Researchers are discovering more evidence every day about the importance of early intervention. In a recent study reported in the American Annals of the Deaf, researchers Kathryn Hoberg Arehart and Christine Yoshinaga-Itano estimate that approximately 16,000 babies will be diagnosed with hearing loss every year once universal newborn hearing screening is adopted.
Identifying the hearing loss at the earliest possible age is critical. If appropriate intervention begins by the time the baby is six months old, language development can be normal, no matter how severe the hearing loss. As healthcare professionals recognize this fact, there is a trend toward identifying hearing loss earlier, and children with hearing loss have a better chance of entering the educational system earlier and with language skills closer to those of their hearing peers.
The acquisition of language is the largest obstacle facing young students who are deaf and hard of hearing. Success in virtually every endeavor requires communication skills. Those skills suffer from the inability to hear and understand speech, unless the child is surrounded from birth by an alternate form of communication such as sign language.
There are many different opinions about the best educational approach for children who are deaf. Some parents and educators believe it is better to educate a child who is deaf in the same school system as hearing children, using special education teachers and resources. Others, including the National Association of the Deaf, maintain that “inclusion” must include a continuum of educational options based on a comprehensive assessment of each child and should include residential and other education choices.
In a residential school, students who are deaf are usually surrounded by other people just like them, and sign language is usually the dominant, yet not exclusive, form of communication. Alabama School for the Deaf, for example, incorporates sign with spoken language options that best fit the student’s needs. Children who are deaf are not isolated from their classmates by a language barrier, and their self-esteem benefits from deaf role models in the classroom. Whether a child attends a residential school or not, it is crucial that the family members learn some form of communication so the child who is deaf can be included as part of the family group.