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Navigating a Classroom: Skills for the Child with Hearing Impairment

“Success” in a mainstream educational setting means so many different things. For the child that doesn’t have self confidence, success may be making a friendship to build comfort with risk taking. For a child who has strong academic skills but difficulty with social situations, success may be the opportunity to be part of a school play. For the child that has poor motivation to learn, success may come from having strong academic models. It’s not about what a child scores on a test, it’s about how they grow as a little human.

The opportunities that come from placement in a general education placement have the potential to be positive. However, they can also work against a child if he/she doesn’t have the skills needed to access those benefits.

The idea of “being READY” to mainstream is a widely believed and very misleading concept. Being ready for what? Does this mean the child demonstrates age appropriate communication? Does this mean the child has an age appropriate reading level? Does it mean the child has confidence or clear speech sounds?

Everybody has a different definition of what “being ready” means.

There are definitely skills that can help a child maximize potential to learn in the fast pace of a general education placement. These skills all relate to how well a child can “NAVIGATE the room”. We’ll get back to that in a moment (or maybe two because sometimes I ramble on a bit).

Imagine trying to teach someone how to swim out of the water. Imagine teaching someone how to ride a bike from a discussion seated at the kitchen table. Many many skills are best learned IN context while DOING the skill itself. It’s so difficult to teach a child the navigation skills to manage the mainstream to be able to benefit from it if they are not actually in it doing it. Not to say that ALL children are able or should be placed in a general education class. Of course this is a very individualized decision based on a wide set of variables such as child’s skills, desired outcomes, personality and risk comfort just to name a few.

However, if a program is trying to get the child “ready” before they give them the opportunity for mainstreaming the team should be very clear to define “ready”. What skills must develop before the child can transition to a less restrictive environment?

One of the common problems with waiting until later to mainstream is that the pace of a more restrictive environment is usually slower than the general education class. This is necessary for children who learn slower but if you are trying to play “catch up” before transitioning to the mainstream this is not in line with the long term objective.

Using an Auditory-Verbal Approach to habilitation the child is usually placed within a mainstream learning environment as early as possible. I’ll define the following as “MY PERSONAL PROFESSIONAL belief”. I prefer to place a child with hearing loss into the class with supports until it’s proven he/she can’t make it there. As long as the child is making substantial gains in comparison to him/herself each year and he/she is showing good psycho-social adjustment then (in my opinion) the placement IS considered a success story. I’m not concerned with how the child ranks within the class as long as he/she is capable to learn in many ways within that environment. That said, let’s look at some of the skills children with hearing loss might need to be able to navigate around a mainstream class.

The skills necessary to NAVIGATE LEARNING aren’t all necessarily academic or even communication sophistication.

Sometimes just knowing to look for the person speaking is a skill that NEEDS to be taught. Some children with hearing loss don’t monitor the environment at casual levels when they are involved in a task or small group. A few modifications to the instruction or some in-class support to actually train a child how to track speakers can be very helpful.

The list of navigation skills goes on and on when you start to scratch the surface or spend any time in a class observing what skills are needed to manage throughout the day.

Here’s a list of SOME skills a child with hearing loss might need to NAVIGATE through the day:

  • Being able to request clarification when the message is unclear. (You can read more about clarification strategies here).
  • Repeating nonsense words is the same as being able to repeat a word you heard but don’t know. This is important to be able to say “I don’t know what _______ means”.
  • Physical organization of materials, desk, cubby, supply bin and backpack, so time is not lost searching for materials when instruction is occurring.
  • Auditory memory to hold an idea for drawing a picture or holding the sequence of words to write a sentence (depending on the age)
  • Being able to self advocate to move position in the class to account for background noise, close a window open to the playground.
  • Advocating for a teacher to turn the FM microphone on/off appropriately.
  • Checking actions with actions of others in the class to determine if the message was processed clearly.
  • Theory of mind to understand other’s have different points of view and not everyone has had the same experiences to shape their thinking. Read more about Theory of Mind (ToM) here and here and here.
  • Knowing when it’s critical to ask for help right away or if it should be remembered to mention at another time.
  • Being able to hold a thought
  • Being familiar with the resources posted around the room to use during paper work.
  • Asking for help from peers or teachers when necessary.
  • Knowing the names of all the “stations” and routines of the room/day (STEAM room, literacy corner, study buddy etc).
  • Knowing where to find paper, pencils or specific books in the room.
  • Understanding the rules to recess, gym, library, routine games.
  • Having general knowledge about current trends, pop culture, or fads to engage with peers.
  • Be able to cope with correction.
  • Be able to explain hearing loss or equipment in age appropriate ways.
  • Recognize when full on attention is a must, or when there is a bit of wiggle room to rest a bit to manage fatigue over the course of the day.
  • Recognize when a short break would be helpful.
  • Being able to take logical guesses at meaning or vocabulary from context.
  • Monitor timing with other students to insure time management for specific tasks.
  • Prioritize tasks or task management.
  • Monitoring the audience to know if they are understanding.

The key is being aware of the many moving parts within a classroom culture and expediting the orientation for the child with a hearing loss. If a child is connected to the often complicated “rhythms and routines” of the class as a group he/she is more likely to catch on to more content as time goes on within the school year. The more the child can learn IN class the less filling in the support staff need to do and can therefore spend time working on learning SKILLS.

The more the support staff can do to orient the child to the workings of the specific classroom and teacher style the more efficiently the child will be able to reach a comfortable feeling of a good “fit”.

The main idea is to recognize the success of it all is not only about academics. Maximizing personal growth in as many ways as possible is where the true success can be realized.

Pamela Talbot

Pamela is an ASHA certified Speech-Language Pathologist dually certified as a teacher of the hearing impaired. She is a Listening and Spoken Language LSLS-AVT. Pamela has extensive experience training parents and professionals at the international level.