For children especially, the most frustrating learning barriers related tp hearing impairment is how difficult it makes communication and learning.
It has been likened to being trapped in a glass box. You can see what everyone else is doing around you, but you can neither hear nor reach them. In the absence of specialized learning institutions, this is the unfortunate reality for children struggling with hearing loss.
It’s a problem that goes far deeper than hearing impairment. Hearing as a sense is so intrinsically linked to learning that its absence even has the potential to cause developmental delays. The presence of a learning difficulty such as ADHD only further widens the gulf a student must bridge to keep up with their peers — to the point that it can seem impossible.
Helping one’s students overcome these barriers begins with knowing how to identify the signs that they exist.
Recognizing Hearing Impairment in the Classroom
Some signs of hearing impairment are easily recognizable. A student may not respond when their name is called, or speak at high volumes without realizing it. They may also constantly ask conversation partners to repeat themselves.
Other signs, however, are more difficult to notice, and a hearing-impaired student may:
- Become increasingly withdrawn, going from excitable and chatty to burying their nose in books.
- Struggle to take notes or keep up with your lesson.
- Daydream excessively, always appearing as though they’re somewhere else.
- Watch your lips with an unusual level of intentness when you speak.
- Speak so quietly it’s difficult to hear them.
- Be unwilling to participate in group projects.
- Show difficulty concentrating with a large amount of background noise.
Supporting a Hearing-Impaired Child in School
On the surface, it seems impossible for a teacher to provide the level of support for learning barriers one might find at a school specialized for the hearing-impaired. While it’s true that such institutions will inevitably have more expertise and better equipment, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing educators can do. There are many small changes that can make a world of difference for inclusivity.
Per Oxford Academic, these include:
- Classroom orientation. If possible, arrange the desks in a circular shape so that deaf students can more easily identify and understand who is talking.
- Classroom decor. Carpeting and upholstered furniture help to mute sound, preventing it from becoming distorted.
- Visual aids. Graphics, charts, and graphs can go a long way towards explaining concepts that hearing-impaired students may otherwise have trouble understanding.
- Bullying prevention. Keep a careful watch for gestures such as eye-rolling, name calling, or exclusion, and address them immediately as they surface.
- External support. If possible, provide the hearing-impaired student with an aide to assist in communication and interpretation. Many Deaf community members may also be happy to speak to your class.
- Technology. If the student has a hearing aid, equipment such as a radio aid can send audio of the teacher’s voice directly through the microphone. A teacher might also record their lessons and make them available online.
- Collaborate with parents. Particularly with younger children, parents are often deeply involved in the learning process. With hearing-impaired students, this should hold even truer. Confer regularly with the child’s caregivers, and work together to provide them with the best learning experience possible.
For an educator, teaching a Deaf or hearing-impaired child may feel daunting. But it’s important to remember that the learning barriers are even more daunting for the child. By working together with their parents, exploring support options, and looping in members of the Deaf community, you can help the child receive the education they truly deserve.