Complicated Cases

Special Education

Complicated Cases

Kym Meyer '21PhD has spent her career working with families of deaf and hard of hearing children.

Deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) children face complex challenges when it comes to meeting developmental language milestones, particularly because they are low incidence (1% of children in special education) and there are few professionals with this expertise.

For some DHH children, American Sign Language (ASL) is the most accessible language. For others, spoken language may be accessible using hearing assistive technologies like hearing aids or cochlear implants (although there are misconceptions about these technologies – they do not “correct” hearing the way glasses correct vision). The notion of accessibility can also take shape in the form of bilingual-bimodalism, where DHH children begin learning ASL while also working on spoken language skills.

If this reality seems nuanced, that's because it is. Thankfully, there are educators like Kym Meyer ('21PhD) who dedicate themselves to working with families and helping them make informed decisions so their DHH child does not fall behind.

“What fuels my work is that there are not enough people who understand what DHH students need, ” says Meyer, who earned her PhD in Special Education in 2021. “Low expectations for DHH children, and for disabled students in general, are pervasive, even by special education teachers."

Meyer is an expert in “complicated cases,” as she puts it. For 28 years, she worked at The Learning Center for the Deaf (TLC) in Framingham, MA, a nonprofit and school that has pioneered improving rights and resources for DHH students in Massachusetts classrooms. After witnessing public school districts fall short in fulfilling guidelines set forth by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Meyer created the Public School Partnership (PSP) arm of TLC, which she led from 2002-2022. Last year, 12 PSP faculty served nearly 600 students in 76 school districts in Massachusetts.

Many people, especially gatekeepers in positions of power, are under the mistaken assumption that hearing aids and cochlear implants ‘correct’ hearing to ‘normal.’

Both a certified teacher and licensed audiologist, Meyer has extensive experience coaching special education directors to understand the nuanced needs of DHH students. Meyer would often consult on issues of language deprivation, coexisting disabilities, English as a Second Language contexts, and hearing technologies. In the fall of 2022, she made the change to academia, joining the Communication Sciences and Disorders faculty at Worcester State University.

After witnessing the systematic lack of support for DHH children in classrooms, Meyer was inspired to pursue her doctorate at UMass Amherst. Although the College of Education doesn’t have a deaf education program, Meyer notes that she “wanted to understand the broader special education policy umbrella and educational research, which I could then apply to my knowledge of DHH students.”

Her experience in the college catalyzed new work and research at the policy level, including writing accessible policy materials to help parents and school personnel across the country to advocate for educational audiology services. Her dissertation also delved into the shortage of teachers in Massachusetts who are adequately trained to teach DHH students. 

A pivotal moment in her studies unfolded when Meyer’s advisor, Professor John Hosp, nominated her to attend the 2019 Higher Education Consortium for Special Education in Washington, D.C. Among a cohort of only 10 doctoral students, Meyer gained a front row seat to political discourse around education policy in the U.S. She also met with Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), a lead sponsor of the Cogswell-Macy Act.

Reflecting on her career in education, Meyer notes that she didn’t always know how a particular DHH student or family ended up faring. However, every so often, things would come full circle, and she would get a glimpse of how her intervention made a difference. It might take the form of a child running up to her and hugging her (and not letting go). It might be a grateful parent expressing their thanks years after the fact. No matter the case, Meyer says these moments serve as poignant reminders of the power of education. In her own words:

“When I successfully advocate for appropriate Deaf education placements, I usually never see those students again. Very often, my advocacy for these students creates challenging discussions with school administration gatekeepers. These examples made me realize that my ‘complicated case’ expertise really does make a difference in the lives of these children and their families.”

Photo credits
Banner image inset photo: Courtesy of The Learning Center for the Deaf
Portrait of Kym Meyer: Courtesy of Worcester State University Office of Communications & Marketing
Photo of Kym Meyer interacting with a student: Courtesy of The Learning Center for the Deaf