Author: Eleanor T. Robertson, Ph.D. Director, School Psychology, Trinity University

Communicating with the student with an auditory impairment is the first and most important issue to be addressed in beginning counseling. Unless the student has only recently been diagnosed with a hearing loss, it is likely that a communication system has been established. Individuals who have had a severe auditory impairment since birth have most likely learned sign language. In the United States, this system will most likely be American Sign Language (ASL). In the United States, those who had a hearing loss after language development but at a young age probably also learned ASL but may know English too. English means the use of codes that attempt to represent English and not a separate language. English includes English, Seeing Essential English (SEEI) and Signing Essential English (SEEII), Total Communication (signing combined with lip reading and speech) and lip reading. Individuals with a later onset of impairment may use a variety of communication methods (Harris & Vanzandt, 1997; Olkin, 1999).


  • Because of communication issues, the first choice for a counselor of a student with a hearing impairment is an individual who is conversant in the student’s communication system. If this is not possible, obtain an interpreter familiar with the system.
  • If the student lip reads, do not assume complete understanding. Lip readers typically comprehend less than half of verbal interactions (Olkin, 1999). If this is the type of communication utilized, be sure to face the student and provide an unobscured view of your mouth. Do not eat or chew gum. Minimize extraneous movements (Harris & Vanzandt, 1997).
  • In using any communication system, since the visual is critical, have good lighting and do not distract with hand or body movements (Olkin, 1999).
  • Speak in a natural manner with clear but unexaggerated articulation. Avoid yes or no questions. In order to insure the student’s understanding, ask the child to repeat information to you (Harris & Vanzandt, 1997).
  • Respect the communication system of the student. Make every attempt to communicate with the child in the manner with which the child is familiar.