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7.4: Characteristics of Students Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

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    Characteristics of students who are deaf or hard of hearing vary based on the type, degree, and age of onset of the hearing loss. Although there are no significant differences related to the intelligence of students who are deaf or hard of hearing and their hearing peers, academic achievement is often impacted, with students who are deaf or hard of hearing scoring significantly below same-age peers in reading and math (Hrastinski & Wilbur, 2016; Qi & Mitchell, 2011). There may also be significant cultural differences as well as differences related to students’ use of speech and language.

    Cultural Characteristics

    American Deaf culture centers on the use of American Sign Language (ASL) and the identification and unity of other people who are Deaf. ASL is a visual/gestural language with no vocal component and is a complete, grammatically complex language. Dr. Barbara Kannapel, a sociologist who is Deaf, developed a definition of American Deaf culture that includes a set of values, behaviors, and traditions that include the following:

    • Promoting an environment that supports vision as the primary sense used for communication at school, in the home, and in the community, as vision offers individuals who are deaf access to information about the world and the independence to drive, travel, work, and participate in every aspect of society.
    • Valuing children who are deaf as the future of deaf people and Deaf culture. Deaf culture therefore encourages the use of ASL, in addition to any other communication modalities the child may have.
    • Support for bilingual ASL/English education of children who are deaf, so they are competent in both languages.
    • Inclusion of specific rules of behavior in communication in addition to the conventional rules of turn taking. For example, consistent eye contact and visual attention during a conversation are expected. In addition, a person using sign language has the floor during a conversation until they provide a visual indicator (pause, facial expression, etc.) that they are finished.
    • Perpetuation of Deaf culture through a variety of traditions, including films, folklore, literature, athletics, poetry, celebrations, clubs, organizations, theaters, and school reunions. Deaf culture also includes some of its own “music” and poetry as well as dance.
    • Inclusion of unique strategies for gaining a person’s attention, such as gently tapping a person on the shoulder if they are not within the line of sight, waving if the person is within the line of sight, or flicking a light switch a few times to gain the attention of a group of people in a room (Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center, 2022).

    Educators and clinicians need to acknowledge that ASL is a legitimate language and provide opportunities for students who are deaf or hard of hearing to learn ASL. Some students who are hard of hearing may struggle with their identity and feel they are not quite members of the hearing or Deaf community. This can be avoided by educating students who are hard of hearing as bilingual–bicultural students, focusing on both ASL and English language skills, and actively promoting both Deaf and hearing cultures (Smiley et al., 2022).

    Speech and Language Characteristics

    Speech and language characteristics vary widely among students who are deaf or hard of hearing. These characteristics are affected by variables such as the age of onset of the hearing loss, type and degree of hearing loss, and language experiences. For example, a student whose parents are also deaf may have very different speech and language characteristics than another student whose family uses spoken language as their primary mode of communication.

    Depending on the degree of hearing loss and the use of assistive listening devices (e.g., hearing aids) or cochlear implants, students who are deaf or hard of hearing may experience delayed speech development. However, early intervention and direction instruction allows many students who are deaf or hard of hearing to develop age-appropriate speech (Blamey, 2003). In addition, it is important for children who are deaf or hard of hearing to be exposed to a fully accessible language (e.g., ASL) to avoid language delays and develop the school readiness skills needed when learning to read and write (Smiley et al., 2022).

    Hrastinski, I., & Wilbur, R.B. (2016). Academic achievement of deaf and hard-of-hearing students in an ASL/English bilingual program. The Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 21(2), 156–170.

    Qi, S., & Mitchell, R. E. (2011). Large-scale academic achievement testing of deaf and hard-of-hearing students: Past, present, and future. The Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 17(1), 1–18.

    Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center (2022, October 17). American Deaf culture.

    Smiley, L. R., Richards, S.B., & Taylor, R. (2022). Exceptional students: Preparing teachers for the 21st century (4th ed.). McGraw Hill.