When we think of hearing loss, our minds often immediately wander towards an aging population. However, almost 3 of every 1,000 children in the United States are born with a detectable level of hearing loss. It doesn’t come with the same adjustment period that is required later in life, however in some ways, it is even harder on children.
As language is first learned audibly, pronounced hearing loss as a young child causes delays in the development of speech and language skills. This often results in learning problems, and trouble communicating with peers can lead to social isolation and poor self-esteem. The earlier that hearing loss occurs, the more severe the effects are on a child’s development.
However, the sooner the problem is identified and addressed, the less serious the impact becomes. For some levels of hearing loss, therapeutic interventions can be used to enhance children’s abilities. Auditory-Verbal Therapy can address trouble with speech or sound production while an Auditory-Oral approach teaches children to use other visual cues like lip-reading to enhance their listening skills. When children reach school age, deciding on the appropriate educational institution is infinitely important. This personal decision should take into account the child’s learning style, personality and strengths, and also their level of hearing loss.
Educating Students with Hearing Impairment
Over 75% of students with hearing loss in the U.S. are mainstreamed into the regular public school system. About half of those students spend the majority of their days in the general education classroom with extra support from a specialized teacher. The goal is for students to be both academically and socially integrated so they must participate in regular classroom activities, have full access to instruction, as well as be able to interact with their classmates. Sometimes these students receive help from sign or oral language interpreters or assistive listening devices. Devices like hearing aids are the responsibility of the family, while others are provided by the school, like classroom sound field or FM systems. The extra support needed by a child is determined by the school’s team that evaluates needs to customize an Individualized Education Program – a plan for success!
Another option is for the students to spend part of the day in a general education classroom, and the rest receiving more individualized instruction in a special needs classroom. Studies show that often students with hearing loss who spend the majority of their day in general education classrooms actually achieve better academically than those in self-contained classrooms. However, a student’s experience can vary greatly depending on the environment and support services a school has available.
Educating Students with Deafness
Often for deaf students, the choice lies in schools specifically designed for them. These schools often offer school dormitories, but also sometimes have a day-school option. Two of the major approaches to deaf education follow.
The Bilingual-Bicultural Approach is a bilingual program where students first learn American Sign Language, followed by written or spoken English. It is believed that deaf children learn visually and as such, classes should be conducted in a visual language. Because ASL and spoken English strongly differ in grammar, syntax, and vocabulary, the languages are not used simultaneously in order to preserve students’ fluency in each. The Simultaneous Communication Approach is a program that encourages utilizing all means of communication. Information is shared by mixing oral and sign language systems with gestures, finger spelling, body language, and lip reading as well as listening and speaking practice.