How Your Brain Understands What Your Ear Hears
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National Institutes of Health
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders

How Your Brain Understands What Your Ear Hears

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Teacher's Guide

Note from the NIDCD for the Teacher Who Has a Student Who Is Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing or Has Another Communication Disorder

Instruction about disorders of human communication can be sensitive, especially if you have a student in your classroom who is deaf or hard-of-hearing, who has specific language impairments, such as stuttering, or who has experienced other communication challenges. It may be helpful to point out to the class that one out of six people has some form of communication disorder and that a communication disorder or challenge may not be readily apparent. Many students may have relatives or friends with deafness, hearing loss, aphasia, balance disorders, or other disabilities. (Aphasia is the partial or total loss of the ability to use or understand language or produce speech; it’s usually caused by stroke, brain disease, or injury.)

There are controversies within families about the best ways to deal with hearing loss. Some parents adopt an oral-auditory approach for their children, focusing on speech and acquisition of language. Other parents, especially those who are deaf themselves, opt to start with American Sign Language (ASL). For more information on communication considerations, go to The first lesson of this module features a person using ASL. For quick facts about ASL, go to It is becoming increasingly likely that you will have a child in your class who has a cochlear implant. For more information about cochlear implants, visit

Use the term challenge or disability—not handicap. The Council of Representatives, a group whose membership includes the full range of deafness or hard-of-hearing organizations and the educational and health professionals who relate to them, has indicated that the right descriptors to use are people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing or people who are deaf or have a hearing loss. Be attuned to the way the student or his or her family uses terms such as deaf, hard-of-hearing, or hearing-impaired. Grammatically, the word deaf should only be used as an adjective, as in deaf person or deaf student. It should not be used as a noun, as in the deaf. Some organizations, including schools for the deaf, still use the noun in their title for historical reasons.

For more information about hearing aids, early identification of hearing loss or deafness in the newborn nursery, or any other aspect of human communication, visit our Web site at You can also call us toll-free at (800) 241-1044, or send an e-mail to nidcdinfo

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