Key Words: Deaf Education Information, Deafness Related Issues, Deaf Education


This study examines how four sets of parents, two hearing and two deaf, of hearing impaired children in two placement settings (a residential school for the deaf and a public school) made educational decisions for each of their children. Using data from a structured interview conducted with each set of parents the researcher will compare the rationales given in each case with those found in the literature on deafness. These findings will be presented.


Research in the area of educational placement decisions for the student who is deaf/hard of hearing is not abundant. In the research that does exist parents' decisions regarding communication method and the chosen method 's influence on the deaf child and his/her family receive the greatest attention. This research reveals that communication method and academic placement decisions are often made based on information received from the physician who diagnoses the child 's hearing loss. This is troublesome because "...even those who are specialists know so little about the social and educational aspects of deafness" (Freeman, Malkin & Hastings, 1975, p. 404). Further, if the physician "suggests referral for information to organizations which represent only one side of the educational controversy [communication mode]; [and] the controversy itself is not mentioned" (Freeman, et al., 1975, p. 404) then parents' ability to make an informed decision regarding their child's academic future becomes problematic.

Educational placement decisions hinge on communication mode. "For many years the issue of whether or not to use oral or manual communication has been obscured by emotional excesses perpetuated by both sides" (Vernon & Koh, 1970, p. 535). Research on the efficiency of the various communication modes is equivocal. There are two reasons for this: researchers cannot control for the myriad variables associated with subjects who have a hearing loss (Goldberg, 1995, p. 45) and there has been very little research conducted. Not only is the research equivocal but the extreme views taken by proponents of (oral vs. manual) communication modes make it nearly impossible for parents to receive objective advice.

One study, Kluwin & Gaustad (1991), takes into account the variables and controversies involved in educational placement decisions. The authors point out that "the decision to select one mode of communication over another is more than just a decision about an instructional philosophy since it will determine how the deaf child will function within the family " (p. 28). Kluwin & Gaustad also found that "the degree of hearing loss can indirectly influence mode selection since severe losses demand earlier and more specific interventions" (p. 29). If a child with a severe to profound hearing loss is not placed within some type of program in the critical stages of language acquisition then the likelihood of language difficulty increases. Another significant finding is that "the level of the mother's education is a factor in the choice to use manual communication when the severity of the hearing loss is taken into consideration "due to the fact that this complex and controversial decision will effect the child 's language acquisition and the mother appears to be the primary decision-maker for the family mode of communication " (p. 33). Kluwin & Gaustad go on to say that "she (mother) will base her decision on the child 's degree of impairment and the nature of the available services" (p. 33).

The purpose of this research is to investigate how sets of parents, whose children are enrolled in a school for the deaf and a public school in the southeastern region, made educational placement decisions for each of their deaf children and how these share, support or refute those reported in the literature.


The participants in this research study will include four hearing impaired children's parents with different variables effecting their etiology. The parents vary in that one set will be hearing parents of a deaf child in a total communication educational placement, the second set will be deaf parents of a deaf child in a total communication educational placement, the third set will be hearing parents of a deaf child in an oral/aural educational placement, and the fourth will be deaf parents of a deaf child in an oral/aural educational placement.

Participants were identified through recommendations from teachers at a southeast residential program for the deaf (a total communication program); and teachers at a southeast public school program for the deaf (an oral/aural program). From these sources the names of two sets of parents might be interested in participation in the study were obtained. After informing the teachers of the research project the researcher explained that one set of hearing parents from each program and one set of deaf parents from each program were needed. A cover letter (see appendix I) detailing the study as well as an informed consent form (see appendix IV) were mailed to each set of participants for review prior to the interview. Participation in the research project is voluntary through the informed consent of each set of participants. Research was conducted through a videotaped, informal interview that took place at a convenient location for the participants, and took a maximum of one hour. Interview questions (see appendix II), as well as follow-up questions, were videotaped. This is necessary for transcription of the interviews which was completed by the researcher. Additionally, video rather than audio was used because two sets of participants are deaf and video was needed to transcribe sign language responses during the interview.

The rationale for using preschool programs in this study is that participants have made their placement decision within the last five years. Therefore, how the decisions were made are still fresh in their memory. Additionally, young students in the same age range are being studied in order to establish similarities between programs and technology offered in the participant's decision making process. Participants were contacted through telephone, or when possible, in person to discuss their interest in the study.

An educational history on all students was obtained from their respective schools through a form completed by the student's teacher (Appendix III). This history includes where the child attends school and whether or not the program uses oral/aural or total communication. Also, information on any additional programs in which the student is presently (or previously) enrolled (e.g., early intervention programs or speech therapy) was assessed. As well as the cause and degree of hearing loss and whether or not amplification is used in the classroom. This information was obtained from the Individualized Education Plan and the most recent audiogram for each student (Appendices VII and VIII).

