23 March 2013

The Benefits of a Mainstream Education for Deaf Students

Last week I blogged about the importance of Deaf children attending an ASL-based school designed for them. Here, as promised, we'll look more in-depth at the benefits of a mainstreamed education.  It's a difficult decision, and one that should be made with the best interests of an individual child in mind, so if you're going through the process now, get the opinions of as many people as you can, and read up!  Additionally, for a glance at mainstreaming vs. Deaf school, check out our original quick chart post here.

As funding for Deaf schools across the country is cut, more and more children are being mainstreamed within public hearing schools using assistive technology and interpreters.  Results vary drastically, based largely on the student's natural learning tendencies and the ability and willingness of the parents to advocate on behalf of their children. But d/Deaf children definitely can be successful in mainstream schools, and even enjoy some benefits of public school education.

Real-World Practice
The best part about mainstream school is undoubtedly the fact that deaf children practice functioning in the "real world," that is, a society made up predominantly of hearing people.  Having to deal with communication barriers between friends and teachers may be at times frustrating, but it also give a child plenty of practice breaking down those barriers to successfully communicate with peers. Adapting to hearing society can be a valuable skill necessary for higher education and the workplace. A child who feels confident with his or her identity as a d/Deaf person and isn't shy about asking for help generally does better in these situations at first.

Depending on the mainstream school and the available Deaf school, more varied extracurricular opportunities might be available at bigger public schools (though children using interpreters might have to fight to get interpreter coverage for these extracurriculars).

Academic Standards
Some people cite Deaf schools' lower academic standards and reading levels as reasons why they should be avoided. Again, this depends largely on the school and the location; some states require that Deaf schools and public schools follow the same curriculum, others don't.  Even methods of teaching at Deaf schools vary widely; Deaf schools can have pure ASL-based communication philosophies, Total Communication philosophies, or even oral programs. With regard to reading-level statistics, no viable concrete information exists, as the reading-level statistics available on deaf children include both mainstreamed students and those at deaf schools. (Read more about d/Deaf children's reading levels here.) Unfortunately these stereotypes about Deaf schools can be potentially harmful when applying to college.

Stay-at-home Students
Some Deaf schools require students to live on campus, and this may become a necessity if the student lives far away from the nearest Deaf school. Choosing to move near the Deaf school or allowing your child to live away from home can be hard, and is generally not an issue with public schools, where the student can live at home and make friends who also live nearby.

In the end it really comes down to a child's personality, academic abilities, and his or her parents' desire to fight for a good education for their child. Parents of mainstreamed children will have to make sure their children have effective IEPs, good interpreters, and teachers willing to learn about teaching children with hearing loss.  Having attended mainstream school myself, I know that Deaf people can be successful, and move on to be high achievers in college and in their chosen fields of work.  But I'd be lying if I said it wasn't sometimes difficult and isolating. I constantly had to fight with teachers who refused to use FM systems (they insisted they spoke loud enough) and to have qualified interpreters in the classroom, and I wouldn't have been truly happy had I not had Deaf signing friends at other schools with whom I could hang out often and not have to worry about translating myself.  Either way, strong family support and open communication within the home is the most important part of learning for every child. Parents should consider discussing the decision with their deaf child-- his or her insight into what works best for them might be surprisingly apt!

Further reading: We like Raising Deaf Kids "Is Your Child Ready for a Mainstream School?" Checklist, and The Hearing Aid Teacher's "To Mainstream or Not to Mainstream"


  1. Apart from deaf children with other issues apart from deafness, there is no place for any deaf-based stand alone education. The scandal of deaf children leaving specialised education to go nowhere at all because they have no skills with an hearing society had to be addressed.

    Education is not any more, an 'breeding ground' for more cultural members with nowhere else to go. In the past they were sent to these establishments because society did not want to integrate or know them. we should all be against any return to a similar environment, no matter how the spin is put on it, that does the same thing. Equality cannot come without integration, or there are no comparisons.

    All that stands between equality and integration is support, it is vital the deaf get that in mainstream settings, or we arm the traditionalist with the Greta Garbo bent, to keep saying "We told you so..." and recruiting those whom society deserted, with the results we see.

    1. MM, that's definitely a valid argument. However, it may be hasty to make blanket generalizations that we should definitively all be against Deaf schools. Take an analogous situation for example: America is undeniably a world superpower, but it would be a tough argument to make that everyone everywhere be educated only in English in order to succeed in life or "achieve equality." Of course, learning English might make things easier for people abroad in a lot of fields, but it's the quality of one's education that truly matters in the end. Thanks for reading Redeafined!

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  3. Very appreciable work. My elder sister is deaf by birth and I have seen her growing with the disability. My mother used to give her speech therapies as she was bad at pronunciation. There were no school for deaf kids in our town and my sister got her primary education at home. She was always a bright student and managed to bagged doctorate recently. She recently got hearing aids from http://www.hiddenhearing.ie/ and now she seems to be very comfortable with her life. Education is very important for everyone and so for the deaf people.

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  6. Every one so far that has commented MUST be "hearing" challenge!!! Perhaps reading R.C. Smith's account on "A Case About Amy" will open your eyes, if you really want to see the issue clearly!!! That or are you all as careless as you seem!!! Exclusion and social isolation is the reward for most persons that have been mainstreamed. Mostly because the fight was fought and lost, Rowley vs __ School. Has anyone read the cruelty, torture and oppression the Deaf community suffers as the hearing world tries to silence them! How and why speak a language you can not physically understand or hear. Severe depression is what the cost is to Deaf & HH that try things YOUR way. Try writing a note for what you are communicaing to most people "behind a counter" and see what it feels like when a speaking person is at a loss of words. That or they read the note and proceed to speak anyway since all Deaf & HH can read lips


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