It wasn’t long ago that most deaf or hard of hearing children attended residential deaf schools. In residential deaf schools, students would learn from deaf students and spend most of their time around deaf students.
Today, many parents are choosing to mainstream their deaf children instead. Mainstreaming is sending your deaf child to a hearing school—often a public—school versus a residential deaf school. Some people call it integration or inclusion.
The reasons for this are manifold. Many parents go this route because it may pave the road for deaf individuals to have an easier time entering mainstream society. As rich as Deaf culture is, it can be exclusive, and for those who have spent their time in mostly deaf environments, transitioning out of that can be difficult.
Mainstream students are more likely to develop oral and lip-reading skills, which are key to many higher education and career opportunities.
On the other hand, some fear that mainstreaming deaf students may isolate them from the Deaf community. Many deaf or hard of hearing students may be one of only a few in their public school.
This isolation limits their ability to communicate via American Sign Language, the foundation of Deaf culture. It could place on undue stress on the student to represent a minority in their classes. Like any minority, deaf students may be more vulnerable to bullying and increased social pressures. They may miss out on the social comradery of participating in Deaf sports or social organizations.
Fortunately, public schools are creating healthy alternatives to cold turkey mainstreaming. Now there are options to partially mainstream deaf students as well. Partial mainstreaming means that deaf students have the opportunity to attend both hearing and deaf classes, called resource classes. This gives allows them to stay involved with the Deaf community in their resource classes, along with navigating a hearing environment in their regular classes.
Some public schools offer courses with team teaching. Hearing and Deaf teachers collaborate to teach a class together. Both teachers offer their strengths to the class to get them the strongest and most multifaceted education.
If you’re a parent trying to decide between mainstreaming your child or sending them to a residential Deaf school, begin by researching the options in your area. Spend time in your public school identifying what resources they offer. Ascertain whether the school administration has intentionally created environments for growth for their deaf students.
If your student is old enough, make sure to discuss with them what they value in a school. Do they want to delve deep in Deaf culture, or do they want to explore mainstream schools? Taking your child’s viewpoint into account will help you make a wise decision as well.
Whichever you choose, sustain thoughtful communication with your child about their education. Do they feel confident, safe, and excited about their learning environment? At the end of the day, that is the highest priority.