Early Intervention Network: Supporting Linguistic Competence for Children Who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

New Mexico School for the Deaf

Factor 3 Program Highlight

Program Description

Image of classroom with kids at play

Developed by Joanne B. Corwin, Director, Early Intervention and Involvement Department, Deaf Mentor Program

The New Mexico School for the Deaf (NMSD) started a statewide early intervention program (one of the first in the country) in 1981, long before early intervention was entitled under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The Parent Infant Child Program (PIC) and the Deaf Mentor Program (DMP) now both fall under the Early Intervention Programs at NMSD. While this division is equipped to serve families whose children are deaf or hard of hearing through 6 years of age, most of the referrals are for children under the age of 18 months. The Early Intervention Programs work proactively to maintain a positive working relationship with New Mexico's State Part C providers, the EHDI system, pediatricians, and audiologists related to the efficacy and benefit of the services and supports offered through NMSD's early intervention programs.

To demonstrate the benefits of NMSD's early intervention programs, developmental data is kept on each child and, with parent permission, shared with referral agents. The program has learned that documentation of child progress is essential to demonstrating the benefits of the early intervention programs and services, especially related to documenting the benefit of American Sign Language (ASL) as a support to developing a child's linguistic competence.  Without this documentation, it would be difficult to provide the evidence to show the benefits of approaches inclusive of ASL. 

Facilitating Early Visual Language

There are two favorite quotes of NMSD's Early Intervention Programs. One is from a deaf professor who said, "Deafness is not about hearing, but about communication" (Ogden, 1996). The other is from Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto, a neuro-linguistic researcher in the Brain and Language Laboratory in the Science of Learning Center for Visual Language and Visual Learning (VL2) at Gallaudet University, who said, "The human brain does not discriminate between the hands and the tongue. People discriminate, but not our biological human brain" (Gallaudet Today, Spring 2012, p. 17). These quotes support the program's evidence-based philosophy that deaf children, like all children, need early, consistent, and ongoing exposure to language that is accessible. As evidence and experience shows, for many children who are deaf or hard of hearing and have limited quality access to spoken language, ASL can be beneficial in facilitating linguistic competence.

For families to develop the skills necessary to facilitate their child's development of ASL, it is beneficial for them to have exposure to, and interaction with, native users of ASL.  NMSD has found that this will facilitate development of family competency in ASL so they can effectively promote their child's linguistic development and hence support their typical brain development. To this end, sign language programming at NMSD aspires to create a community of fluent language users around the child, guided by native language users.  

Deaf Mentor Program

"Our deaf mentor helps me be able to communicate with, and therefore parent, my child. There is no greater gift that I could receive as a dad." ~ Father receiving DMP services, 2015  

The Early Intervention and Involvement Department of NMSD houses two nationally recognized programs: the PIC and the DMP. Established in 1995, the DMP initially provided services to only 17 families with four part-time providers. The DMP now has 16 deaf mentors and provides early intervention services throughout the state of New Mexico to nearly 250 children who are deaf or hard of hearing, age birth to 6, and their families. All services are free of cost and occur in the young child's most natural learning environment--at home and in the community. Home visits occur weekly from each program at a time that best suits the family. Services are individually tailored through state and federally regulated practices to meet each child and family's strengths and needs.  

The DMP facilitates the understanding that with early and ongoing access to language, being deaf is a difference not a disability. Most parents who have a deaf or hard of hearing child have never even met a deaf person other than their own baby. They are filled with questions. By simply introducing a parent to a deaf mentor, many of the anxieties that parents have can be drastically reduced. Deaf mentors are also state-certified developmental specialists. The services they provide work in tandem with the PIC services that a family receives, focusing on such areas as Deaf culture, literacy, positive self-identity, and acquisition of ASL. 

Strengths and Challenges

The DMP is a highly valued and integral part of the state's Part C and EHDI systems. In fact, deaf mentor services are accepted as "Entitled Developmental Instruction" on the Individualized Family Service Plan in New Mexico. New Mexico appears to be the only state thus far where Part C has recognized these services as "entitled." This allows NMSD to bill Medicaid for deaf mentor services. NMSD also has a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the state's Department of Health. Other states have replicated the MOU that NMSD has as a way to secure funding for their programs. If your state would like assistance in the MOU process, please feel free to contact us.

Capacity is an ongoing challenge. In order to provide developmental instruction under Part C, deaf mentors must have at least a bachelor's degree in a field related to deaf education and parent-infant education. They also must be willing to live in rural, isolated areas of the state. Professionals with these credentials are in high demand around the country, and recruiting them is difficult.

For more information about the DMP, visit www.nmsd.k12.nm.us/statewide_services/early_intervention_programs/deaf_mentor_program__dm_/.