Sunday, November 20

More thoughts on mainstreaming

I had some time to think some more about mainstreaming while I was waiting for Kristin to finish her ASL class. I see many benefits for most children but I'm not a big fan of mainstreaming for Deaf children. The view is that all children should be educated with their peers in the "least restrictive environment". I just am not sure this is the least restrictive environment for Deaf children.


Most Deaf kids start out at a disadvantage. They have hearing parents that don't realize at first anything is going on with their child's hearing. These children miss out on a lot of language development. Deaf parents of Deaf children and even hearing children start out signing from the get-go. The language development is there. When the hearing parents realize something is "wrong" they go to a medical professional. These professionals view deafness as a problem that needs to be fixed. In years gone by, they'd recommend lip reading to the parents, not sign language. Nowadays it's the cochlear implant. Sign language is usually not encouraged and hearing parents are not introduced to Deaf adults.

Deaf kids used to go to state schools for the Deaf almost exclusively. That's where they learned language and sort of "caught up" where they lagged. The children learned their language and culture not so much from teachers as from peers with Deaf parents. Deaf culture is a whole other big topic I could get into another time. The biggest complaint about Deaf schools, I guess, is that the education isn't comparable to hearing schools.

Okay, so now deaf children are mainstreamed into hearing schools. Some schools have a Deaf program so at some point during the day, the child at least gets to interact with other deaf kids. Many times, though, the child is mainstreamed into a school with no other Deaf students. There's a teacher of the Deaf and an interpreter, that's it. The child usually becomes attached or dependent on one or both of the adults. The adults are the ones who teach the child sign language (if the parents will allow it) and fill in so many of the gaps the child has with everything that goes on.

This has been my experience interpreting for Deaf children in a mainstream environment over the years: it's isolating and frustrating and lonely for the kids, especially when they start out in school not knowing any sign language. That puts them at a big disadvantage because they miss so much. The best lip reader gets 30% and guesses the rest. It's exhausting to watch lips moving for hours at a time. Having a cochlear implant doesn't mean the child can hear and understand everything. Teachers and interpreters have to re-teach a lot!

Deaf kids are cut off from their hearing peers due to communication barriers. Hearing kids often don't want to repeat or explain things so deaf kids are left out. There are a few kids that are interested enough to sign and explain but there's not many. In Deaf school, the environment is different because everyone signs. Some hearing kids avoided the deaf kids as if they were afraid they were going to catch "it".

Then of course, any difference can make a kid a target for bullies and teasing. That kind of stuff happens everywhere, it's true. Still, my feeling is why put a target on a kid's back?

I believe that mainstreaming Deaf children puts them in the most restrictive environment. More than once I've shared my view with the parents of students I interpreted for. The kids were miserable and not performing well. I would tell the parents privately that I thought their children would do better in a school for the Deaf--even if it meant my job would go away. A few years later, I met several of the kids who transferred to Deaf schools from hearing schools and was gratified to see how they'd flourished.

My view would be much less popular now because of the cochlear implant--implanting children is an issue that makes me froth at the mouth and is another topic I could rant on later. Hearing parents think the implant is a miracle operation; that it restores their child's hearing and ability to understand. It doesn't. There are times when the implant has to be turned off or come out and then the child is as deaf as ever. Parents are less likely to learn to sign when the child is implanted. That's unfortunate because it leaves the child at a disadvantage at home and at school.

On the up side, I did meet a teenager who was implanted successfully you could say. She came to my Deaf Culture class and spoke to us. Her speech was very clear. When it came to Q&A, though, I noticed our instructor became an interpreter for the teenager. She was unable to understand questions from the audience but at least was able to fall back on sign language. She was about to go into her senior year and was presently at a school with a Deaf program. However, the district wanted to disband that and send everyone to their home schools. The student would be alone, without Deaf peers. She and her parents were fighting the district about that. I don't know what happened.

As for Little T, because he's hearing, I think mainstreaming would benefit him at some point. Right now, there is a program at his school for kids on the autistic spectrum so he would still see his friends from those classes. Next year, T will be in third grade and will move to a new school. I'm thinking that's the ideal time to start mainstreaming him for more classes. New school, new routine to get used to. I hope that's the way it goes.

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