School is starting. As we think about what services we need to provide the children, we need to remember that one of the services that we need to provide children with are support services. Children with hearing loss who are mainstreamed are often the only child with hearing loss in their class, and often the only one in their school.
We all need support from peers. For a child with hearing loss, peers means other children with hearing loss.
Organizing Support Groups
We need to figure out ways to provide support to children with hearing loss in the schools.
I think support is best done in groups. In the schools I have worked in we have tried to bring children together from their different schools to one central location for a meeting. I try and organize these about once a month. This can be organized for a pizza lunch or for breakfast. After school is difficult because it interferes with after school activities. It is important that we are sure that everyone in the group can understand all of the discussion. It is helpful to have someone type the discussion and have it on a screen so that everyone can read it. It is also important that we make it clear that everyone that what is said in the room, and that we accept what everyone says without being critical.
What to do in a Support Group
I start off by asking everyone to tell something about themselves – their name, grade, degree of hearing loss, and what kind of hearing technology they use. And something they want people to know about them. I ask people to tell something funny thing that happened to them related to their hearing loss. They talked about using their FM to overhear conversations not meant for them or lipreading things other people were saying.
I often ask that everyone write down some things friends and family knew about them. After they write their lists, everyone is asked to talk about their lists. I find it interesting that some list hearing loss in describing themselves and others do not. Some kids put hearing loss first, others listed in far down on the list and some do not include it at all. It is an interesting discussion. I am impressed that some know about their hearing loss and others do not. (I guess we are not doing such a good job in counseling about test results).
Selecting Topics to Discuss
We go around in a circle and ask each person to discuss problems related to having a hearing loss. Just listing the problems. Then we go around in the circle again and each person makes suggestions to solve the problems listed. Everyone makes suggestions. If there children do not come up with topics to discuss we can put questions on index cards and had kids pick questions. Then we went around the group and each person got a chance to answer.. A few if the questions we used are these:
When is it hard to hear? What can you do if you are having trouble hearing? What could the teacher do to make it easier? Can you ask your friends to help? What can your family do to help? Do people understand what hearing loss is?
Children Can Provide Better Support Than We Can as Adults.
I have had teens who did not want to wear their hearing aids. I can talk until I am blue in the face but other children will do a better job of helping peers understand why they need to hear. Peers can help others figure out how to talk about hearing loss with peers and how to solve problems communicating, and can help children develop the skills to advocate for themselves.
Keep Doing it
I have never run a support group where the kids in the group were not happy to have been there. They all loved participating. It confirms that support groups are valuable. Groups should be organized on a regular basis. As the kids in the group get to know each other they will be more supportive of each other. In my experience, this results in long term support. Enjoy.