Educating the Educators: Your Child with Hearing Loss in the Classroom

ClassroomThe minute you find out your child has hearing loss you step into a role that you most likely never imagined for yourself all those months, or years, ago when you first looked down and saw those two lines on your home pregnancy test; the role of teacher.

What does this mean for yourself and for your relationship with others? You might not realize it yet but you are on your way to becoming an expert. And it’s a role you need to assume, whether you like it or not.

Some of us might receive this news with a renewed sense of passion and enthusiasm (that’s what happened to me, although I didn’t have far to go as I was already an educator.) But for others this is a role that often seems impossible to fully embrace. They already have a career – they’re bankers or lawyers, or managers, or sales people, or healthcare workers, or electricians. They have other children, other responsibilities, and other stress.

But take a deep breath and realize that you don’t need to gain this knowledge all at once. You’ll do it slowly. You’ll accomplish this by attending a conference, or a seminar. You’ll find a webinar that looks interesting.

You’ll connect with other parents of children with hearing loss, whether that’s in a formal support group, parents you become friendly with at your child’s school or therapy sessions, or parent you have connected with over the internet.

You’ll read journal articles and blog posts about childhood hearing loss and slowly but surely you will begin to understand and make the connections with what the authors are saying.

And then you will be ready to teach others about your child’s hearing loss. And you will need to because the reality is the majority of our children will be educated in mainstream school settings and the mainstream isn’t always ready for them. And that’s okay – that’s where you come in as a parent and pull out your suitcase full of knowledge and let it rip.

You will know how to move beyond that stale set of menu items the school district will present to you, the cookie cutter options that are supposed to benefit every child with hearing loss and help them to succeed.

You will be able to state that captions need to be available on all visual media for students with hearing loss; that sound fields and pass around microphones are not luxuries, but necessities to access all parts of the curriculum (and yes, I am still stunned to hear that some school districts believe that FMs are optional for students with hearing loss.)

You will be able to help the classroom teacher move beyond putting tennis balls on chair legs and preferential seating for your child (although these are a step in the right direction).

You will be able to explain that hearing loss is not a learning disability, but that children with hearing loss might also have a learning disability in addition to their hearing loss, and it’s important to get the right diagnosis for that.

You will be able to tell them that having Computer Assisted Real-time Translation (CART) in the classroom is no more of a distraction than doodling in your notebook and checking out because you are unable to follow what is being said.

Most teachers want to learn – they view themselves as lifelong learners, but like all of us are stretched for time. Most teachers want this information but they are afraid to ask, they are supposed to be the experts, they are supposed to know it all.

You can help them figure out where to begin with your child and the needs that your child has, and eventually as your child gets older they can take over in explaining and advocating for their own needs.

But you need to move into your new role one step at a time. Don’t spend time planning your child’s high school graduation while they are still in early intervention. Learn what you need to, maybe a little more so you can stay one step ahead of your child. Trust me – before you know it you will have the experience and the knowledge that you and your child need.

Your Child’s IEP: Focusing on What They Can Do

parent-teacher-conferences-frustratedIt’s IEP review season, at least in New York State, and that means it’s time to sit down and listen to the educators and therapists who work with your child to discuss his progress, or lack thereof. Depending upon the relationship between the members of your child’s teaching team the meeting will either be a positive event where you can walk away and feel assured that he is on the right path, or it can be an exercise in frustration as you leave feeling that his needs are not being met.

During this time there is a tendency by all involved (parents, educators, and therapists) to focus on the learning and behavior problems that your child has, and little time is spent discussing the strengths that she brings to the classroom. If goals are not being met on an IEP and there are still areas of weakness, then the solution is often to increase time spent on these areas. Is your child struggling with writing? Then let’s make her spend more time on isolated writing exercises. Is your child having problems following multi-step directions? Then lets pull him out of the classroom and make him practice this skill.

While I am not against providing children with opportunities to increase their skills and knowledge through practice (Malcolm Gladwell suggests it takes 10,000 hours of practicing a specific task to become successful.) I do think that we often focus on the weaknesses of our children at the expense of their strengths.

Stanley Greenspan, in his book Playground Politics: Understanding the Emotional Life of Your School-Age Child, asks us to imagine how we would feel if we were made to spend 90 percent of our time doing tasks that were difficult. One example he uses is what if you were right handed, but made to write with your left hand several hours a day. The results would be frustrating and would not make you develop enjoyment of the task. Dr. Greenspan’s suggestion is to “spend no more than 50 percent of practice time on a child’s weakness,” the other 50 percent of the time should be spent on developing your child’s natural strengths.

Think of ways to help your child use their strengths to develop their weaknesses. By working together with your child’s IEP team you should be able to arrive at some creative solutions, rather than simply writing down the same old frustrating exercises.

 

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