These Tips from Educational Audiologists Can Help
Many mainstream educators have not taught a child who is deaf or hard of hearing and might feel daunted at the prospect of ensuring their new student feels comfortable, welcome, challenged and able to meet key academic milestones. Even experienced teachers often haven’t taught a child who is deaf or hard of hearing—or they did years ago, with very different technology.
To understand the unique needs of children with hearing loss, teachers need guidance from a support network of hearing health professionals and educators specializing in education of the deaf. In addition to input from teachers of the deaf, speech-language pathologists, families and the students themselves, mainstream teachers benefit from collaboration with educational audiologists. Educational audiologists help mainstream teachers understand and troubleshoot hearing technology, identify when a student is struggling and support children to advocate for what they need in mainstream settings.
Managing Hearing Technology in a Mainstream Classroom
Hearing assistive technology (HAT) systems are critical to helpings students optimally access information in the classroom. But for most mainstream teachers, hearing technology isn’t familiar. Questions about troubleshooting technical issues are common. While an orientation meeting in the fall is helpful, teachers may not remember every detail through the end of the school year—educators must have support options year-round.
“For the students’ HAT systems, most keep the manual in the HAT manufacturer pediatric care kit for reference,” says Ashley Logan, AuD, educational audiologist at Clarke. “The manufacturer websites are also really helpful although teachers don’t always know about them. And of course, they can always email the TOD [teacher of the deaf] or educational audiologist.”
Katie Donoghue, AuD, educational audiologist at Clarke, notes that if a student uses a mix of school-supplied and personal equipment, teachers need to be familiar with how to use both. And students will increasingly be able to help troubleshoot tech issues too—something that should be a long-term self-advocacy goal.
Christine Kelley, AuD, educational audiologist at Clarke, also stresses the importance of making sure teachers and other educational staff understand the value—financial and otherwise—of the student’s technology. “Even though they’re little or look similar to some consumer electronics, they are valuable in both use and in price,” she says. “They have to make sure it’s taken care of properly. Teachers may not realize a small device or accessory can cost $800, which insurance won’t necessarily cover if it breaks.”
Educational audiologists work diligently to convey this to students too, so they understand the expense of the equipment and learn how to care for it. The student’s awareness of the cost of their technology and ability to keep their equipment in working order can help the teacher and support staff as well.
Communication, Teamwork are Keys to Success
No matter how prepared everyone is, issues will inevitably pop up. Common ones tend to involve concerns around behavioral (e.g., child is zoning out, struggling with the material, suffering from listening fatigue) and technical (e.g., the caregiver wants the HAT used the entire school day, but the child explains it’s not helpful during PE or recess) issues.
Spotting an issue can be tricky as children may look like they’re listening, but it’s unclear how much, or how well, they’re actually hearing. “Teachers need to be aware of how much students might be struggling even if they look like they aren’t,” says Christine. Often, students who have poor attention or say they’re bored are displaying listening fatigue that’s overlooked or misinterpreted.
In these situations, an educational audiologist and teacher of the deaf team can provide the best guidance. “If they have questions about what expectations should be, if there’s a mismatch between the perspectives of the parent, teacher and/or child, that’s when to call for a TOD consult,” says Christine. “The TOD and educational audiologist work together when applicable to communicate with the staff and district throughout the school year.” That consultative approach among all the professionals (and family) involved is vital to ensuring the child’s long-term success.
“Our TODs are fabulous at keeping everyone in the loop,” adds Ashley, who supports dozens of students each year. “They check in with the schools and notify us of any issues so we can follow up. We also do collaborative in-services. [Mainstream] teachers aren’t meeting and hearing from just one professional.”
(Read more about the important role of a teacher of the deaf on pages 6-7 in “Partners in Success” from Clarke’s winter 2021 issue of Mainstream News.)
Giving Students a Voice
While educational audiologists bring a lot to the table, the child has the most important perspective regarding their hearing loss in a mainstream setting. Involving them is vital and needs to start early. They have unique insight into what they need and it’s a great exercise to build their confidence and self-advocacy skills.
For younger children, that can include writing an “about me” book with photos/drawings of their hearing equipment to present to the class. Some device manufacturers even provide age-appropriate books regarding their technology. “Students need to be able to talk to their teacher and their class about their equipment so they don’t get asked over and over—which may not be malicious but can become a distraction or make children feel different,” says Christine.
For older students, Clarke teachers of the deaf invite them to create presentations to include during in-services. It can be tailored to each student’s needs, but generally includes information about their hearing loss, the technology they use, the services they receive and tips for how teachers (and peers) can help ensure they have the best access to sound. It can also include personal details such as hobbies and interests.
It’s important that as students get older, they learn more about their tech as well as their hearing loss and test results, including age-appropriate discussions of their medical history. “There are teenagers who don’t know what caused their hearing loss or their type/severity,” says Katie. “A regular audiologist doesn’t always have time to go over this, but it’s a role educational audiologists can fill.”
“It’s important to talk to the students, not over them,” adds Katie. “The more we can educate the students, the more they can educate their teachers and we can move to an advocacy role for them.”
To learn more about Clarke’s Educational Audiology Services, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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