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Mainstreaming or Residential? Which is Best for Deaf Children

Posted by Lauren DiChiacchio on Sep 23, 2013 1:47:00 PM

Deaf, Deafness, Mainstreaming, speech therapyIn honor of Deaf Awareness Week, we wanted to share some resources regarding the choice parents are faced with when deciding which option is the best for their child. According to Galludet University, students with hearing loss are a low-incidence population. Less than 1 percent of the student population has been identified as being deaf or hard of hearing. Thus, parents of deaf children can often be at a loss to find resources as to making decisions on how to school their children.

Some professionals may advise parents to enroll their child into a residential program while another professionals may suggest mainstreaming is a better course of action. Parents go online searching for more information, which may confuse them further. Speaking to other parents of deaf children can help provide some specific information about certain schools or programs. Ultimately, the answer to the question may be, it depends.

It depends on the on the types of schools that are available, the area you live in, your family dynamic and resources, communication and education preferences, and your child's personality, abilities, and skills. When considering your options it's important to understand the difference.

Mainstream Programs

Mainstreaming allows your child to attend classes within the local school system. They have the ability to attend regular classes as well as some special education classes. There may be other deaf children in their classes, or not. The school system is responsible for providing the necessary staff and support personnel to facilitate communication between teachers and students. 

At times, the deaf students may receive many additional instruction and personal help in special classes with a certified teacher for the deaf.  At the end of the school day, students leave school and go home.

Mainstreaming also means your child would be expected to complete all assignments, including presentations with the aid of a sign language interpreter who will verbalize his or her signing.

There are many benefits to mainstreaming including:

  • Opportunities to meet and interact with hearing peers
  • Exposure to regular curriculum
  • Access to a wider variety of extracurricular activities
  • More practice listening and speaking to communicate
  • Students are held to state and federal standards

There are downsides:

  • Mainstreamed students can be singled out
  • Your child may be the only deaf student in the school
  • Class sizes in some schools can be large and the student can get lost
  • The school may be ill-prepared to meet all of your child's needs

If you are considering Mainstreaming your child, you need to be familiar with your child's rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and how to work successfully with the school to ensure your child's needs are met. While IDEA has been around since 1975, you may still find you have to educate school personnel on your child's needs and the provisions available under IDEA.

You can also reference this website for more information about the physical and psychological challenges for deaf students in mainstream schools.

Residential Programs

A residential program means your child will live on campus at a school dedicated to serving the needs of deaf children or those that have a severe hearing impairment. Most programs offer K-12 programs.They will receive a comprehensive academic program and will live in dormitories. If the school is close to your home, there may be an opportunity for your child to commute each day as opposed to living on campus.

Benefits of a residential program include:

  • Living within a deaf community provides students the ability to become familiar with and feel a part of the deaf community. 
  • Classes are taught in American Sign Language (ASL) so students can communicate directly with others.
  • Curriculum can include material specific to the deaf community such as deaf folklore.
  • There is a greater opportunity for socialization because of a variety of school activities.
  • Deaf children have adult deaf role models.

According to experts, there are few downsides to enrolling a child in a residential programs. However, as the number of deaf children declines and as many parents have elected to mainstream their children, there are fewer residential programs to choose from so you may have very limited options in selecting a residential program.

Ultimately, you need to learn as much as you can about your child's needs. In many cases deafness as a disability is a relatively new concept to educators, as is deafness coupled with additional disabilities. You can help your child by educating them and the school.

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Image Credit: Acoustical Society of America

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