I remember the day like it was yesterday. Lexi, fully mainstreamed in her final year of preschool. Since her diagnosis of being deaf and implanted bilaterally at 18 months of age, activated (ears & sound turned on for the very first time), the race to hearing everything and making up speech had been non-stop, full-throttle.
Upon Lexi's diagnosis, she was already in a mainstream preschool, so we decided to supplement oral rehab (hearing and spoken language) through Auditory-Verbal Therapy and deaf education at Mama Lere Hearing School (all oral) with alternating days at a mainstream pre-k when she could use it all in real-life with hearing kids.
For Lexi, this was a very good choice. So after the grind of a nearly three years of go go go speech therapy and mainstreaming methods, watching her enter into her first year of "mainstream school" was like watching a senior graduate from college. All the extra hours spent at home doing more and more speech therapy, all the times I would find small groups of chatty kids and throw her in to get any additional language...well, it was paying off. I watched that child soar.
In actuality, it was Lexi who did all the hard work. She had an amazing team and speech therapist (Dr. Emily Lund) and incredible teachers at Mama Lere and also at Belle Meade Children's Center...but when she walked in by herself to CPA's preschool, I knew it was Lexi who EARNED that triumphant day and procession into a new world of "normal".
My point of writing and sharing this next story with you is to create a sense of sensitivity for children with hearing loss...especially those who are mainstreamed with hearing aids and cochlear implants. While they seem very "typical" and act, sound and talk like other kids, they have unique needs. They also have a unique ability to conquer and "overcome".
During that first year of Lexi being totally mainstreamed in CPA's preschool, came the time of the class play. Of all the kids in the class, guess who was selected to be the "Little Red Hen" with the most speaking parts? Yep. My child who had missed nearly TWO YEARS of speech, hearing, language...all the above.
As I watched her project her little voice during the most darling of plays... I beamed with pride. However, in my small-mindedness, I assumed Lexi was given that part BECAUSE she was unique an special. I knew they loved and adored her, but I'll never forget Miss Jennifer's response to my "thank you so much for allowing Lexi to be the Little Red Hen" (as if to toss her a head nod for letting her do something out of kindness and compassion for her story)...Miss Jennifer giggled and responded, "Honey, I didn't let her be the Little Red Hen, I NEEDED her to be the Little Red Hen. Lexi was the only child in the class who would stand up in front of the room, remember all the lines and say them loudly and clearly!"
HUMBLED WAS I.
So you see, behind the scenes with our children with hearing loss is a lot of work. A lot of mental fatigue. A lot of overtime to become much like their peers. But in front of the world are kids who are resilient, strong, articulate and overcomers.
Here are some tips to NURTURE AND STEWARD those amazing attributes that come with children who have faced silence and WON...those who have been MUTE, only to become those who SPEAK with CONFIDENCE. You are a part of their journey and story. Here's how you can help them this school year:
1. CLASSROOM PLACEMENT
- plain and simple, students with hearing loss need to be able to be closer to HEAR you and SEE YOU.
2. VISUAL SUPPORT
- Allow the child to see your face when you speak; masks are so tough on people with hearing loss. Children with hearing loss use visuals to validate what their hearing. Don't skip this!
3. VISUAL CLASS NOTES
- ****one of my favorites!*** Students will greatly greatly benefit from a copy of class notes! Please please take this seriously.
Children with a language delay can never get back those years they lost of language. THERE WILL ALWAYS BE A GAP. I REPEAT...THERE WILL ALWAYS BE A GAP. Providing support for note-taking is critical.
HERE'S WHY: When you learn language intentionally like these kids, you learn to think about language...you got it, INTENTIONALLY. So imagine sitting in a lecture and you have to work twice as hard to hear it because the presenter has a strong accent. This is what every day is like for kids with hearing aids/cochlear implants. They work hard to HEAR. So, first, it creates mental fatigue (discuss below). Then, the presenter says a word you've never heard before. In the case of our kids, they stop and think about that word because they've been taught and trained for years to think about language.
"First, they have to think about what their hearing, then they have to think about what they've heard."
When you add in difficult or new, complex language, it's a very taxing process. So now...here it comes... they think about the new language, process it and pause on it. Then, they may very well miss out on the rest of that part of instruction.
Often, this looks like ADD or ADHD. It's not. It's not a "processing disorder". It is the way they think and process language.
A copy of notes allows students with hearing loss to get all the info. Not have an advantage.
4. MENTAL FATIGUE
Listening all day long through devices is exhausting. Again, this can mimick ADD. It's not. It's the biproduct of listening through a device all day. You know how exhausted your brain is after attending a conference and listening for many days in a row? That's what it is like for those with hearing aids/cochlear implants every day! By the afternoon, it's tough.
5. Allow/Encourage HEARING BREAKS
Kids with hearing loss could greatly benefit from hearing naps. These are 15-20 min breaks where they quietly rest their brain. We HEAR with our EARS...we LISTEN with our BRAIN. Study hall, lunch, etc. are great nap times!
6. TEST SUPPORT
- LANGUAGE. A lot of kids like Lexi have a very high IQ. However, their language gap/delay can hinder them from reaching the same potentials they would had they been hearing and never missed out on language and knowledge.
- Allow the student to ask for support with language they may not know. I'm not referring to vocabulary they should have studied, rather language that is hindering them from getting to the answer that they may know. Try to lead them to the answer. Use the word in another sentence to help them critically think and determine what the word means.
- Give them MORE TIME for test-taking
My 4-steps to processing multiple choice questions:
a. Review the question entirely
b. Underline cues and clues (words) in the question to get to the right answer; also pay attention to the use of negatives
c. cross out any answers that are obviously incorrect answers
d. Use the underlined cues and clues (words) to choose the best answer
7. Students with COCHLEAR IMPLANTS
- remember these are implanted devices into their cochlea. The external part is a processor. They hear with a "bionic ear". That's actually what the cochlear implant is referred to.
- cochlear implants are NOT like putting on glasses; cochlear implants are electronic. While kids like Lexi assure you they hear like we do, they do not. They hear electronic signals that are processed through the sound processor. We hear sound waves that our brain processes. CI kids still use their brain to process language, but it first goes through a couple of electronic devices.
***First they have to think about hearing, then they have to think about what they heard.
8. BE PATIENT!