Data analysis will be performed on the results of the interview in combination with the educational history of the students. Themes that will be investigated through this analysis will include: (a) when the diagnosis of a hearing loss occurred, (b) the degree of the hearing loss, (c) the influence of professionals on the decision, (d) contrasting/congruent decisions of deaf versus hearing parents, (e) opinions of parents regarding the oral/sign controversy, and (f) opinions of the children's present and future social and academic progress.

Upon completion of sending three letters describing the study and an informed consent to parents, only two responses came for interviews. The hearing parent of a child in a total communication program, which is referred to as Mrs. Jones and her daughter Susan, completed a forty-five minute interview with the researcher that was videotaped and transcribed by the researcher (Appendix VI). The deaf parents of a child in a total communication program, which is referred to as Mr. and Mrs. Smith and their daughter Annie, completed a half hour interview with the researcher, which was not videotaped due to technical difficulties. The responses from the participants were hand written by the researcher and the participants read and approved all answers (Appendix V). The hearing parent of a child in an oral program declined to participate after receiving the letter and informed consent. The deaf parent of a child in an oral program was not within the scope of this study due to the fact that one could not be located at the southeastern residential school for the deaf, or the southeastern public school special education program. Therefore this study entails two structured interviews with parents who have placed their child in a total communication program at a southeastern residential school for the deaf, one set is hearing and one set is deaf.


After studying the transcription of the interviews conducted with both participants in this study as well as the educational history forms with information from their Individualized Educational Plan the following themes were apparent and the rationale provided.

When the diagnosis of hearing loss occurred: These findings were not congruent in both interviews due to the fact that the parents in the study who were deaf suspected their daughter may have a hearing loss from the minute she was born. She was tested and diagnosed at the age of three months. The realization that their child might be deaf was most likely dealt with before she was even born, which contrasts the second interview. With the hearing parent of a deaf child the diagnosis of loss did not occur until the child was twelve months old. The acceptance of the hearing loss had to be dealt with on a much different time frame with hearing parents.

The degree of hearing loss: The two subjects in this study, according to their educational history form, have similar degrees of a profound hearing loss.

The influence of professionals on the decision: The deaf parents discussed their educational placement decision with the superintendent of the residential school for the deaf who was very supportive of their decision to use a total communication p program. The audiologist at the university thought their child had some hearing but the parents did not care for the audiologist and a special education director basked them if they were sure of their decision. So, the influence of professionals on the decision was not a large factor for the deaf parents.

The hearing parents in this study had a different experience because they had dealt with numerous professionals regarding whether or not to enroll their daughter in an oral or total communication program. They spoke with several people at the university, where their daughter receives speech therapy, and at the residential school for the deaf and were very frustrated by the conflicting views they all gave to them regarding where to place their daughter. They were also frustrated by the fact that everything they had read regarding deafness and special education because it is such a controversial issue. Their comments were that only one person with the infant-parent service told them, as a professional she would not try to influence them to either side, oral or total communication.

Contrasting/congruent decisions of deaf versus hearing parents: This study is limited because only two individual experiences are represented, but there are contrasting as well as congruent decisions of both sets of participants. Contrasting answers were given regarding making educational placement decisions. The deaf parents considered public school, but decided on the school for the deaf through a confident decision and plan to keep their child at her present placement until she graduates. The hearing parents considered an oral program and a total communication program and currently have their child enrolled in an oral speech therapy program and a total communication program for her educational placement. They also got different opinions from each program and have observed their child in each setting to determine which is the best placement regardless of professional advice. Making the educational placement decision for the hearing parents involved a longer decision making process because they had to learn about the different programs and options. The hearing parents also do not know at this point t if their child will stay in her initial placement or be mainstreamed later and want to take it year by year. Both families do sign at home, the deaf family utilizing American Sign Language and the hearing family utilizing a combination of signed English and American Sign Language in addition to using speech. The hearing parents are frustrated and limited in their signing skills but are trying to improve by taking classes and watching videos. The deaf parents and all family members sign at home with their child.

Congruent decisions made by both sets of parents are that they both chose to sign to their child in the home and put them in a total communication educational placement. Both parents initially took their child to the university speech and hearing center and both had some problems with the professionals they dealt with in that setting. Both subjects are still in their initial placement, use hearing aids and receive speech therapy (but not the same amount of hours) and both participants are currently satisfied with their child's=progress. Both sets of parents had positive and negative experiences with professionals when making their initial diagnosis and placement decisions. Another area of similarity was that of family involvement, both parents had families that helped and supported them through their decision making process.

