We all know the advantages of mainstreaming kids with hearing loss and other disabilities. Exposure to typical children and typical academic expectations offers children with hearing loss the opportunity to develop better language, literacy and academic skills. Kids who are mainstreamed are not inherently smarter than kids attending signing programs in schools for the deaf but their parents have made different choices. The difference is not the kids. The difference is the choice. On average, kids who attend mainstream schools have significantly higher reading levels then kids who are primarily signers. The average reading level of children who sign only is 3rd to 4th grade at high school graduation. That significantly limits life choices. Even if specific children who sign have excellent reading skills, the inability to communicate easily with the 99% of the population who do not sign makes life choices difficult. Not many employers are able to provide a full time sign interpreter to allow even a fully skilled signer to do his job well.
Building social possibilities
Kids in schools for the deaf or classes for the deaf in public schools have a set of kids who understand their mode of communication and who face the world with the same issues. That is a huge advantage. They still have the disadvantage of communicating with the majority of the world who do not sign so their social circle is limited.
Many kids in mainstream programs have good friends who are hearing. But not all. Some mainstream kids feel isolated and complain that they do not get invited to parties or other after school activities. Even if they have friends, their hearing friends really do not understand the issues of living with a hearing loss. Families, schools, and support organizations for families with hearing loss such as local AGBell organizations, and the CARE project need to work or providing social support.
- Therapists who work with preschool children should arrange groups occasionally and should encourage families to schedule social time with other kids in the group
- Parents should follow up and continue to schedule social visits with other kids with hearing loss.
- Schools should arrange for social skills/support groups for kids with hearing loss in their school district. Schedule a lunch meeting once a month with pizza where kids will get to meet each other and visit. They can discuss concerns and provide support.
- Speech-language pathologists and auditory-verbal therapists can arrange occasional group activities so kids have the opportunity to meet others. Once the contacts have been made, families can follow-up to encourage friendships.
- Attend conferences where there are other families and kids with hearing loss such as the AGBell conferences or the Sturbridge conferences.
- As kids get older, consider letting them join online chats like Facebook where they can keep in touch with other kids with hearing loss who they have met in different ways.
PLEASE SHARE MORE SUGGESTIONS WITH US
I know these activities can work. I know a group of young adults with hearing loss, now in their 30s, who met in a therapy group as young children. They have continued to be friends. I love seeing their group activities on Facebook. One of my favorites is a group photo from the wedding of one of the group. I like the way they support each other, tell each other when they need to modify behavior, and help as needed.
Social skills come from practice
Language is a significant factor in social skills but practice is also critical. Everyone is responsible for assuring that all kids have good social skills and friends. We all need friends who are like us. We choose friends who have the same politics we do, the same interests in sports, music etc. Kids with hearing loss benefit from having ongoing contact with other kids with hearing loss. Just find a way to make it work.