As we know, most children with hearing loss find themselves in a classroom with no other children with hearing loss. They may pass other kids with hearing loss when they go to the audiologist, but they may not have many friends with hearing loss. While mainstream learning gives these kids amazing opportunities to be exposed to typical language, build literacy and academic skills, we need to be sure they are also building social skills.
We need to find ways to run support groups for children who are in mainstream settings. They need contact with other kids who have the same issues they do.
If a child is having trouble hearing in the classroom, and they feel like they are the only person who is having problems, they are likely to feel frustrated and alone, and maybe, not smart. We know that is not the situation. Just because you are not hearing doesn’t mean you are not smart – How do we help kids understand this?
Basics of Support Groups
It would be great if schools could organize support groups. Once a month have pizza party at lunch time and have all the kids in the district come. If the school district can’t do this, the audiology clinic needs to organize this.
Find a way to get everyone together. It might be difficult for an audiology center to get kids to come for a pizza party but maybe not. Kids really want to meet other kids with hearing loss. Another possibility is a music party. We found that one great. It is not easy to hear the words of must popular songs. There is a lot of screaming and it is not easy to hear, even with normal hearing. We had a staff member who was interested in music and was willing to write down the words to popular songs. She ran a group in which kids got the words to the popular songs of the time and then sat around listening and singing. We served pizza and there was plenty of time for guided conversation. It was a very popular group.
In my experience, groups should be organized by communication mode. Kids in different communication modes have different issues. An age spread of 4-5 years usually is fine.
I begin each group by telling everyone that what happens in this room stays in this room. Everyone also agrees that we will be accepting of people’s views. No bullying criticism. One person talks at a time. No interrupting. We go around in a circle. Anyone who doesn’t want to talk does not have to.
I always have a scribe so that kids who are having trouble hearing can read what is happening.
How I start
I start by having each child tell their name, grade, and type of technology. I ask them to tell use the type of technology so that they start feeling a little better about having to use technology. Let’s make it more normal.
Next I ask them to tell us something funny about having a hearing loss. It usually has something to do with the teacher forgetting to turn off the FM when she goes to the bathroom.
Then we get down to business. We go around in a circle and each child lists the problems they are experiencing. No solutions. We just talk about the problems. After everyone has suggested what their problems are, we start going around again and work on solutions to the problems listed. I ask the kids to suggest solutions. I only step in occasionally, if there is a problem that I feel I can especially help with. For example, one girl complained that she when she went to a sleepover and the lights went out, she could not follow what was happening. After the kids made their suggestions, I suggested that she consider bringing a flashlight for each girl sleeping over and when the lights went out ask each girl to turn on their light when they were talking.
Another child complained that after she said “what” 3 or 4 times people said “never mind”. None of the children understood that their hearing loss placed a burden on others. They did not realize that others had to make accommodations for them. It led to a very interesting discussion.
The most exciting thing to me, was a twelve year old who was refusing to wear hearing aids because she didn’t want other kids to know that she had a hearing loss. The other kids got on to her, asked her how she thought she was going to manage in school without hearing aids. I said nothing. (I had obviously tried during audiology appointments.) She got it. No problems after that.
Running groups is difficult in a pandemic but it is possible. They need to be smaller – I would suggest not more than 4. But all the same activities can apply. It just requires that everyone be creative. During a time like this but parents and kids are ready for an activity so getting them to join should not be an issue.
Just do it!!
The value of running a support group cannot be over stated. It is a fabulous activity and one I love to do.
Please try and give these kids the support they need to be successful. In addition to building skills, it allows them to develop turn taking skills, and the ability to learn to listen to others. You can do it.