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Navigating Schools, Learning, and IEPs for Your Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing Child with Larisa Yanez

Larisa Yanez is an itinerant teacher of the Deaf, a teacher of American Sign Language (ASL), and an educational interpreter.

As an itinerant educator, she travels to different schools to provide services to students with special needs. I reached out to Larisa because I wanted to know more about what she does and how she helps children who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing (DHH).

Larisa works with students from ages 4–18 with various abilities. She has a master of arts in teaching and a bachelor of science in Spanish from the College of New Jersey. She also has an associate’s of applied science in ASL-English interpreting from Ocean County College. She has worked with DHH students in New Jersey schools for the past five years.

Larisa and I spoke about navigating Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), language development, types of schools for DHH children, and much more. I love Larisa’s point that there is no downside to learning ASL. Time and time again, we find that once ASL is discovered and its value is realized, along with the acceptance of hearing abilities, a whole new world opens to the child or adult who is learning. This experience can be rich in its authenticity, and the learner often wishes they’d learned ASL sooner. Larisa also emphasizes the importance of parental involvement (I wholeheartedly agree, and more info to back that up can be found here).

Read on to learn about Larisa’s tips for parents navigating the school system with a Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing child.

Kathleen: Can you tell us about Individualized Education Programs (IEPs)?

Larisa: For parents who have yet to experience an IEP and IEP meetings, it can be very overwhelming. My favorite tool that I recommend to all parents (those who are new to IEPs, and those who aren't) is the Parent Advocacy App for Deaf or Hard of Hearing, created by Gallaudet University. It goes through the components of an IEP (the goals, strengths of the student, and their needs). It also goes through potential modifications and accommodations for DHH students. The modifications and accommodations in the IEP are vital to making sure that the DHH child has access to their environment and academic content. In New Jersey specifically, there is also a Communication Plan that is now required as part of the IEP (and 504) documents for all DHH children as well.

This is a collaborative document between school districts and families to note what the DHH child needs for effective communication throughout the academic day. Input from families is vital in the Communication Plan, as well as the rest of the IEP.

Kathleen: How do you collaborate with teachers and staff?

Larisa: There is a range in how I collaborate with other teachers and service providers when working with a student, depending on the needs of each student. There are some students whom I push into their classrooms and work directly with their teachers, and therefore I provide feedback either verbally or using Post-its at the end of the session.

When I pull students out of the classroom, I often communicate less frequently—sometimes weekly or even just once a month. I have found that using surveys that I have created for each student using Google Forms has been really helpful, especially when eliciting feedback from students who have multiple related service providers, or for high school students with multiple teachers. This also allows the teachers and related service providers to give feedback during a time that they are able, especially because I am not typically there during their prep time.

Whenever I contact my students’ teachers and providers (however frequently), I always make sure to stress that the teacher can reach out to me at any time via email regarding questions, concerns, observations, etc., that they may have and emphasize that we are a team working toward the same goal and that everyone is a piece of the puzzle.

Kathleen: How many schools do you work with?

Larisa: Every school year is different, but I typically travel to 2–3 schools per day.

Kathleen: What do you think about mainstream classrooms versus dedicated Deaf schools for DHH children?

Larisa: Every year, my caseload is a little bit different. I work in a school district where I travel to multiple schools in multiple towns within one county. I have students who are completely within a mainstream general education classroom all day, students in a resource room setting within a general education school, and students who are in specialized schools for special education (not related to Deafness). I have had students who have either transferred to the New Jersey School for the Deaf, or who have transferred into regional programs within mainstream schools that have teachers of the Deaf and use ASL.

Kathleen: What can you tell parents about encouraging language growth in DHH students?

Larisa: I always encourage parents and families of DHH children to stimulate language with sign language! When I ask parents why they have not implemented the use of ASL with their child, there are usually two topics that are brought up.

  • The first is the misconception that the use of ASL will hinder the development of spoken language.

  • The second is that learning a new language is daunting.

I always make sure that I provide parents with research to support how beneficial ASL is and how the myth of ASL being a “crutch” is not evidence-based. I also explain how ASL can be used along with spoken language, and there's no reason to choose one or the other—they can do both. Building a vocabulary in ASL will not happen overnight, but learning one new sign per day is better than not learning anything at all. I always remind families with children who have cochlear implants and hearing aids that there are times when technology is ineffective or fails, or when they can't wear their technology. Without having ASL, the child won't have a way to communicate. Having access to language is pivotal for growth and development, regardless of what that language is. There is no “downside” to learning ASL, whereas there are innumerable benefits to it.

Kathleen: How can parents and caregivers model language for a DHH child?

Larisa: In essence, create a space that stimulates language growth.

One of my favorite ways to do this is by using the concept of “thinking aloud,” where the parent narrates what they're doing.

Children with hearing loss, lose the incidental learning that hearing children are privy to and therefore need a lot more explicit instruction and conversation to develop vocabulary and other nuances of language through narration.

For example, when making cereal for breakfast, the parent might say, “I'm going to get the milk in the refrigerator. Now I need to get cereal from the pantry, and then I need to get a bowl…” and so on.

This will allow the child to expand their vocabulary as it is paired with the action and visuals.

In this article called11 Tips to Improve a Child’s Communication Using Signs,” Jill Eversmann says, “Signing offers a useful and calming communication tool for many situations. I’ve used it in conjunction with other augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems or as the child learns to talk. Using signs with young clients can encourage clear communication with the child, while improving their speech and language development” (2018).

