In my opinion: Listen more carefully to Deaf children's needs
The education and development needs of Deaf and hard of hearing children are critically unique, particularly in the very early developmental years.
The early identification of deafness is of immense significance for the child who is born Deaf or hard of hearing.
Ireland is one of the only countries in Europe where there is no comprehensive neo-natal screening taking place. If deafness is not diagnosed early, the child will fall behind in their communication and language development, which will affect their literacy skills.
Once diagnosed, Deaf and hard of hearing children require the availability of specialist skills and supports that will enable their development.
These supports aren't always available in mainstream education.
Education policy impacts on approximately 2,000 Deaf and hard of hearing children in the education system. Language acquisition plays a critical role in the development of communication skills and cognitive functioning, as well as in the individual's social and emotional development. For Deaf or hard of hearing children, if the specialist skills and methodologies in language acquisition are not available, early communication will suffer and subsequent literacy levels will be low. This will isolate a Deaf child and will leave her/him facing major challenges.
There are different approaches to the education of Deaf and hard of hearing children. Each child has a different set of needs dependent on their level of hearing loss. Whatever approach is used should be based on six core principles:
1. Parents of Deaf or hard of hearing children have the right to decide what is best for their child.
2. Parents of Deaf or hard of hearing children have the right to information on the educational and communication options for their children and how this will impact on them when they become adults.
3. Parents who are deaf are entitled to have the support of interpretation services when discussing the education of their children, attending parent /teacher meetings etc.
4. Comprehensive sign and spoken language supports and access to communication, reading and writing supports must be guaranteed to each child, regardless of whether the child is communicating in sign or spoken language or educated in deaf or mainstream schools.
5. The development of fluency in both sign and spoken language as early as possible is the ideal outcome for Deaf and hard of hearing children.
6. Each child must have an individual education plan appropriate to their situation.
Many children are raised in a one language environment and learn the second language on attending school. Some children will arrive at school with English as their first language, they then need to be taught in that medium while learning sign language at the same time, and vice versa. The school must ensure all options are available by offering education fluently in both languages.
The education plan for each child should include transition plans to provide the supports required to progress.
Opportunities for continuing education and development is crucial for Deaf and hard of hearing people to enable them achieve their full potential.
This article refers to a Deaf person or Deaf persons with a capital D to symbolise their membership of a distinctive cultural, social and linguistic group referred to as the Deaf community.