How adequate planning can help students move seamlessly between schools or programs
Any transition for children, whether entering preschool or college, helps set the stage for their future success.
For children with hearing loss, the stakes are higher. They generally experience more transitions (for example, out of an early intervention program or moving between specialized programs for hearing loss and mainstream programs). Their mainstream teachers will need information and ongoing consultation about how to best serve the student and their unique needs.
Fortunately, with some forethought and planning, caregivers and educators can create a transition plan that helps students have as smooth a transition as possible and thrive academically and socially.
What needs to be done—and when
There’s a lot to do to make a transition successful, so the most important step is starting preparations early, with enough lead time to fit in all necessary meetings. Trying to squeeze them in during the summer when mainstream teachers may not be available can be difficult at best.
“Preparation is the key to success, so you need to start well in advance,” said Claire Troiano, MED, OTC, director of Mainstream Services and Educational Administrator of K-8 Program at Clarke Northampton. “That will look different for different age groups.”
At every grade level, a good transition plan needs to prepare the family, student and the receiving school’s staff. Start early so everything is in place when school begins in the fall.
“It is important to remember that caregivers often experience a heightened sense of anxiety preparing for any transition,” Claire noted. “For many, there is the feeling of starting all over again in helping staff understand their child’s hearing loss and needs.”
Ideally, families and educators will start transition-related tasks about six months before the change. At different grade levels, these steps might look a little different, but the principles stay the same.
Assuming the transition is at the start of the school year, a rough breakdown of what to do when looks like this:
Spring before transition
Work with your special education director to begin preparing for the transition. Typically, there is a formal transition meeting with the caregivers, staff of the new school and the classroom teacher(s), the speech-language pathologist and any other relevant professionals. If the school has a teacher of the deaf, be sure to include them. The meeting should cover supports the child needs and information about their specific type of hearing loss. Include logistical items the receiving school might not consider, such as avoiding placement in a classroom located across from a loud gym or not seating the child near a noisy HVAC vent.
Start talking to the child about the transition. For younger children, this could include looking at pictures of the new classroom and talking about riding the bus; older students may want to do a tour, sit in on classes or shadow a current student for a day.
Provide the student with the school’s calendar of events and extracurricular options. They can begin thinking about what kinds of activities they want to take part in as well as any accommodations that might be needed. It also gives the family a chance to take part in school community events early so they can start making social connections—essential for both caregivers and students.
Plan for needed services (speech therapy, itinerant TODs, etc.) as well as regular, formal review meetings to evaluate how the plan is working.
Summer before transition
Connect, if possible, with other students in the school who have hearing loss. This is a great opportunity to share and gather causal information (which classroom has bad acoustics, if there’s a teacher who often forgets to use the Hearing Assistive Technology or HAT, etc.) and socialize. You can also look into any summer programs the student can participate in to become more familiar with the building, staff and other students. Transitions are easier if the new student has friendly faces to look for on the first day.
Discuss what the student’s schedule will look like. For younger students, help them learn about new routines. For older students, brainstorm any challenging situations so they’re prepared on the first day.
Review with the student any support or services they’ll be receiving and why they’re important.
Start of the new school year/program
Find activities or clubs the student can join to help them acclimate to the school’s social life.
Do an early check-in (roughly the second week of school) to see if any changes need to be made or if there have been problems with the technology or services, etc.
For younger children, consider having the classroom teacher, the caregiver or the TOD lead a short presentation on hearing loss and the student’s hearing devices can be led by the classroom teacher, the caregiver or the TOD. This can set the stage to address any classmates’ questions about the devices early.
Claire said that moving from preschool to kindergarten is the most difficult transition in some ways. “At that age, we focus on parental involvement and investment; otherwise, challenges can come up,” she noted. “It’s more about educating parents about what they need to look for.” Claire noted that it’s common in early intervention and early childhood programs for parents to trust the professionals—the family may be new to hearing loss and learning as they go. “But by the time the child is in the mainstream, the caregivers know their child and their hearing loss much more than the teachers ever could,” she said. It’s also an age when the social aspect of hearing loss may be overlooked. Especially during less structured times, such as lunch, the child with hearing loss might feel a little lost if they can’t hear what their peers are saying. If this happens, the TOD and school counselor can be instrumental in helping the child to manage the situation.
For students in elementary to middle school, they’ll need to understand that the structure of their day is changing, as they may move from classroom to classroom. They may also be responsible for bringing a HAT device to each classroom.
For children entering high school, caregivers will need to be aware there is often a team approach among the teachers. Plus, while students will have more independence, they will also have more responsibility—especially to self-advocate.
Watch for the pitfalls
One area of transition planning that can be challenging for caregivers is finding their optimal role in the process. They are a key voice, but their role will change as their child matures.
“Sometimes parents do not know what their role should be during transitions, so they hold back and trust the school staff to know what is best for their child,” Claire said. “Parents should always feel they have the right to ask questions and offer advice. There are also times when parents have been so involved with their child in the younger years that as their child gets older, they take on too much of the decision making and the child is not encouraged to develop self-advocacy skills.”
She urged caregivers and educators to always encourage children to have input starting as early as appropriate for the child. For example, students as young as seven or eight can pop into the meeting to say hello. “As kids get older, they can talk about what they need, what their equipment does for them, etc. Teachers love hearing it directly from the kids,” said Claire. That doesn’t necessarily mean the students need to sit through the entire meeting, but she does recommend having them make an appearance. “It’s important for the special education directors and teachers to meet the children they’re making decisions about,” she said.
By allowing the student to take the reins when possible, caregivers can build the student’s self-advocacy skills. It’s also a good way to illustrate for mainstream teachers what the student is like, their communication skills and generally present them as an individual—not as their hearing loss.
Once a plan is in place, Claire said a lack of follow-through is the most common challenge. Teachers may forget to use the HAT, stop using captioning on visual media, etc. “It’s why including an itinerant TOD is so important. They can ensure this doesn’t happen,” she said.
Learn more about Clarke’s Mainstream Services to support student transitions.
Illustrations by Cindy Fisher