Choosing a Preschool for Your Cochlear Implanted Child – Deaf School or Mainstream
The process of choosing the right school for your hearing impaired child can be very confusing. Should the child be sent to a specialized school for the deaf where the child’s hearing loss is given the proper attention and care? Or is it better to send the child to an ordinary preschool where he or she must struggle to keep up with the other ordinary hearing children?
Many children with cochlear implants live in an area where they have an option of attending a special preschool for the deaf. These are usually part of a larger Deaf School, which is an institution that focuses exclusively on educating children with hearing loss or other auditory deficiencies. The school’s staff will usually include audiologists, speech-language pathologists, and teachers who have completed courses in Deaf Education, such as those offered by First Step. Most of the children that attend have some level of hearing loss, and are either cochlear implant or hearing aid users. There are schools that integrate classes with ordinary hearing children, in order to give the hearing impaired children the opportunity of modeling their auditory and language skills. Tuition fees are usually quite high due to the extra costs involved in running a specialized program for the deaf, although government assistance is generally available.
Ordinary preschools can also be a choice for your cochlear implanted child. There are usually quite a few to choose from in your area, so you can be select the one that best meet your child’s needs, as we outline below. Since your child has the benefit of being able to hear sounds with their cochlear implant(s), he/she can usually keep up with the other children at the school without falling behind.
As a parent, you are faced with making this decision. Just what is important to take into consideration when choosing one particular type over the other? How does one decide on which school will be the best for their child?
Pros and Cons
The following list outlines the general pros and cons of both the specialized Deaf Schools and ordinary preschools:
- Geared towards your child’s hearing loss – equipped to do the job right
- Child’s professionals on staff – audiologists, speech language pathologists, and Teachers of the Deaf
- Small Class Size – Child receives individual attention
- Therapy and Audiology Sessions available on site – no need to miss school
- Can easily accommodate special needs of your child
- Locations not available in all areas
- Does not give the child a real-world experience with normal hearing kids
- May have many “deaf-culture” beliefs, such as promoting the use of sign language and other visual cues that hamper the child’s auditory and language development
- High tuition costs, somewhat offset by governmental assistance
- Limited choice of schools
- Child learns to speak from “normal hearing” children
- Other children learn to accept your child’s hearing loss at a young age
- Large choice of schools usually available
- Lower tuition fees, less paperwork and hassle
- Forces child to use ordinary communication methods
- Parent is more likely to be involved in therapy sessions which take place outside the school
- Inconvenience of not having therapy or audiology services available on-site
- School is usually not equipped to handle issues relating to your child’s hearing loss
- Child may have to struggle to keep up with peers
- Child may have to miss a lot of school to attend therapy and audiology sessions
Making the Decision
Actually deciding on one particular school is a difficult task. There are many things to consider in a school, in addition to all the items listed above. Is the school warm and friendly? Will they do their best to ensure my child will have a positive experience there? Will the staff go the extra mile to properly care for my child’s special needs? Are they attentive and responsive to my inquiries and concerns?
The final decision on this matter is ultimately made by you – the parent. However, being well informed about your choices will make the process a lot easier. It is probably a good idea to go down to the schools in question and visit them while they are in session to get a sense of how things are. Trust your gut feeling. Do you feel comfortable with the staff? Are the teachers devoted and caring? Is the presentation fun and engaging? Ask yourself these questions while viewing the school, and make mental notes of your impressions. Which type of school appeals to you more? Does your child have any other conditions or disabilities that a mainstream school cannot deal with adequately? If your child was diagnosed with hearing loss late in life, or was not implanted until later, he/she may not be ready for a mainstream setting. If your child is not yet comfortable with English, a Deaf School will be much easier for them.
After you narrow down your choices, it is a good idea to get some outside input to help you along with your decision. Friends and neighbors who have sent to preschools in the area are a great source of information. Your speech therapist will likely have some knowledge on the choice of schools available for your child. If possible, have your child’s primary speech therapist visit the schools to help guide you in your decision. Many Cochlear Implant Centers have Educational Consultants that can visit the school and give practical guidance and advice. If you are part of a support group of parents, use the meetings to bring up this issue. You will likely hear many stories and experiences that you can use to factor into your decision.
It is best to prepare for this decision by gathering as much information about your available options, hearing what others have to say. It is important to remember that you should be the one to ultimately decide and not let anyone else direct your child’s life. By preparing yourself first with knowledge about your particular choices, you are most likely going to make the right choice for both you and your child.