Strategies for Success for Deaf Youth at the Primary Level

The issue


Deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHH) children have many differences that present a unique set of challenges for educational success in the primary years (i.e., early intervention through 5th grade). These early years are the most important for families to gain crucial knowledge and act quickly to ensure that access to communication and language happens while their child’s brain is still developing. Addressing communication and language challenges can be difficult for parents (who only want what is best for their child) as they are faced with a vast amount of conflicting choices and information, including professionals’ philosophical differences regarding communication and ways to maximize educational opportunities. Parents are one of the most important variables in a DHH child’s educational success. However, the field often finds itself at a loss to empower families with the necessary skills and strategies to take positive action for their children.

What we know

Parents can use three primary strategies to support their DHH child’s success. When developed proficiently, these strategies will serve families through many transitions in their child’s life journey and their child’s education, in particular. These strategies can be remembered as “the three As”: (1) Access to language and quality services, (2) Awareness of information and resources, and (3) Advocacy.

Access. Deafness alone is not a disability. Language deprivation causes delays and disabilities in communication, academics, and overall productivity. In the primary years, families’ and professionals’ main priority must be ensure access to language, through the ears and/or through the eyes. Some children will access spoken language using assistive listening devices, some children will access signed language using vision, and some children will access both. As children get older, families and professionals must continue to prioritize access to language through accommodations including real-time text, interpreters, and assistive listening equipment. Lack of access to quality educational and medical services and accommodations continues to be a significant barrier to success for many families with DHH children.

Awareness of information and resources. Professional dissonance in the field of deaf education around how children will access language (either spoken or signed languages) leads many families to rely on other parents of DHH children as their primary source of information and resources. However, online resources are emerging as accessible educational tools for families in isolated areas. Regardless of how information is obtained, parents’ understanding of the urgency to intervene early and the debilitating effects of early language deprivation is key to a DHH child’s future success.

Advocacy. Although DHH children are afforded specific rights under the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), these rights are not always obtained through the assessment process or given easily and freely when they are. All families need the knowledge and skills necessary to understand their rights and to ensure that their child is receiving appropriate services. Advocacy skills positively influence the quality of medical and education-related services, such as interactions with doctors, audiologists, and educators. Advocacy skills are especially important in situations where professionals are not complying with the law.

What we don’t know

The early years are an optimal time for a DHH child to learn language, specifically because the child’s brain is still developing and developmental delays and disabilities may be prevented. We have yet to determine the best way to share these strategies with parents who are unfamiliar with deafness and the skills necessary for success. These strategies must be shared in a quick and efficient manner to take advantage of the crucial window of time.

Parents and researchers agree that the current disjointed system of care (due mainly to conflicting messages from professionals regarding language acquisition) is a tremendous obstacle to DHH children’s success. Families needing prompt information on language access, resources, and advocacy skills may delay action for extended periods of time due to conflicting sources of information. As a field, we have not adopted a shared commitment to aligning our conflicting messages, and current research has not suggested an effective course of action.


Research focused on communication and language acquisition has provided professionals with the knowledge that early language access, regardless of modality, is necessary for DHH children’s success. The field needs to work together to create a clear, concurrent, and informative message that empowers families to make appropriate decisions for their DHH children. It is imperative that the field build the capacity of families quickly so that they may gain the strategies of access, awareness, and advocacy necessary to act in a timely manner. This collective effort would exponentially increase positive outcomes for DHH children.

Posted on July 1, 2015 by
Jessica Page Bergeron
jbergeron {at}

Elizabeth Malone Miller
bmiller {at}

Stacey Tucci
stucci {at}
Georgia Pathway to Language and Literacy

Further reading