Going through school with a hearing impairment or deafness can be a frustrating, isolating and ultimately unproductive experience for a child without the right support. As a teacher, it can be equally challenging to teach a hearing-impaired child effectively without adequate tools or training. For both it can sometimes feel like there’s an imaginary pane of glass keeping each from communicating effectively with the other.
The ideal environment for many hearing-impaired children to learn is one in which they are not singled out as different, but instead benefit from the kind of adjustments which go unnoticed by others but are truly transformative for the child. At Engage Education we want to provide the information you need to handle hearing impairments with confidence.
Hearing impairment and deafness are not necessarily the same thing. Hearing loss greater than 90 decibels is generally categorised as deafness, but any impediment to hearing – whether temporary, permanent or fluctuating – impacts not only a child’s experience in the classroom but their social and emotional development, literacy skills and speech and language abilities.
According to the National Deaf Children’s Society there are over 50,000 children and young people in the UK with hearing impairments, but this does not mean that they all have the same conditions or needs.
There are three main types of hearing impairment that you may come across in children:
|Sensorineural deafness (nerve deafness)||A permanent hearing loss in the inner ear usually caused by the cochlea not working effectively|
|Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder (ANSD)||A problem occuring more deeply within the ear, where sounds are received normally by the cochlea, then become disrupted as they travel to the brain|
|Conductive deafness||Usually temporary, sometimes permanent. Sound can’t pass effectively through the outer and middle ear to the inner ear. Caused by blockages such as wax or fluid. The latter is known as glue ear — can last for up to three months and very common in pre-school children|
While hearing impairments are often identified in babies, they may not develop or make themselves known for several years. This means that it’s important to keep an eye out for the signs of hearing impairment in the classroom, particularly in young children – as at some point in your career you could find that you are teaching a child with an undiagnosed hearing impairment.
Here are some of the common signs of hearing impairments that you can look for in young children:
Hearing-impaired children struggle at every stage of their education, with only 44% leaving school with two or more A Levels, and 43% reaching the expected standard for reading, writing and maths at key stage 2 (KS2) when finishing primary school. Hearing and learning go hand-in-hand, so the impairment of this function means much more for a child than simply struggling to hear. Any hearing impairment which is not handled effectively has an adverse effect on a child’s development, preventing them not only from taking in new information but learning to interact, relating to others and making friends.
A child whose hearing impairment negatively affects their learning is likely to withdraw further into themselves throughout their education, which has a knock-on effect throughout the rest of their life. The frustration of being unable to express themselves and communicate both inwardly and outwardly is highly damaging and can impact future employment and their relationships with both others and themselves.
Everyday frustrations in the classroom are not as simple as an absence of individual attention from the teacher. A child with a hearing impairment does not necessarily require constant additional help but rather a mindful and sensitive approach to teaching the whole class – not facing the whiteboard to speak, minimising background noise and using visual aids as much as possible.
It’s vital that children with hearing impairments are given the right support from as early a stage as possible. If you have a child with a hearing impairment in your class, teaching in a way that fully supports them may seem a daunting prospect, but there is plenty of support and many ideas available.
A radio aid is a microphone worn by the teacher that connects to a hearing aid, and can also be passed to other pupils during activities such as group reading. This will help the child to feel part of the class and ensure that they don’t miss any important information.
For schools that have the budget to employ one, a communication support worker or learning support assistant can provide hugely valuable help. Whether in the classroom all or some of the time, they can ensure the child is supported while you are able to give proportionate attention to other pupils.
Make sure that you don’t turn away from the class while talking and ensure that the child has understood every task or instruction (and they aren’t automatically looking to copy others after you have spoken). You can also sit the child right at the front of the class to give them the best possible chance of learning as hearing technologies only have an optimal range of one to three metres.
Having an open line of communication with the child’s parents will help to ensure that the child has consistent support both at school and home. Meeting with the parents face-to-face will enable you both to discuss any concerns you may have and track the child’s progress. Often the child may be confiding in the parents about issues that they are struggling with which they are too embarrassed to bring up in the classroom.
If the child has to take off their hearing aid at any point during the day (for example during a sports lesson) you can allocate them a ‘hearing buddy’ (perhaps their closest friend) who can help to repeat any information that the child may have missed.
Although being bullied can happen to any child, children who are considered different in some way can be targeted by bullies. This can be because the hearing-impaired child’s teaching arrangements are different, because they look different due to wearing a hearing aid, or because they are less able to pick up on social cues from their peers. The child could also find it harder to make friends and have a reduced ability to stand up for themselves. Childline has lots of advice and support available for children who are deaf or hard of hearing in their ‘Deaf Zone’ which you can refer children to who are old enough to use the website.
There are also ways in which a teacher can prevent bullying:
Raising awareness in the school — empathy and kindness can be taught. For example celebrating Deaf Awareness Week at school will open up discussions about the challenges faced by hard of hearing children and increase understanding. Your class could hold a school assembly in mime to the rest of the school. Your students could also put themselves in the child with hearing impairments shoes by learning to sign their names or by taking part in a sponsored silence.
Foster a sense of community in the classroom — in this way, other students will watch out for bullying and make a stand against it. You could have class morning meetings where students are encouraged to share their experiences and you can establish any class rules together including anti-bullying ideas.
Be aware of ‘gateway behaviours’ and nip them in the bud — things like eye rolling and ignoring, cruel laughter, excluding or staring can signal bullying or lead to escalated bullying. The child laughing cruelly may not realise the deep and lasting psychological impact they could be having on the child they are laughing at (especially if the child who is being bullied is pretending to laugh back) so class discussion, rather than focusing on one child’s behaviour, can be helpful.
Makaton is a simplified form of sign language, incorporating symbols and gestures, and is normally used with children with additional needs.
Makaton is usually taught at Nursery, Reception and Year 1 level. The actions are fun so that it helps shy children as well as those with special educational needs. Children who have trouble communicating can often be moody, quick to anger or simply retreat into themselves, so Makaton allows them to better communicate and relieves any stress they may be feeling. Given the importance of ensuring that deaf children have access to a rich language environment, Makaton should not be seen as an alternative or substitute for British Sign Language (BSL) or Sign Supported English.
NHS hearing loss — https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hearing-loss/symptoms/
British Sign website — https://www.british-sign.co.uk/
The Makaton Charity — https://www.makaton.org/
National Deaf Children’s Society — https://www.ndcs.org.uk/
If you would like a new role teaching in a SEND setting on a permanent, long-term, or short-term basis, full or part-time, our expert SEND team will be able to find the perfect role for you at one of our wonderful partner schools. You can register with the SEND team here.
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