Welcome to CHOICES Delaware

CHOICES Delaware (Making Language Choices Available to Delaware Families of Children with Hearing Loss)  is a coalition of parents, educators, advocates, and health care professionals that came together in 2009.  CHOICES works for change in public policy and procedures so that families may have the opportunity to make informed choices for their children. CHOICES also helps parents of children with hearing loss access the services that promote successful listening and spoken language skills. These services are not well represented by State agencies in Delaware, which tend instead to direct children diagnosed with hearing loss to traditional signing deaf education.

If you have found this site because your infant or child has recently been diagnosed with hearing loss, you have come to the right place This site is designed to help parents like you understand the 21st century medical process of identification and treatment of hearing loss in infants and children that allows for the development of speech and language.

kid-1365105_1920Because of your child’s condition you will be confronted with new medical terms related to testing of hearing, descriptions of different kinds of hearing loss, and the need to visit individuals of different medical subspecialties. You will be asked to consider the educational direction that will be most supportive of your hearing impaired child’s eventual speech and language development.

We have aimed to use the simplest most straightforward explanations of all of these concepts so you can better understand what your doctor has told you, and be better prepared for visits with hearing health experts. We hope that this information will dispel some of the pain you are feeling around the discovery that your child has a hearing loss.

Let us start by saying that you and your child are lucky you are living in the 21st century!  As recently as 30 years ago there was little that could be done to help a child with severe to profound hearing loss, other than learning sign language and attending a school in which all instruction was conducted in sign language.  The Deaf community graciously extended its arms to generations of children like yours.

In recent years, technology has allowed for earlier detection and treatment of hearing loss with hearing aids, speech therapy and cochlear implants. These early interventions have allowed the great majority of children with severe to profound hearing loss to develop speech and language and  to eventually attend regular schools.  Early treatment means speech and language development will occur and have a direct impact on educational performance. How? Listening skills allow you child to sound out words, which leads to spelling ability and to reading.  Reading in turn leads to vocabulary and concept development.  In a mainstream school with listening and spoken language skills your child can achieve his potential as limited only by his intellectual ability and not his ability to hear.

Thirty years ago your child would have been sent to a sign language school for the deaf where achievement levels are very low, partly because English is a second language. Sign language used for instruction is the first language. Sign language does not offer the ability to sound out words in a way that promotes spelling, reading and vocabulary development.

Because 30 years is a relatively short period of time, shorter than the careers of many people working in medicine or deaf education, it is possible you will encounter individuals with dramatically different views about what courses of treatment and what type of education you should be planning for your child.  It is unfortunate and unfair for you, a vulnerable parent who desires only to provide the best possible for your child, to be caught between persons or institutions with opposing views. You live in the 21st century and deserve 21st century treatment.

In the 21st century hearing loss treatment is directed by medical doctors and supported by education specialists.  If you want your baby to hear, to develop spoken language, and to achieve his intellectual and career potential you will need to make critical decisions in tandem with your doctor and other hearing health care professionals now.  These professionals include medical doctors who are specialized in the treatment of pediatric hearing loss, audiologists, speech and language pathologists and educators who have special training in techniques for developing listening and spoken language skills in hearing impaired children using hearing aids and cochlear implants.

Important Information for Families in Delaware

If you are a Delaware resident and the parent or guardian of a child with hearing loss, you should know the following:

•  In many—but not all—cases children with hearing loss are able to learn to hear and speak. With appropriate intervention in the earliest months and years of life this is possible. Medical, audiological, and other appropriate evaluations can help determine whether or not your child is a candidate for spoken language and technology-assisted hearing.

If you delay this intervention, listening and spoken language skills may be permanently compromised and difficult to make up for later in life. The window of opportunity begins to close at about the age of 3. Ideally hearing loss is identified by 1 month of age, a diagnosis is made by 3 months of age, and hearing aids are worn by 6 months of age. If a cochlear implant is needed 12 months of age is the optimal time for implantation.

• Children with hearing loss who need to learn to listen and speak in the infant and toddler years need special education that emphasizes listening and speaking practice. These are called Listening and Spoken Language(LSL) programs. With early diagnosis and LSL instruction, the majority of children with hearing loss can go to regular schools. Learn how to access Delaware’s LSL resources in the section Calls to Make.

In Delaware Children with all degrees of hearing loss tend to get funnelled into the Delaware School for the Deaf. This is inappropriate. State agencies like Child Development Watch and Statewide Services for the Hearing Impaired  tend to enroll all children with hearing loss into the Delaware School for the Deaf. Some Delaware Families that Choices has interviewed have said they never learned or were informed of alternatives to Delaware School for the Deaf.  On a national basis, the typical 12th-grader in a school for the deaf has the reading ability of a nine-year-old. Traxler, C.B., (2000). The Stanford Achievement Test, 9th Edition: National norming and performance standards for the deaf and hard of hearing students. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 5(4), 337-348. Such outcomes are unrelated to intelligence.

Several families from the Delaware School for the Deaf that Choices Delaware has interviewed between June 2009 and April 2013 have stated that their children were either strongly discouraged or prohibited from speaking in class. This data is consistent with family stories that the Wilmington News Journal published in 1997. Little has changed. Like some other schools for the deaf, Delaware School for the Deaf promotes what it calls “bilingual/bicultural education”. In bilingual/bicultural education, a child’s primary language is American Sign Language. We consider “bilingual” to be a misnomer because it implies that children will learn to speak and sign with equal fluency. In reality, many children who receive “bi-bi” education eventually rely mainly or exclusively on sign language. 

More than 90% of all children born with hearing loss have parents with typical hearing like you. When such children attend a school for the deaf, they are often not able to communicate effectively with their parents, who are usually unable to sign with much proficiency. The inability of a speaking parent to communicate with their signing child has a detrimental effect on the parent-child relationship and contributes to delays in the child’s development. Today there are few cases when a child with hearing loss that is detected early needs a signing education.

Delaware School for the Deaf is an excellent school and is an appropriate choice for families who want their deaf children to use American Sign Language as their primary language. When hearing families embrace this choice, a commitment by the family to become fluent or at least conversant in ASL will contributed to a positive outcome for the deaf child. For other families, Listening and Spoken Language is often a more suitable choice. Browse this website for more information.

If you are a hearing and speaking parent and your child has a treatable hearing loss so hearing and speaking, and attending a regular school with a higher education level is possible, is there any reason you would put your child in a deaf school or signing program? If people are telling you to compromise, think twice and get advice. We are here to help.