need to be informed of educational options for their child that include multiple pathways of learning.
Readers may wonder why such a movement is necessary. Wasn’t IDEA or Individuals With Disabilities Act supposed to do just that?
Unfortunately, IDEA has failed to deliver its promises of accessible education for deaf and hard of hearing children. Indeed, the concept of “inclusion” has been misinterpreted and misapplied to deaf and hard of hearing children.
Inclusion has become a big illusion, a bigger delusion and the biggest exclusion for many deaf and hard of hearing children in the history of Deaf Education.
As part of its Child First campaign, the Conference of Educational Administrators for
School for the Deaf (CEASD) has developed a proposed bill called the Alice Cogswell Act of 2013. If passed, this bill would amend the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to “promote and better ensure delivery of high quality special education and related services to students who are deaf or hard of hearing.”
Parents, devastated with finding out their child is deaf, are prey to promises by uninformed doctors, audiologists, super-funded organizations who say that if the child get early implants and engages in rigorous, monolingual English oral only training by early childhood their deaf child will no longer need special education services.
While these professionals are filled with well-intentioned fervor their position lacks science.
Studies in the science of language learning (psycholinguistics), language rules (linguistics), cognition (thinking skills), emergent literacy, and social emotional development (social skills) have demonstrated that deaf and hard of hearing children need multiple pathways for language learning, academic achievement and socio-emotional growth. To limit the child to just one pathway, is simply not supported by science.
This is not to say implants and hearing aids don’t provide some benefit to speech production. In some cases they do. But it is only one pathway and rarely is this pathway fully opened because of the hearing loss. Even with the best cochlear implant surgery and outcomes, and the best speech and auditory training, still many children fail to develop speech or language.
Indeed, speech is speech. Speech is not language. Speech does not ensure thinking skills. Speech does not ensure emotional and social happiness. Nor does speech ensure academic achievement. Speech, language, thinking, emergent literacy, academic achievement and social emotional growth come about through multiple pathways of language learning.
Speech is only one avenue. Deaf and hard of hearing children need multiple avenues.
Deaf adults know this. They have “lived the journey down multiple avenues.” Any program involving deaf and hard of hearing children should always include deaf adults at every stage of development from early intervention to higher education. If they don’t contain deaf adults, parents should be suspicious that important information is being held back from them.
Indeed, to exclude the Deaf community in educational programming is losing a major resource.
What the Child First Campaign wants to ensure is that parents are informed that there are multiple pathways to language and emergent literacy learning for their deaf and hard of hearing child. Educational programming that reflect the multiple pathways of language learning need to be brought to the table at the IEP meeting.
Why would DeafInPrison.com readers be interested in the Child First campaign? In my assessments of Deaf inmates, I have found that many are victims of poor educational practices that limited their access to both signing and English. Consequently, when jailed or imprisoned, it is difficult for them to get their Constitutional Rights. They are not able to read legal documents like Miranda, the Guilty Plea Questionnaire, and Inmate handbooks that describe the rules and their rights. Deaf inmates have difficulty understanding interpreters because of their impoverished sign skills as well as they have difficulty working with their lawyers. Most of these Deaf inmates have language and literacy histories where they were limited to only one pathway to language learning in their homes and in their early schooling.
To learn more, go to www.ceasd.org. Consider voting for the Child First Campaign/Alice Cogswell Act on the website to ensure that parents are informed of the multiple pathways for speech, language, emergent literacy, thinking and social skills for their deaf and hard of hearing child.
Jean F. Andrews is a Reading Specialist and Professor of Deaf Studies/Deaf Education at Lamar University.
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