Behavior: Basic Strategies and Supports for Deaf & Hard of Hearing Students
How to Support a Hard of Hearing Child
Teaching or providing care for a hard of hearing child can be a daunting task, no matter the child’s age or the nature or extent of the impairment. However, it is important to remember that hearing impaired children are every bit as capable of learning and succeeding in all aspects of life. Like all other kids, what they need is an individualized, supportive approach that adapts to meet their particular abilities and limitations. Supporting a hearing impaired child requires some special knowledge and techniques, but it also provides special rewards as you watch the child grow and develop.
Identifying, Accepting, and Acting upon the Disability
Identify the disability as soon as possible.The sooner the child is identified as hard of hearing, the sooner proactive measures can be taken to ensure proper learning and social development take place. With infants and small children in particular, a “habilitative” instead of “rehabilitative” approach can then be taken — supporting and teaching them in manners consistent with their hearing disability right from the start.
- Ensure that children receive regular medical checkups from birth; disabilities may be detected by medical professionals before they are suspected by families.
- Watch for signs of possible hearing disability in children, which may include a lack of responsiveness, especially when facing away; trouble following directions; noticeable hearing difficulties when there is background noise; and a range of other possible behaviors. If concerned, talk to an audiologist or physician.
Accept the challenges and rewards of supporting a hard of hearing child.Parents in particular can have difficulty accepting or dealing with a diagnosis. Life with a hard of hearing child will certainly be different, but always remember that they are a child first and foremost. No level of deafness need limit or prevent a child from developing into a happy, healthy, smart, sociable, complete person.
- The sooner you accept the reality with honesty and an open mind, the sooner you can begin developing the methods of support that are best suited to each unique hard of hearing child.
- Especially when the hearing disability develops in children beyond the toddler stage, they may need help accepting and dealing with the changes. Seek out advice and help from professionals as well as others facing similar circumstances.
Treat every child as a unique individual.Every parent of multiple children without hearing impairments realizes that there is no “one size fits all” approach to raising them, and the same is true with hard of hearing children. If you are raising or working with multiple deaf or hard of hearing children, you will quickly discover that each one requires an individualized approach in order to achieve their full potential.
- Use the recommendations for dealing with hard of hearing children found in this article and elsewhere (such as professional advisors and people in the “same boat”) as suggestions more than commands. Pay attention to each child, observe and learn what works and does not based upon their distinctive circumstances and personality.
Consider a cochlear implant.Some people with hearing impairments (or their parents or caregivers) see cochlear implants and other hearing-improvement options as life-benefiting gifts, while others worry that they stigmatize deaf and hard of hearing people as somehow lesser or incomplete without such “improvement.” Every hard of hearing child and their family has the right to make informed decisions about what is right for them, and these decisions should be respected and supported.
- Research the options available based on the specifics of the child’s hearing impairment. Talk to experts and those with similar experiences. Give the child a strong voice in the process, and utilize a “try-and-see” approach when appropriate. Most importantly, support whatever choice is made as what is best for the particular child.
- Cochlear implants do not work for everyone, and are not an instant "fix." The child may still need therapy and support in order to adjust to the implant.
Socializing a Hard of Hearing Child
Treat the child like a child.Parents can easily be overprotective of any child, but the tendency can increase even further when the child has a hearing impairment. You may want to shield the child from difficulties and embarrassments, but you will do a disservice to their social development in the process. By and large, your mantra should be to “expect more and protect less,” within the reasonable bounds of the child’s circumstances.
- Hold a hard of hearing child to the same expectations for social behavior as other children, once again with some adaptations as needed to suit their condition. Hard of hearing children need to be able to “play nice,” follow the rules, and be held accountable for their actions. Treat them as kids with some special circumstances, not as kids who need special treatment (or constant, hovering supervision).
- At home or in the classroom, hard of hearing children should have assigned chores or tasks like all the other kids, and the same expectations (and rewards) for completing them.