Kathleen: What’s something you always tell your students?

Larisa: The one saying that I always tell my students is, “Try your best!” I make sure that my students know that things are allowed to feel difficult and frustrating, but they are not allowed to give up. They may not grasp a concept at first or might get an answer “wrong” the first time, but as long as they are trying to work toward their goals, they're already closer to achieving them than if they didn't try at all.

Kathleen: What is your teaching process like?

Larisa: All of my sessions are one-on-one with lessons specifically curated to whatever the individual student needs.

I collaborate closely with the student's classroom teacher(s) and other related service providers (speech, OT, PT, etc.) to provide them with resources and modeling so that they can use it during their time with the student as well.

The more exposure the student gets to any specifically targeted language, the better!

The feedback I get from teachers and other service providers is invaluable to me as well because they may be seeing things in other settings that I'm not seeing, and it helps me get a broader picture of what the student may not be getting and how to scaffold those supports to help them grow.

Kathleen: How about parent involvement? The National PTA reports that “the most accurate predictors of student achievement in school are not family income or social status, but the extent to which the family . . . becomes involved in the child’s education at school” (2000). It’s undeniable that parents who are active supporters of their children’s learning are giving their kids the best opportunity for educational success.

Larisa: Parental involvement is crucial as they are their child's first teacher! Another tip is to expand upon what the child is saying by modeling a response. For instance, if the child points to their cup and says “juice” (or maybe they don't say anything at all), the parent could say, “That's your apple juice.”

I also cannot stress enough how important books are for language development! Not only can parents model how to read and students practice pre-literacy skills (e.g., how to hold a book), but it also fosters a positive connection with reading.

One thing that I always tell parents is to find wordless books in addition to traditional books. I love these, especially when the child comes from a bilingual or multilingual household because the parents aren't bound to the words on a page.

The parents can narrate the story in many different ways each time they read it based on the pictures. They can ask their child questions and to model responses based on their own story as well.

Lastly, just simply having conversations with children and giving them the opportunity to talk about a variety of topics in different settings. Like any skill, language development takes practice, and as I said before, the more opportunities they have to practice, the better!


Learning from Larisa was a joy. I love her advice—reading time with our children is so important. The benefits of this time together are priceless. It’s a beautiful time to share, to sit, and to communicate at any time of the day.

For more information on books with DHH representation, check out Maddie Hinkle. Maddie Hinkle is an advocate whose master’s thesis focused on positive representational literature in picture books aimed at young Deaf audiences.

She shares her insights into this very important tool—books for Deaf children that build vocabulary and language:

“The literature we expose our children to has an impact on their understanding of the world around them. It is our job as parents, educators, and professionals to make sure our children are seeing themselves represented in the books they read.

In terms of Deaf representation, it is important to know that there are many different ways to be Deaf. Representational literature drastically improves by acknowledging and accepting the diversity of the Deaf community, allowing more children to see themselves as part of a larger whole, regardless of their particular communication mode, hearing technology, school setting, etc. This extends to intersectional identities as well; when representing Deaf characters, keep in mind the variety and diversity within that community.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we need to be prioritizing Deaf perspectives as much as possible as we read, publish, and discuss representation.”

Larisa, l loved learning about your position as an itinerant teacher of the Deaf. Your collaboration with teachers and staff and great tips for parents who are vitally important in supporting the education of their child, modeling both spoken and sign language. I am thankful for the wonderful review and recommendation you made of My Monster Truck Goes Everywhere with Me.

"I LOVE this book! I have used the ebook to read with my students during virtual learning. I work with students from ages 4-18 with a variety of abilities, and this book is so versatile to work on many different literacy and language goals. It's also just a fun book! My students loved seeing someone sign just like them in the book! A great representation of Deaf children and I love how the illustrator is Deaf as well. It gives me the opportunity to discuss what they can be when they grow up (especially because a lot of my students love to draw)! I hope that there will be more books like these in the future! I know I'll be keeping this in my tool kit for sure:)."

You can reach out to Larisa at:

For more thoughts about representation and specific children’s book recommendations, check out our blog,3 Reasons for Deaf Inclusion and Representation in Children’s Books.” Here you will find a wonderfully diverse list of books recommended by Maddie Hinkle.

Thank you! We would love to hear about your experience teaching DHH children or as a parent. Please share feedback or a comment.

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. “Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC),” n.d.

ASHAWire. “Search Results.” Accessed August 3, 2023.

Chicago Hearing Society. “Maddie Bio - Chicago Hearing Society,” September 16, 2022.

Eversmann, Jill. “11 Tips to Improve a Child’s Communication Using Signs.” ASHAWire (blog), September 26, 2018.

Lynch, Matthew. “The Power of Parents: A Primer on Parental Involvement.” The Advocate, January 9, 2017.

Marcath, Kathleen. “3 Reasons for Deaf Inclusion and Representation in Children’s Books.” ASL Picture Books (blog), July 6, 2023.

Responsive Classroom. “What Research Says about Parent Involvement | Responsive Classroom,” December 17, 2015.

Romski, Mary Ann, and Rose A. Sevcik. “Augmentative Communication and Early Intervention.” Infants and Young Children 18, no. 3 (July 1, 2005): 174–85.

State of New Jersey Department of Education. “New Jersey Communication Plan for Students Who Are Deaf, Hard of Hearing, or DeafBlind.”, April 2022.

Vita, Matthew. “Parent Advocacy App | The Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center.” The Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center, November 10, 2022.

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