smiling children behind girl looking up holding a globe

IEPs…Individualized Education Programs… Part 12

This ongoing blog series, “So You Want to Adopt a Deaf Child?” is written primarily for hearing families contemplating the adoption of a deaf child.  Yes, they will benefit others, as well.  Many of these topics are ones that other families wish they had known prior to proceeding with the adoption of their deaf child.  This is number 12 in the series.

Note:  There are many embedded links in this blog post.  For more details and resources click the underlined words to go to the additional websites for additional information.
So there is no doubt, Signs for Hope believes it is the right of every deaf child, around the world, to be given the opportunity to learn a manual language, a visual on the hands and body language, hence the name “Signs” for Hope and to become fluent in that language.  In addition, we also believe in providing whatever tools are necessary to help ensure the best possible outcomes for them to also learn their everyday written and read language.  These two things will not only improve their lives, in ways we may never be able to comprehend fully, it will also give them access to experience God’s indescribable love for them.

No one told me I would have to become a full-time advocate for my adopted deaf child surrounding their educational needs.  Now, I am responsible to educate those educating my adopted deaf child, so he can be granted the best possible educational experience throughout his academic years.

Many classroom experiences for all adopted children are challenging for the child, their parents, their teachers and their child’s’ classmates. Add deafness to that and little to no access to language-learning prior to the child’s adoption and the challenges easily multiply.

If you are contemplating adopting a child with deafness and you know nothing about the educational rights of a child with special needs, and more importantly the rights and needs relating to the child with deafness, please do not proceed with your plans to adopt, until you do.

IEPs, IDEA, ADA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, what do they all mean?  How will they impact the life of your deaf child and those who educate them?

Myth:  “The laws are in place, I can trust my child’s teacher and educational support staff to know what is best and provide for the unique needs of my adopted deaf child.”

Sadly, most public school educators are clueless when it comes to knowing how to meet the educational needs of an internationally adopted child, let alone an adopted child with deafness with minimal exposure to language, if any. Deaf schools, often, are as unprepared for the behavior challenges, emotional and social delays, as well as, language delays of the adopted deaf child, just as much as the public school.  Numerous books and articles have been written about such things, for the hearing adopted child, but a teacher is rarely if ever, confronted with these challenges until they suddenly have a new student assigned to their classroom, for the first time. That could be your recently adopted child…with deafness.

Keep in mind, in the elementary years, your deaf child will have a new teacher each year.  While you will become more skilled in advocating for the unique needs of your deaf child, as you begin to learn what those needs are, over the years, your child’s new teachers each year, rarely do. Starting at the beginning is not an uncommon requirement, each year, for parent advocates.

The goal is for the deaf child to learn how to self-advocate for themselves, but it will take many years of training for that skill to develop appropriately and will remain challenging throughout their years of academia.

Allow me to put aside education for a moment and just focus on language learning.  The paragraph below, taken from the article, entitled “Language and the Older Adopted Child: Understanding Second Language Learning” by Dr. Sharon Glennen, helps us understand the realistic process a hearing child faces when simply learning a new spoken language following his/her international adoption and when no one around them now speaks their first language.  By the way, this is referred to as second language learning, not bilingualism, as the child’s first language dwindles to nothing very quickly when no one else speaks to them in their first spoken language and their first language is not being used to teach them their second language.

“Consider these facts: the typical six-year-old understands over 20,000 English words. A five-year-old child adopted from another country would need to learn an average of 54 new words every day in order to fully catch up in language comprehension abilities by age six. If the catch-up time-frame is stretched out to two years, the adopted five-year-old would still need to learn an average of 27 new words every day to fully catch up by age seven. However, while the adopted child has been playing catch-up, his six-year-old friends have also added an average of 5,000 words to their vocabulary. By age seven, the typical child understands 25,000 words. In order to fully catch up within a two-year window, the adopted five-year-old needs to learn an average of 34 words per day. In summary, expecting older adopted children to develop proficient English language skills within one or two years of adoption is unrealistic.”

In fact, expecting an adopted hearing child, one that is already speaking their native language, to reach the same level as their peers (in their first language development) in five years, given their additional social and emotional delays, caused from their maltreatment/institutionalization in the early years, is also unrealistic. This understanding of hearing adopted children gives us a better idea of how challenging it can be for the adopted deaf child, with little to no language exposure in those crucial early years. Add to the above any additional unknown physical and/or learning disabilities you will not even be aware of until the deaf child is home and the language acquisition and educational challenges can be even greater.

Of course, there must be language in place in order for education to proceed. Unfortunately, all too often, first language learning and education must occur simultaneously for the deaf adopted child.  There is no research, that even discusses how this impacts the long-term development of the deaf child. I wish there was some way–especially for the older deaf child who has not been exposed to language–to grant them a two-year “catch-up” opportunity to begin learning ASL, in the home, in the most natural environment possible, before they are thrust into the formal educational environment.

Navigating the education of a deaf child can easily be compared to
navigating a maze!