Cochlear Implants and Sign Language: Building Foundations for Effective Educational Practices

The Cochlear Implant Education Center hosted a national conference, "Cochlear Implants and Sign Language: Building Foundations for Effective Educational Practices," from April 15-17, 2009. Approximately 100 professionals (30 from mainstream programs, 50 from schools for the deaf, and 20 from national organizations and university training programs) came together to address this important topic impacting deaf education.

The CIEC started a national dialogue on this topic in 2002 at the conference "Cochlear Implants and Sign Language: Putting It All Together" (see summary). The input gathered from the conference served as a springboard for the development of resources, presentations, and workshops by the CIEC. These efforts were a good starting place in documenting and sharing strategies inclusive of both spoken language and signed language for children with cochlear implants. However, by 2009 it was clear that expanded networking and collaboration is essential for improved momentum in advancing national support for practices that look beyond "oral only" approaches for children with cochlear implants. The 2009 conference was planned to stimulate a national dialogue to promote collaboration in identifying and recommending strategies and supports for children with cochlear implants and their families.

The goals of the 2009 conference were to:

  • Share considerations for applying research to practice 
  • Share effective strategies
  • Explore issues of mutual concern in the field 
  • Identify and share high impact strategies for the field 
  • Identify actions to advance the field 

Biography of the conference presenters and facilitators

The conference offered a range of presentations, panels and work groups that covered issues related to trends, challenges, effective practices, and future initiatives to address practices inclusive of spoken language and sign language for children with cochlear implants. The program highlights, which will be shared in this conference summary, include the following:

Presentations (PDFs)

Welcome and Overview - Ed Bosso, vice president, Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center

Evolving Trends and Practices - Debra Nussbaum, coordinator, Cochlear Implant Education Center, Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center

Research to Practice - Patricia Spencer, educational research consultant, Texas

Psychosocial Aspects of Cochlear Implantation - Irene Leigh, professor, Department of Psychology, Gallaudet University; John Christiansen, professor,
Department of Sociology, Gallaudet University

Experiences in the Field: Auditory Consultant Resource Network (ACRN) - Mary Koch, auditory education consultant, Boystown National Research Hospital

Designing Programs and Services for Children with Cochlear Implants: The Learning Center Experience - Stephanie Sweeton, speech-language pathologist, and Carol Nelson, coordinator, The Learning Center for the Deaf.

Children with Cochlear Implants Who Sign: Guidelines for Transitioning to Oral Education or a Mainstream Setting - Stephanie Sweeton, The Learning Center for the Deaf (Developed at Boston Children's Hospital)

Establishing an ASL/English Bilingual Program to Meet the Needs of Children with Cochlear Implants - Susanne Scott, cochlear implant/bilingual specialist, Cochlear Implant Education Center, Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center; Susan Schatz, coordinator, ASL department, Kendall Demonstration Elementary School

Panel Discussions (PDFs)

Panel Discussion 1: Perspectives in the Deaf Community
Panel Discussion 2: Family Panel - Diverse Children/Diverse Choices
Panel Discussion 3: Designing Services and Programs in the Mainstream

Critical Issues: Causes, Challenges, and Recommendations (PDF)

Conference attendees participated in three workgroup activities throughout the conference to explore the following six critical issues in the field that are obstacles to implementing comprehensive educational practices for deaf children with cochlear implants. The workgroups provided an opportunity for conference participants to reflect on the cause of these issues and recommend high impact strategies to move the field forward in overcoming these challenges to provide improved services and strategies for deaf children using this technology. The critical issues addressed were:

  • Critical Issue 1: Medical and educational professionals often do not recommend the full range of language and communication choices to families.
  • Critical Issue 2: ASL/English bilingual education programs (and other programs inclusive of sign language) are typically considered as an option for children with cochlear implants only after the child is unsuccessful in an oral or mainstream program.
  • Critical Issue 3: Professional services and educational programs do not adequately address the needs of children with cochlear implants who have additional disabilities and/or are from homes where English is not the language of the home.
  • Critical Issue 4: There is an inadequate representation of a "Deaf" perspective related to children with cochlear implants.
  • Critical Issue 5: Many educators and school administrators lack sufficient knowledge and experience related to cochlear implant technology, realistic outcomes, and strategies to address language and communication development.
  • Critical Issue 6: Professionals supportive of including sign for children with cochlear implants are often isolated, without the support of a professional network for sharing experiences and strategies, and without funding for possible research and collaboration.
  • Summary: High Impact Strategies

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