The recent Optimizing Outcomes for Students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing Educational Service Guidelines (NASDSE, September 20181) and the still relevant policy guidance on Deaf Students Education Services (US Department of Education, 19922) are both valuable resources in helping to answer this question.Full-Inclusion as a Driver: With the push toward full inclusion in the classroom, including limiting pull-out for specialized instruction, school teams may seek to provide an interpreter in the situation above as a way to address communication needs in the inclusive environment. However, for the varying communication needs of students with hearing loss, an interpreter may be an inappropriate solution, or only a part of a solution, to meet these communication needs. As made clear from the following paragraph2, school teams must thoroughly understand a student’s communication needs, how to provide the least restrictive educational environment and the appropriately intensive specialized instruction in light of those communication needs. Meeting the unique communication and related needs of a student who is deaf is a fundamental part of providing a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to the child. Any setting which does not meet the communication and related needs of a child who is deaf, and therefore does not allow for the provision of FAPE, cannot be considered the LRE for that child. A full range of alternative placements as described at 34 CFR 300.551(a) and (b)(1) of the IDEA regulations must be available to the extent necessary to implement each child’s IEP. There are cases when the nature of the disability and the individual child’s needs dictate a specialized setting that provides structured curriculum or special methods of teaching. Just as placement in the regular educational setting is required when it is appropriate for the unique needs of a child who is deaf, so is removal from the regular educational setting required when the child’s needs cannot be met in that setting with the use of supplementary aids and services.” 2 To consider these language and communication special factors, the IEP team should ask1:
- What is the child’s primary language and mode of communication?
- What communicative needs and opportunities does the child have? Can he comprehend what is said in school?
- Does the child have the skills and strategies necessary to meet those communicative needs and take advantage of communication opportunities? (social, self-advocacy)
- Can the child fulfill his or her need to communicate in different settings? (listening in noise, social situations)
- Does the child communicate appropriately and effectively, and if not, why not? (full participant in class?)
- 1. What is his most effective communication mode of communication? The PARC checklists should help to tease this out (PARC Instructional Communication Access Checklist, followed by the appropriate grade level readiness checklist).
- 2. What is his degree of delay compared to the language level of typical peers? An extensive language assessment must be performed, including listening comprehension. If providing an interpreter is being discussed, then assessment needs to be performed to determine his development level with both languages. Assessments that provide age expectations for learning ASL can be found in this document.
- 3. Is there reason to believe that there is a cognitive component that is further impairing language growth (nonverbal IQ measure by someone skilled in DHH cognitive assessment)? When provided appropriately intensive services focused on oral language development was rapid progress made? Given intensive ASL instruction, not just interpreter services, does he pick up language at a rapid rate?
- 4. What intensity of services are required for him to learn language at a pace of more than one month of development for one month of time? The school team can complete this matrix that assists teams in teasing out student communication, skill level, impact of hearing loss on education and resulting service intensity needs. This is a situation where it is highly likely that a full-day inclusive classroom setting is the most restrictive placement for a student to receive FAPE.
- 5. What service providers are need for him to develop language quickly? A teacher of the deaf/hard of hearing and/or speech clinician with extensive training in oral education of students with hearing loss is likely necessary to reach the eventual goal of age-appropriate language.