Hearing Impairments in the Classroom
Hearing impairment is an invisible and greatly misunderstood disability even though it affects one in ten Americans at some stage of their life. Hearing impaired children face prejudice and ignorance on a daily basis; "if you are deaf, you are also dumb, if you wear a hearing aid or have a cochlear implant then you can hear perfectly, if you are deaf, you are not very bright and if you can speak, you cannot be deaf". These common assumptions are the biggest handicap hearing impaired children must face as they go to school.
Teachers therefore have a responsibility to work with the children and their support team to help deaf children acquire speech and language so that they may become fully integrated and independent members of the community. Auditory Verbal Therapy is widely available for hearing impaired children based on the principle that usable hearing is common to about 95% of deaf children, and with powerful hearing aids or cochlear implants, these children can be taught to listen. The approach is parent-centered and the auditory-verbal therapist works with the parents to give them the skills to encourage their child's emerging skills in listening, speech and language. When the hearing impaired child starts school, the parent's role is still important as they must monitor the support given the child and continue to work with the child's team of professionals.
Teachers need to be aware of the special needs of a hearing impaired child so that the child does not feel isolated and prefer not to take part in school activities. Youngsters with hearing loss are more likely to be bullied, another adverse consequence that can affect their social development. Even a minor hearing loss can cause problems if the child spends extra energy trying to understand and keep up with the teacher, with their consequent discouragement leading to a diagnosis of inattention or lack of concentration. It has been found that around 20% of children have below normal hearing, making it difficult to hear speech when there is background noise. It is important therefore that the classroom has the best possible acoustics for all children and a microphone or speaker system may be recommended.
With instructors being aware of the need to speak normally and clearly, facing the class and making the best use of technology, using written text to reinforce their verbal presentations and avoiding background noise in the classroom, children with moderate hearing loss can function well in the classroom with minimal adjustments.
The placement of profoundly deaf children in a general education classroom however has been a controversial question for some years. It means that the child can live at home instead of an institution and can be part of the hearing world and have relationships with hearing children. But the scramble to keep up academically with hearing children may not be best for the child's self-esteem, especially if they get placed in a class with younger children. Being in a special school with a curriculum of one on one therapy may prepare the child better for adult life, depending on the child's ability to integrate and socialize. Again, these decisions can only be made by consulting the child's support team based on the individual's degree of impairment, personality and ability to adopt and use the latest technology.