Immerse the child in spoken and sign language.Ignore the fears you may hear among some people that instructing a hard of hearing child in sign language early on will interfere with the development of spoken language comprehension and usage. In reality, learning spoken and sign language together can be mutually supportive, just like learning two spoken languages at the same time. And, like spoken languages, the earlier in life you start, the easier sign language is to “pick up.”
- American Sign Language (ASL) is the third most commonly used language in the United States. Classes are widely available, and are worth the time for anyone who interacts with deaf and hard of hearing people — or may wish to at some point.
- Developing spoken language skills in hearing impaired children requires some particular skills, of course, but is important in regards to social development. Small points of emphasis like making eye contact, focusing on facial expressions and hand gestures, and taking turns while practicing can be helpful. Turn to professional resources for individualized assistance.
Seek out advice and support.Always remember that you are never alone in your efforts to nurture the growth of a child with a hearing impairment. From government programs to private agencies to local support groups, there are people out there who can and will help you and the child grow and succeed.
- In the U.S., for example, the federal IDEA Act requires that free early-intervention programs be made available to all hearing impaired children from ages 0-3 and throughout their school-age years (3-21).
- Organizations such as the American Society for Deaf Children (ASDC) can offer assistance in finding a “Deaf Mentor,” an adult who helps the child and family adapt and learn together.
Assess the child's social skills, before kindergarten when applicable.Hard of hearing children are often behind in their social skills development when they start school, which can put them “behind the curve” and make make academic and social progress more difficult as they move along. Efforts you make to identify and address the development of social skills will continue to pay dividends throughout childhood and beyond.
- The resources you can use to determine a hearing impaired child’s social skills include: social communications ; social skills ; and the (Listening Inventory for Education), a diagnostic tool to determine potential learning difficulties in the school environment.
- Hard of hearing children might be at risk for bullying. Assertiveness training and teaching about handling bullying is important.
Educating a Hard of Hearing Child
Develop an Individual Education Plan (IEP).An IEP is a collaborative process involving the hard of hearing child’s family and educators and school administrators. As the name indicates, it establishes a set of policies, plans, and adaptations that will enable the hard of hearing child to maximize their educational potential.
- Hard of hearing children and their families have the right to expect reasonable accommodations in a traditional educational setting. The IEP will help to establish these policies in concrete terms.
- If the child will attend a school for deaf and hard of hearing children, an IEP will still be a useful to for ensuring that they receive the best personalized educational experience.
Interact, don’t just instruct.Teaching a hard of hearing child may require more direct, face-to-face communication, especially when discussing abstract concepts (time or feelings, for instance). However, make sure the process is a two-way street. Encourage the child to respond and interact with you and other students in order to develop their communication skills.
- It can be tempting to serve as the deaf child’s “interpreter” for the other members of the class, but encourage interaction among the students as well. Find the combination of signing, gesturing, lip reading, writing, and speaking that facilitates communication among the hard of hearing child(ren) and the other students.
Take practical steps in the classroom.Legal requirements, human compassion, and plain old common sense dictate that some “helpful adaptations” will need to be made in order for a hard of hearing child to have the same chance for success as non-disabled students. Use the IEP and discussions with the student and parents to determine the particular adaptations that will support the child’s learning needs while minimizing distractions or difficulties for the other students.
- Such “useful adaptations” may include, among others: keeping the door and windows closed to reduce outside noise; always teaching from the front of the room, while facing the class; summarizing / restating the questions, answers, and comments made by other students; writing all assignments, etc. on the board; sticking to established routines, which make it easier for a child to “catch up” or predict what is going on if they miss something; and establishing a hand signal between student and teacher to indicate when something is missed or not understood.
Know the child's rights.As mentioned elsewhere in this article, federal law in the U.S. protects the rights of hearing impaired students to receive reasonable accommodations and to have access to intervention and support programs to facilitate academic success. As a parent or concerned adult, identify, recognize, and assert the child’s educational rights.
- As a teacher, make yourself aware of your responsibilities and expectations as well. Draw from the IEP and relevant legal requirements.
- Always face the child when talking to them. If you need to turn away, pause the conversation, and continue when you are facing them again. Make sure you're not eating while talking, or doing something that can be distractive.
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