How Are Deaf Children Supported in School?

Hearing-impaired child


Deafness is a disorder affecting the ability to hear. It refers to the complete inability to hear. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (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 on their limited sense of hearing for comfortable communication.

Causes of Deafness

Most deaf children are born to hearing parents. Causes of deafness include:

  • Heredity: Genetic links have been found in the Human Genome Mapping Project
  • Severe illness in childhood such as rubella (German measles) or spinal meningitis
  • Prenatal maternal illnesses
  • Exposure to long-term loud noise or exposure to sudden extreme noise
  • Preventable prenatal substance abuse
  • Physical injury or damage to the brain, the head, or the ear
  • Age-related hearing loss

How Deaf Children Are 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 listening systems and personal acoustic system. A completely deaf child has no residual hearing, so the 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 difference in a child's life.

Tutoring. In addition to the above in-school techniques, tutoring services may also be helpful for children who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Specialized Educational Settings

Deaf children are entitled to free and appropriate education in public schools. 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. Studies have found deaf children have problems in communicating, initiating and entering conversations and maintaining conversations with hearing peers.
  • Some families prefer that their deaf child is taught in an environment in which their needs are considered across the board, in sports and after-school activities, in the 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. This gives children the opportunity from an early age to form friendships that are not limited by the communication of the gap of deafness ​and develop friendships that can follow them after they are finished in the school setting.
5 Sources
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  1. National Association of the Deaf. Community and Culture - Frequently Asked Questions.

  2. Flaherty M. What We Can Learn From Hearing Parents of Deaf Children. Australas J Spec Educ. 2015;39(1):67-84. doi:10.1017/jse.2014.19

  3. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). American Sign Language.

  4. Antia SD, Kreimeyer KH, Metz KK, Spolsky S. Peer Interactions of Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Children. In: Marschark M, Spencer PE, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Deaf Studies, Language, and Education. 2nd edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2011. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199750986.013.0013

  5. Hoffman D, Andrews JF. Why Deaf Culture Matters in Deaf Education. J Deaf Stud Deaf Educ. 2016;21(4):426-427. doi:10.1093/deafed/enw044

Additional Reading

By Ann Logsdon
Ann Logsdon is a school psychologist specializing in helping parents and teachers support students with a range of educational and developmental disabilities.