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Early Intervention for hearing loss: How to access ASL services

Early Intervention for hearing loss if your child is deaf
Note to reader: This author is not a lawyer and is not qualified to give legal advice. This is the author’s recall of her own experiences with Early Intervention services in the United States.
Are you the parent of a child with hearing loss under the age of three? Do you want to learn American Sign Language (ASL) free of charge?

If you live in the United States, Early Intervention for hearing loss may be able to help you get the services you need.

Most children with hearing loss will qualify for Early Intervention services. In early intervention, a child’s family is entitled to support services, too. That means parents can learn ASL (or any skill they need to support their child) free through their county’s early intervention program.

How do I enroll my child in early intervention for hearing loss?

You can contact your state’s Early Intervention program to request an evaluation. A list of contact information for each U.S. state and territory can be found here. A doctor’s referral is not necessary, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Infants and toddlers with a documented disability such as hearing loss will automatically qualify for services. If your child hasn’t received a diagnosis yet but you’re interested in starting services, you can contact your state’s early intervention program and say: “I have concerns about my child’s development and I would like to have my child evaluated to find out if he/she is eligible for early intervention services.”

In Pennsylvania, we received information about Early Intervention in the mail after our daughter failed her newborn hearing screen. Her audiologist also spoke to us about the benefits of early intervention. These services always are optional. We reached out to our local early intervention program and scheduled an intake appointment.

What is an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP)?

Children between the age of zero and three approved for early intervention services will need an Individualized Family Service Plan, or IFSP. The IFSP is a powerful legal document. It outlines your child’s educational goals and the services required to achieve them. Once a goal is written into the IFSP, the agency legally is required to follow through. In Pennsylvania, Early Intervention services must begin no later than 14 calendar days from the date you sign the IFSP.


How do you access ASL services through early intervention services?

It’s simple: Add an ASL goal to your child’s Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP).

How to add an ASL goal to your IFSP

You can add an ASL goal to your child’s IFSP at any time. You don’t need to wait for a quarterly review meeting. Just contact your service coordinator and ask to schedule an IFSP meeting.Early Intervention Services

An example of an IFSP goal for ASL instruction is: “The child and family will achieve ASL fluency by attending sessions with an ASL fluent provider.”

That goal can open the door to an array of services. For us, it clarified the type of language instruction we required (ASL, not Pidgin sign or signed English) and the qualifications of the provider (fluent.) It ensured we’d get someone qualified to guide us towards fluency.

If you live in a rural area, it might be tough to find an ASL fluent provider in your own county. We called the nearest Deaf school and asked for help. Early intervention approved a new contract with the Deaf school so that our child could receive the service. Since we live so far away, direct ASL instruction is delivered online.

“Since we live so far away, direct ASL instruction is delivered online.”

It also was important for me to receive formal ASL instruction as a parent. In my area, only basic ASL classes were locally available. I demonstrated skills beyond the basic level so Early Intervention agreed for me to enroll in advanced ASL classes through Gallaudet University online.

Gallaudet University offers ASL 1-6 classes online through its Center for Continuing and Online Education. Early Intervention covers 100 percent of my tuition cost. Now I can learn about classifiers, verb tenses, fingerspelling, and other more advanced concepts. Gallaudet classes include sessions with “ASL pals,”  Deaf people fluent in ASL. I get to chat with ASL Pals from across the country, each with a unique background and signing style.

Access to these services provides my Deaf child with a better academic future. My child wears hearing aids to access environmental sounds but still struggles with spoken language. ASL is her native language. It is crucial that her education reflects that.

Read more: Why our deaf daughter is learning both spoken English and ASL

In short, this is what I wish I knew when my daughter was first enrolled in Early Intervention:

1) Always check a provider’s qualifications to be sure that what you’ve asked for is what you’re getting.

2) Don’t be afraid to ask for new, clearer goals.

3) Ask Early Intervention to approve a new contract if no one locally is available to deliver the service.

Author Details
Morgan Snook is a writer from the Pennsylvania Wilds region. She enjoys being outdoors with her husband and two beautiful daughters. Her youngest daughter has mild-to-moderately severe bilateral sensorineural hearing loss, probably genetic. She wears Phonak Sky hearing aids, which she got at three months old.