For many children with hearing loss, academic and social success in school is a goal that does not come easily. Often, parents, teachers, and speech therapists have to work very hard to help the child with hearing loss do well in school. There is a lot of pressure on teachers in the last week of the summer and the first weeks of the school year to help get a whole classroom of children settled and learning. With that time crunch in mind, I liked to contact my son’s teachers while it was still the middle of the summer. The teachers were relaxed and had time to listen, talk, and try to understand the needs of their new student with hearing loss. My son enters his 12th school year in a mainstream classroom and I have collected some tips along the way to making the transition into a new school year as smooth as possible.
Call ahead to the principal and teachers, even in the end of July, beginning of August. You can apologize politely for bothering them so early (they should say “no problem, this is our job”) but explain that you’d really appreciate a bit of their time to familiarize them with your child and his or her hearing needs in the classroom before all of the commotion of the start of the school year.
Schedule a meeting with the principal and your child’s teachers. It is really helpful to sit face-to-face and provide some background to your child, his/her hearing loss, assistive technology, and learning needs. We always brought a little video or booklet for teachers about teaching children with hearing loss in mainstream classrooms. We brought a lot of material to give to the teachers – for example, from Central Institute for the Deaf http://www.cid.edu/ProfOutreachIntro/FAQsForProfessionals/Factsandresourcesformainstreamteachers.aspx and from Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech http://www.clarkeschools.org/services/educational-products.
Bring reading material about hearing loss and hearing aids or cochlear implants to leave with the teachers. In my experience, while my son’s teachers had not had students with hearing loss in their classes (until my son), thankfully, they have been very interested and curious to learn about hearing loss and the educational needs of a child with hearing loss. By leaving the information with them, the teacher can read up at their leisure and can contact you for further information if something is not clear or they have specific questions about this applies to your child. If you would send this in to school on the first day – it is not fair to expect the teacher to have the time to look at it.
Cochlear implant manufacturers have nice, colorful booklets for teachers (Cochlear Corp http://www.cochlearamericas.com/support/2156.asp, Advanced Bionics http://www.advancedbionics.com/Support_Center/Educational_Support/Tools_for_Schools.cfm?langid=1) as do hearing aid and FM system manufacturers. Ask your audiologist to order materials from the manufacturer of your child’s hearing aids or FM system. All of these materials should be free!
Bring a copy of your child’s audiogram and a copy of the speech sounds audiogram to give the teachers a sense of your child’s hearing loss. Get a copy at http://edschool.csuhayward.edu/departments/ted/instruction/howe/5500/AAL-speechbanana.html. The speech banana puts the hearing loss is context of speech sounds.
Bring your child’s FM system with you to this meeting to explain what it is and how it works. Encourage the teachers to try it out and see how it works. In my experience, teachers did not have any objection to using it, they are just a little “technophobic” - nervous about how it works, scared to break it or use it wrong. A little reassurance is helpful. Make sure that they know that all they have to do it clip it onto their lapel and talk.
Bring a copy of your child’s IEP along to this meeting. IEPs can be a lot of pages and too complicated to go over at an informal meeting like this. Turn it to the page that summarizes your child’s main goals/needs so that you can give a general sense of what your child’s learning needs are. Offer to leave the copy with the teachers so that they can read it at their convenience and offer to answer any questions that they might have about the IEP goals. It is fine to tell the teachers that you might not be sure about all of the jargon in the IEP and have your child’s speech therapist call the teachers.
Explain a bit about acoustics and how it is important for your child to have the best acoustic environment possible to help him/her hear. I have found teachers who cope with noise from a big, busy classroom to be very sensitive to the noise situation. One year, the assistant principal saved her used tennis balls all summer to pad the bottoms of the chairs so they would not scratch the floor. The teachers kept the tennis balls for years after my son had moved on and told me how much easier it made teaching in this classroom!
You can ask your child’s speech therapist or audiologist to come to this meeting and help explain your child’s needs. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming to meet with teachers at a new school, for example, and you might feel more confident asking your child’s speech therapist to come along. That is fine. As long as the teachers get the message that you are there to support and help them make sure your child has a great year, it doesn’t matter who does the talking about hearing loss. You might find that after a couple of years, you feel more confident about it and don’t need them to come.
Prepare a list of contacts and phone numbers for the teachers. In case of questions or problems, it is helpful if the teacher has a list of contact info ready for easy access. I left this form New Student with Hearing Loss Contact Information Sheet easy to download and fill with your child’s specific information to give to teachers. That way teachers know how to contact you and your child’s important hearing professionals.
Work out a plan for where to keep spare batteries. You can give the teacher spare batteries to keep in a safe place for your child’s hearing aid or cochlear implant. As my son got older, we taped them into the door of his locker. Later on, he started carrying them in his wallet. Put them in as many places as possible (no need for a ton – just one or two in a lot of places) so that your child will hopefully have one if he/she needs one.
Give the message that you want to work together with the teachers and are happy to help them with whatever they need. Say this to the teacher : We are here if you have any questions or concerns and we are looking forward to working together. Don’t assume that they understand this from your concern about your child. If the teacher does contact you for help or support, take the request seriously. You may not know what to do, as new situations come up all the time as kids get older and the issues are different than the ones you dealt with last year. If you don’t know how to handle an issue: get help. Your speech therapist and audiologist can recommend other educational professionals who can help your child. If you can’t find what you need, you can always contact me and I will try my best to help you find the help you need.
Even if you live in a community where your child is the only child with hearing loss, there are professionals who can help your child’s teacher long-distance. There are wonderful educational consulting programs for children with hearing loss. They can get involved and provide support to your child’s classroom teacher by phone, via internet, or mail. Ask your speech therapist if she/he has worked with any of these organizations in the past and can recommend one.
Ask the teachers if they have questions. Is there something that is so obvious to you, since you have been dealing with your child with hearing loss for a long time now, but this teacher doesn’t understand? Offer them a chance to ask questions and contribute to the conversation.
Remember the point of all of this: you want to create a good working relationship with the teachers. Establishing good lines of communication from the very beginning is helpful to everyone involved. If you can, stop by the school or call the teacher at school after the first few weeks and ask how the teacher is doing. Check if any questions or concerns have come up. Say something positive about how happy your child seems when he/she comes home from school or anything else that has come up.
Good luck to all of us – students, teachers, and parents! I hope it is a great year!
Next time I will focus specifically about starting middle school or high school off on the right foot with your preteen or teenager. Brave new world!
Tags: children, cochlear implant, cochlear implants, cooperation between parents and teachers, deaf, hearing aids, hearing loss, mainstream classroom, parenting, parents, school, speech therapist, starting new school year, teachers