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April 19, 2005

Sign language and speech therapy help deaf students communicate

From: Lahontan Valley News, NV - Apr 19, 2005

Marlene Garcia,
April 19, 2005

Teaching deaf or hearing-impaired students to speak and use sign language can be a long, tedious task for the professionals in the Churchill County School District.

Deaf Education Teacher Rachel Barish said there are three deaf students in Fallon's school system and seven pupils who are hearing impaired. Only those students who have an average hearing loss of more than 30 decibels qualify for special education services.

The school district employs four American Sign Language interpreters who sit with students during class and translate the teacher's lessons. The children also work closely with speech therapists to help them learn to talk.

Barish said each child is tested and a plan is developed to meet their individual educational needs. If a student is struggling with reading, for instance, that child might be pulled out of class for extra work in that subject.

She said all three deaf students in local schools have mastered the hand and finger symbols to communicate in sign language. Barish said young children can pick up another language quickly, whether it's a spoken language or sign language.

"If you talk about a child who is a toddler and is exposed to it on a daily basis, they are just as quick to learn as a child who hears. If it's later and they already have another language it can be very, very slow," Barish said.

Teaching deaf pupils to speak can be more challenging.

It's a painstaking process that requires hours of practice.

Joy Steiger, a sign language interpreter for the school district, said a phonics program is key to teaching deaf youngsters to speak.

"It takes repeating again and again until they find a sound," Steiger said.

She said a student will watch the placement of a teacher's tongue and lips over and over until a simple word is mastered.

"That's why it can be so boring and tedious for young kids," said Steiger.

The Churchill County School District serves children with a wide range of special needs in 13 categories, representing about 15 percent of the total school population. Most of those children have learning disabilities.

Congress passed a federal law in 1975 mandating that children with disabilities be provided with a public education in every state, and that school districts provide qualified instructors to meet those special needs.

Before the Individuals with Disabilities Act became law 25 years ago, many special needs children were denied access to an education.

In the early 1980s, ways were developed to integrate special education students into regular classrooms.

Marlene Garcia can be contacted at

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