COUNSELING GROUPS FOR KIDS

As I discussed in last week’s post, audiologists need to work more towards helping kids talk about feelings about living with a hearing loss. Some discussion can take place during audiological evaluations. When we discuss test results with kids we can watch kids’ faces and see if they are comfortable. As we give them the opportunity to ask questions we can see their faces and know if they have concerns. Giving them the opportunity to discuss concerns certainly helps.

Groups
Meeting in groups really helps. Just like all other support groups, people can get support from family and friends, but there is a different kind of support we get from people in the same situation we are in. I can tell a kid how to respond to another kid who teases him about his hearing loss, but my credibility is limited. Another kid expressing sympathy and making suggestions has much better credibility. While academically, kids do better in a mainstream setting, lack of contact with other children with hearing loss is definitely a negative.

Organizing groups
Large school programs may have several kids with hearing loss in the district. The school audiologist, teacher of children with hearing loss, speech-language pathologist or auditory therapist will be able to arrange for a group to meet periodically. Kids within a 2-3 year age range can be grouped together.

Audiology centers in hospitals or clinics can arrange for groups in several ways. A pizza party, a trip to the circus, or a topic-related group such as learning to connect phones, iPods, etc. to your hearing aids, will draw kids in. The Children’s Hearing Institute runs a music group in which kids get the opportunity to learn the words to popular songs (something that lots of kids with normal hearing could probably benefit from). Then they have a pizza party and get to chat.

Organizations like AGBell Association or Hands and Voices have local chapters where kids can meet other kids and develop support and friendships.

Groups do not need to meet often. If they meet a couple of times a year, kids can make contact and will be able to develop friendships as needed.

Topics to cover in groups
Several topics need to be covered when working with teens and tweens. Many of these topics have been covered with parents during early stages of diagnosis and remediation. As kids get older, we need to explain these things to them. Research indicates that teaching is most successful when learners are actively engaged in their own learning by problem solving, role playing, or discussing the topics to be learned. Lecturing is less successful. The leader can suggest topics for the group to discuss, but the group should choose what they wish to focus on.

Getting started
A good way to start is to have each member either respond out loud or, if they prefer, write their response to “Because I have a hearing loss…..” Answers would be written on the board and all could discuss. For example, “Because I have a hearing loss I feel left out all the time.” The leader may lead a discussion about what it feels like to be left out and why this might be happening. Other group members can make suggestions about how to handle the situation. As a group they would determine which topics to discuss.

Topics for for groups
Topics to offer the group can include understanding hearing loss, understanding technology, techniques for improving communication, (e.g., What do you do when you are having trouble hearing?). When the group is comfortable with each other it might be good to discuss feeling about living with hearing loss and asking each group member to write (or dictate) their thoughts. Once this topic opens up you can discuss issues like dealing with family members and friends when problems develop.

Ida Institute
The Ida Institute is developing some very good tools for working with people with hearing loss. One of their tools (MY WORLD) is designed to help kids express concerns about living with hearing loss. It is an excellent way to get started talking with kids. The tool consists of three different environments: a classroom, a home, and an outdoors area. The child can place movable figures and everyday objects in the various environments to describe communication successes and challenges in every day life. By playing with the tool components, the child can externalize the hearing loss and discuss how they communicate with others in a concrete and non-threatening way. The tool can help you uncover information about the child’s communication patterns, reinforce positive patterns and formulate a strategy for coping with every day challenges.
Readings
If you want more reading on this topic try one of the following:
1. English, Kris (2008) Educating and Counseling Children and Teens with Hearing Loss in Madell, J.R. and Flexer, C, Pediatric Audiology: Diagnosis, Technology, and Management, Thieme, NY.

2. Elkayam and English (2003) Counseling adolescents with hearing loss with the use of self-assessment/significant other questionnaires. Journal of the American Academy of Audiology, 14, 485-499.

3. McDonald, Eugene (1962) Understand Those Feelings, Stanwix House, Inc.

4. Martilla and Mills, (2002) Knowledge is Power – KIP, Educational Audiology Association www.edaud.org.

5. Luterman, David (2008) Counseling persons with communication disorders and their families (5th ed) Austin, Pro-Ed.

About Jane Madell

Jane Madell has a consulting practice in pediatric audiology. She is an audiologist, speech-language pathologist, and LSLS auditory verbal therapist, with a BA from Emerson College and an MA and PhD from the University of Wisconsin. Her 45+ years experience ranges from Deaf Nursery programs to positions at the League for the Hard of Hearing (Director), Long Island College Hospital, Downstate Medical Center, Beth Israel Medical Center/New York Eye and Ear Infirmary as director of the Hearing and Learning Center and Cochlear Implant Center. Jane has taught at the University of Tennessee, Columbia University, Downstate Medical School, and Albert Einstein Medical School, published 5 books, and written numerous books chapters and journal articles, and is a well known international lecturer.