Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Need to Feel Connected

This article was recently published in the Kentucky School for the Deaf's Statewide Family Support Center Newsletter spring 2014 issue.  It is geared towards parents of children who are deaf or hard of hearing but is applicable to professionals as well.
           In your child's IEP, under the Special Factors section, we are required by law to describe all opportunities that children with hearing loss have to directly communicate with peers and adults in their language or communication mode.  Let's dissect what this actually means.  Direct communication means face to face communication with peers or adults in whatever language the child uses WITHOUT the use of an interpreter or other facilitator.  Peers refer to children with normal hearing AND children with a hearing loss.  Adults refer to any person a child may encounter at school, both hearing AND deaf or hard of hearing.  Therefore, IDEA mandates that students who have a hearing loss be given opportunities throughout the school year to chat with hearing, deaf, and hard of hearing children and adults without the use of an interpreter in whatever communication mode that child uses.  What this means is that a child who is oral must be allowed opportunities to talk verbally with other kids and adults (who have and do not have hearing losses).  A child who signs must have chances to chat in sign with other DHH and hearing children and adults who sign.  IDEA does not, however, define how often this is to happen. 
            Why would IDEA require these direct communication opportunities?  In my opinion, there are two reasons why.  First, in order to be competent communicators, all children - hearing, deaf, and hard of hearing - must have many varied occasions to interact.  Language develops in all children by watching adults converse, by interacting with adults, and by chatting with other children.  IDEA recognizes that DHH children must have these varied opportunities throughout their school day and year in order to become competent language users. 
            I also believe that this IDEA requirement was put into place for the social and emotional well-being of children with hearing loss.  Humans are social creatures; we thrive on the relationships we develop.  Every person seeks out people they relate to, have similar interests with, use the same language as.  This is true for DHH children.  They need to connect with other DHH children.  Have you ever gone to the store and your child sees a person wearing hearing aids and gets excited?  Have you ever been at a restaurant where a deaf couple are there eating and your child can't keep his or her eyes off of them because they are signing like he does?  Children with hearing loss have an innate need to find other children or adults who also have hearing losses.  Their self image flourishes when they know they are not the only person in the world who cannot hear.  This is especially true for those children who may be the only child with a hearing loss in their school or district.
            For many years, teachers across Kentucky have planned events specifically for DHH children as a way for students to connect with similar peers.  Events such as Hands Alive, Regional Spelling Bees, Xtreme Xperience, HEAR US, and Kids Like Me, are a few examples of how teachers and parents are working together to give students chances to develop relationships with other DHH children.  These events have lasting impacts on children, parents and teachers.  Here are their words.
·       A child: "I like going to these events because I don't feel different.  I'm the only kid in my school that wears hearing aids.  I wish there were more."
·       A child enters a DHH event for the first time and turns to his teacher: "There are other kids with hearing aids like me."
·       A teacher: "This event has helped my student be less shy about his hearing loss."
·       A teacher: "Events help the DHH students build their self-esteem and confidence to know there are other people out there like them and therefore they feel better about themselves."
·       A parent after his second experience with his son at a DHH event: "He is young and may not appreciate this, but I saw the older kids looking after him, practicing with each other, and supporting each other.  These events will be a good influence on him."
·       A parent: "When I talk to the deaf high school students and learn about all they are doing, I have much hope for my child."
            Schools spend so much time focusing on academic achievement.  However, we MUST do what we can to focus on the whole child.  Children who are deaf and hard of hearing need us to make sure we do whatever we can to allow their language, self image, and emotional well-being to flourish.