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Who should be the “DHH expert” on the student’s team?
Melinda Gillinger, Advocacy Consultant


Our question from the field:

We recently had a student move into our district. She has bilateral cochlear implants and uses spoken language to communicate. Her previous district had completed a triennial IEP meeting which includes DHH Itinerant services as well as services from an Educational Audiologist. I am an SLP, and the district has asked me to work with all of the students with hearing loss. How can I help the district understand that we need a Teacher of the Deaf?

I was recently asked by professionals in 2 different states about the need for a Teacher of the Deaf (TOD) to support students in their schools. In one case the district contracts with an SLP to serve all of the students with hearing loss no matter their chosen mode of communication, and in the other state, the district did not include either a TOD or an Educational Audiologist in the student’s initial evaluations or any of his IEP meetings. There are many school district administrators who do not have a clear understanding of the role of the TOD and how it is separate and unique from the Speech/Language Pathologist (SLP) and the Educational Audiologist. Each of these experts should be included as members of the child’s IEP team.

If you’ve met one child with hearing loss, you’ve met one child with hearing loss. Children who are eligible for special education as deaf or hard of hearing do not all present with the same needs. They may have unilateral or bilateral hearing loss and use hearing aids, cochlear implants, or no hearing technology. Depending on the family’s choice, they may communicate using only ASL, only spoken language, or a combination of sign and spoken language. For this reason, there are many varying roles for Teachers of the Deaf.

The role of the Teacher of the Deaf is critical to supporting students who are deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) in the educational setting. As more and more students with hearing loss are included in the general education setting, it is important to understand the role of the DHH Itinerant teacher. These specialists should be included from the beginning to conduct assessments, identify needs, and propose appropriate goals during the IEP meetings. They provide services to students in the form of academic support which can be either push-in or pull-out depending on the IEP team’s decision. This support often includes preview and review of concepts and vocabulary that the student may not be familiar with, facilitation of communication with peers and adults, and monitoring of the educational environment. The DHH Itinerant also provides consultation with the general education teacher, SLP, administrators, and others who interact with the student on campus in order to support their understanding of the student’s unique and sometimes invisible needs. They also support staff with the use of the FM/DM technology and support students in developing their self-advocacy skills. Because the communication needs of students with hearing loss vary and are affected by their mode of communication as well as the length of time they have had auditory access to linguistic information, the itinerant DHH teacher is often involved in supporting language instruction and can collaborate with SLPs and AVTs who work with the student. For more detailed information and resources to share, professionals and parents can visit deaftec.org/itinerant.

Ensuring a TOD is available on the team. Hearing loss is a low incidence disability, and there continues to be a considerable lack of understanding across both general and special educators regarding how it affects students academically, socially, and with regard to communication in general. Some districts may not have a TOD on staff. “Almost every state in the nation has some type of regional entity that helps deliver special education services in a geographically broader area than a single school district.” (cga.ct.gov)  If a district does not have a TOD on staff, the option first would be to reach out to this regionalized program. If the regional program does not have the appropriate provider, then the district can choose to establish a contract with a TOD to be on the child’s IEP team.


The IDEA defines the IEP team as “a group of individuals composed of” the following members https://sites.ed.gov/idea/statute-chapter-33/subchapter-II/1414:

1. The parents of a child with a disability
2. Not less than 1 regular education teacher of such child (if the child is, or may be, participating in the regular education environment)
3. Not less than 1 special education teacher, or where appropriate, not less than 1 special education provider of such child
4. A representative of the local education agency who is qualified to provide or supervise the provision of, specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of children with disabilities; is knowledgeable about the general education curriculum; and is knowledgeable about the availability of resources of the local education agency
5. An individual who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results, who may be a member of the team described
6. At the discretion of the parent or the agency, other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child, including related services personnel as appropriate

Whenever appropriate, the child with a disability

A few years back a district in Montana had two students with cochlear implants who use spoken language move to their schools. Their district hired a TOD from out of state for the purpose of serving these students. In California, as more and more students are being placed in their neighborhood schools in inclusive classrooms, thereby increasing the need for DHH Itinerant services, one of the regionalized county programs also reached out of state and brought in an appropriately trained TOD. Another way to facilitate that a TOD is on board is for the family to request an assessment with a TOD in writing. The district is then required to either provide the assessment or formally and in writing deny the request. (specialeducationguide.com)

While the SLP and Educational Audiologist are highly trained individuals with knowledge and expertise, unless they have 2 degrees, they are not Teachers of the Deaf. Even among Teachers of the Deaf there are critical variables in training, knowledge, and expertise depending on the student’s language. Each of these three specialists is important, and each is needed on the IEP team in order to appropriately serve and support both the student with hearing loss as well as to support the general education teachers/staff who do not have the unique lens of the TOD.


Melinda Gillinger, M. A.
Special Education Consultant