Little Deaf Girl – Editorial comment

How much is good enough? Is it good enough for a deaf kid to “do well” in a classroom? If they are above average, is this enough? If a deaf kid is at or above the average achievement in their class is the job done?

In my years working as a case manager or support worker for young deaf people I have constantly been confronted by the word “coping”. It seems to me that too often “coping” is the highest common denominator in deaf education.

This might be a harsh statement because there are variations in every system. There are some teachers that push deaf kids to achieve the very highest they possibly can but there are far too many that see “coping” or “doing well” as the benchmarks.

Around Australia something like 85% of deaf kids are mainstreamed. They often are the sole deaf person in their class. They largely receive support from a visiting teacher that may visit them once a month. Some of these visiting teachers are not even teachers of the deaf.

Even then the visiting teacher does not really support the deaf student. They support the teacher. They advise on how to structure classrooms, how to  improve communication, how to use technology like FM systems or how to reduce background noise so that the deaf student can utilise their hearing to the maximum.

All this is important stuff. But largely deaf kids are in classrooms with classroom teachers who do not have much knowledge of deafness. The focus of the classroom teacher will largely be on making sure the deaf student knows  what to do and completes task. Very few of these classroom teachers will understand the issues of classroom interaction. Fewer still will understand just how much of this interaction that the deaf kids actually miss out on.

What happens to help these kids understand classroom discussions that occur? How much focus is placed on the value of the input from peers? Who focuses on providing deaf kids with access to social interaction in the playground? Just how much better would the deaf student perform if they had better access to all the banter and discussions that happen in the classroom and the playground?

And then we have situations like those of the “little deaf girl” who is the  subject of this article. The Deaf kids who have so called “interpreters” but who  only interpret the “important information.”

Apparently when confronted with the issues that are raised in this article the ‘interpreter’ said, “Well how do you expect me to interpret everything, she doesn’t watch me any way?”

If she had bothered to ask me I would have told her that at a young age it is important to move into the sight of the young deaf person rather than try to force them to focus on the interpreter all the time. Why? Simply because at a young age the attention span is not yet sufficiently developed to focus in such a way. Therefore the interpreter adapts. Over time the young deaf person will learn naturally to focus more on the interpreter. This is just basic human development theory that every teacher of the deaf should know.

What is worse is that the school were dismissive of the report that was provided. The mother commented that she felt bullied. That the school made her feel ungrateful for the effort that they were putting in to support her daughter. The school did not even want to consider strategies to improve classroom interaction. They were completely defensive and in their view they were doing enough because the little deaf girl was ‘coping’.

Simply put it’s NOT GOOD ENOUGH! Education is about the whole child and their environment and not just what comes out of the teachers’ mouth.  Access to peer interaction is a vital part of deaf education!

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7 thoughts on “Little Deaf Girl – Editorial comment

  1. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

    This was pretty much the same reasoning behind the Rowley decision of the U.S. Supreme court in 1982 — that Amy Rowley, earning C’s in school without an interpreter was making “satisfactory” progress, and that Deaf students are not entitled to “superior” progress (I know I’m mangling it here, but I think you get the gist).

  2. Sigh… it’s the same here in Canada. If a child passes, that is good enough. Expectations of those children’s performance are amazingly low. Social issues are not taken into consideration either. Also, money plays a large part in the cavalier attitude towards mainstreamed kids. Someone coined the term “velcro interpreters”… I forget who, but that is exactly right. Where the child goes, so does the interpreter even in the playgrounds. If an interpreter isn’t there, then a buddy (peer) is assigned to a Deaf child to support her/him. This fosters dependence and stunts personal growth at all levels. Then negative views of Deaf gets reinforced in young children who becomes adults, and repeated in succeeding generations. This then becomes a vicious cycle.

    I’m going to share your post on my FB.

    • I like the term Velcro Interpreter … To my mind its not a desrirable state of affairs – BUT having said that there are ways to foster more independence. In life deaf kids will be confronted with a whole host of situations where they have to adjust and assert their needs in terms of communication. Teaching these strategies is an integral part of their education but not at the expense of their overall learning. They need access to classroom banter and discussions, and providing this access is not rocket science.
      However, is it realistic to expect an interpreter to follow kids around the playground – probably not. As the author of this piece and the report to the school I recognised this and suggested a number of strategies. For example I suggested that a group of the child’s closest peers have half an hour a day where they are just using Auslan in different situations so that the peers are able to independently communicate with the child over time. I have used this strategy with younf deaf kids before and I can tell you it works very well. But our deaf education lacks the vision to implement this sort of stuff, its all too hard.
      I have said often that the life of a person with a hearing loss, signing or otherwise, is necessarily different from a person who is hearing. Whether they use signing, cochlear implants, hearing aids or whatever there are a host of situations that the kids have to deal with. Consistently the deaf education system refuses to see this as part of the child’s educaation – They want to normalise and avoid having the child see themselves as DEAF, hearing impaired or whatever – Difference is bad for the self esteem, blending in as part of the crowd is good, standing out is bad – I kid you not these are responses I get from teachers who find it hard to confront the issue of the child’s deafness. As I have said many times if the adults cant confront the issue – how the hell do you expect the deaf kid too!
      As a kid I was constantly told to cover up my hearing aids, that they were the same colour as my skin, that they were so small noone could see them, that I spoke so well that no one knew I was deaf. Everything was about avoiding the issue of deafness. It reinforces the idea that deafness is BAD, to be hidden and to be avoided at all costs. Dont talk about it, be normal – you are one of us, not one of them, noone needs to know! It still happens today.
      It’s not rocket science, it is time the deaf education system woke up!

  3. I was mainstreamed too from 12 – 17. No support whatsoever in class apart from the occasional visiting TOD and then we discussed alternative cultures!!! Not schoolwork.

    Thsi is quite common for deaf people throughout.

    Deaf Ed has been going around in circles for decades, since WW2 basically. The more things change the more they stay the same.

    • Yes, it’s quite the same thing going around in circles for decades, not since WW2, but since 1880 basically.

  4. Nothing in deafness is going to change without legislation backing us up. Auslan in education – check. Interpreting provision – check, equitable access to the wider community – check, accepting the viewpoint of deaf adults at identification of deafness in young children – check, 100% subtitles in cinema and TV – check, Auslan in the theatre – check, and so forth ad nauseum…

    Where are the lobbying organsisations when we neeed them?

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