Opinions of parents regarding the oral/sign controversy: The participants in this study were aware of the controversy that exists between advocates of the oral/aural approach and those of the sign language/total communication approach. The deaf parents had been aware of the controversy since they were young because they were both initially placed in a mainstream public school setting. On the other hand, the hearing parents were not aware of the controversy until their daughter was one year old and they suspected she may have a hearing loss when they read literature on the topic. The deaf parents told the researcher they believe signing is a better way to communicate if you are deaf. The hearing parents were advocates of signing to their child even w hen professionals at the university hearing and speech center advised against that decision. They seem to be aware that there are advantages to both programs and that the degree of hearing loss affects the success of students placed in each program . The hearing parents were very frustrated because they saw professionals taking sides in the issue and they never got an unbiased opinion on what is best for their individual child. Both sides/programs seem to advocate their own program. The university, especially, was unsupportive of the parent's choice to combine both programs, but the parents did acknowledge that the speech pathologist made an effort to sign to their child.

Opinions of the children's present and future social and academic progress: Positive is the best word to describe how both sets of parents felt about their child's progress academically. The deaf parents have high expectations of academic progress and felt their child will most likely continue in their educational placement and graduate from there as well. The hearing parents also have high expectations for their child, but are not sure where she will continue school. They are also worried regarding her social progress because they do not know if she will have as much extracurricular involvement in a mainstream program as she might receive at a residential school for the deaf.


The research collected within this study shows how two different perspectives on the same decision have similarities as well as differences. Both sets of parents in this study had several experiences in common in the process of diagnosing and placing their children in educational settings. What seems to be the most significant outcome of this research is the differences found between deaf and hearing families. The deaf family in this study were confident regarding their decision because they had a lifetime of experience in dealing with the psychological, academic and social aspects of deafness. The hearing family, on the other hand, had no experience with deaf people before they found out about their daughter's diagnosis. Therefore accepting their child's hearing loss has been a difficult process. Educating themselves through literature and media has assisted them in understanding the psychological, academic and social aspects. Although reading and speaking with professionals regarding these issues was a frustrating process because the controversy of oral vs. sign language was biasing the advice given to them.

Parents, hearing or deaf, need to know that they can make informed, confident and supported decision on such an important issue for their child's future academic progress. The solution to this problem is far reaching beyond this research study, but the most logical one seems to be that professionals should begin the process of educating parents regarding the two available programs for their child. This insures that parents are informed of the choices they have and how those choices affect their child's academic future. The descriptions of the programs should be focused on what is the most appropriate way for the individual child to receive language acquisition, which is the basis for any future academic progress within any program.

The next step is to give the parents some supportive counseling on the confusing and monumental choice which they are about to make. This will assist parents in the psychological aspect of their decision and give them more confidence to know that their opinion is important and should be voiced to all professionals. The third step should be to sit down with representatives from both programs in order to have an open and honest discussion regarding the individual needs of their child. These steps could be beneficial to parents who are hearing as well as deaf and may allow both sides of a controversy to come together and find common ground under the pretense of providing the best educational opportunity for children.



The literature presented illustrates that the educational placement decision of a deaf/hearing impaired child is more than just deciding where to take your child to school. In addition the literature discusses "For many years the issue of whether or not to use oral or manual communication has been obscured by emotional excesses perpetuated by both sides" (Vernon & Koh, 1970, p. 535) and this theme is evident in the findings of this research study. The data suggest that both parents were affected by the controversy within the field of deafness and that an approach that respects individual beliefs regarding educational placements would be more beneficial to all parties involved. Additional research is needed, especially because not all participants could be located or chose to participate in this particular study. Numerous studies need to be conducted on a broader scale to allow professionals in the field of deafness to reevaluate their role in the educational placement of students. Taking into account what is best for the student should be the only concern of professionals on either side of this still controversial issue.



Freeman, R., Malkin, S., & Hastings, J. (1975). Psychological problems of deaf children and their families: A comparative study. American Annals of the Deaf, 120(4), 391-405.

Goldberg, B. (1995). Families facing choices. ASHA, 37(5), 39-45.

Kluwin, T. N., & Gaustad, M. G. (1991). Predicting family choices. American Annals of the Deaf, 136(1), 28-33.

Vernon, M., & Koh, S. (1970). Early communicating and deaf children's achievement. American Annals of the Deaf, 115(5), 527-536.

Uploaded By: Jessica Soltesz/KSU/Deaf Education Major