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More Than One Answer for the Deaf

May 23, 1993

* For years, both professionals and parents have debated the best educational approach for deaf children--with no single conclusion.

Researchers have studied the question--again with no single conclusion. Yet the May 12 story on Oralingua ("Deaf Children Get Their Say at School"), a small private school for the deaf, was written as if this school has the answer for deaf children.

In fact, Oralingua--an excellent school--is but one of many excellent programs for the deaf in Southern California. Programs in public schools and private centers all promote early detection of hearing loss, early fitting of hearing aids (even on babies), and early auditory training, as well as speech and language development. Some use sign language to help this language development; others don't.

As a teacher of deaf children as young as 18 months in a public school program using total communication, I am concerned that the article presents a distorted view of deaf education. While Oralingua has its successes, so do total communication programs.

Running five days a week, with a psychologist, audiologist, speech and language therapists and teachers of the deaf, we have taught young children to use their hearing, to speak and to sign.

We, too, have seen children leave our program to enter regular education kindergarten or first grade--totally mainstreamed. We, too, have seen our "graduates" enter the gifted and talented programs in their home schools. We, too, have seen children "graduate" at age 5 with language scores in the highest percentiles after entering our program with the lowest of scores.

The article was a superb portrayal of the work that Oralingua has done, but it could have been a wonderful service for parents, relatives and friends of deaf children if it had presented a more complete view of the programs available to young deaf children.

By maligning the public school--"the California public schools failed to take care of these kids"--and by neglecting to mention the other private programs available, you have presented a one-sided view of deaf education.

You have falsely raised the hopes of some parents, and you have caused others needlessly to question their judgments.

KAY WEST

Mission Viejo

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