Hearing impairment in the UK is not uncommon. According to the charity, Action on Hearing Loss there are an estimated 11 million people with hearing impairment in the UK, and there are 50,000 children with hearing loss in the UK.
For any in a teaching or caring role in schools, this means that we will be encountering children with at least some degree of hearing impairment (some of which may be as yet undiagnosed) on a daily basis. Hearing impairment is a significant factor in equality of opportunity in the classroom. If a child cannot fully hear what is happening in the room, they may miss learning and social opportunities, and feel less involved in what is going on. This can be isolating and prevent the child from achieving and enjoying. Doing all we can to iron out such inequalities must surely be a priority.
British Sign Language, a visual language that uses hand shapes, facial expressions, gestures and body language, plays an important role in helping children to access what is on offer in their school. According to the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS), around 8% of deaf children in Britain use British Sign Language and around 22% will use some sign language to support their spoken language. For some, British Sign Language will be their preferred language.
Given the prevalence of hearing loss and the fact that around eight out of ten deaf children attend mainstream schools without specialist support, it really is vital to ensure that what happens in all classrooms is accessible to everyone who may be experiencing hearing loss. These ideas may help:
Know your children
Who is hearing impaired in your room? Do you know their preferred method for communication - speech, signing, or a combination of both? Do any others have as yet undiagnosed hearing loss? Do the seating arrangements in your room support the needs of any hearing impaired children in your school? Studies suggest that children using hearing technologies need to be no more than 3 metres away from you as their teacher.
Spot the signs of hearing loss
Temporary hearing loss is often caused by glue ear, possibly following recurring ear infections. This can clear up naturally as a child grows up, but in the meantime residual fluid may be causing the child temporary hearing loss. If a child seems bothered by their ears, or regularly pumps their ears with the heel of their hands, they may be suffering from blocked ears and/or hearing impairment. Some children may suffer if the acoustics in your room mean that background noise is preventing them from hearing clearly. It may be that children with hearing impairment become tired more quickly due to their increased effort, and there can be some associated social and emotional issues.
Get everyone signing
Consider ensuring that every child in the school learns British Sign Language. There are distinct advantages to all children learning sign language – according to the NDCS, it helps everyone to develop clear communication skills, and can also help all children to study deaf culture and to develop inclusive attitudes. Children using sign language often report appreciating when hearing children can sign. It can boost confidence levels and wellbeing in all children and guard against social isolation. You can find out more about British Sign Language courses here.
Check out the noise
Pay attention to noise levels and what the experience of hearing impaired children might be in your classroom under various circumstances. Is the noise climate in the room adding unnecessary stress for hearing impaired children?
Keep expectations high
It goes without saying that regardless of need, your expectations of all children should be as high as possible. This is possibly best achieved through ensuring that the curriculum is accessible for all and that children with hearing impairment are not socially isolated.
Consider where, and how you speak
Remember the importance of visual cues in communication and also pay attention to clarity. Speaking as clearly as possible, while facing the children you are teaching when you are speaking, will help those who are experiencing hearing loss to follow what is going on. Keep in mind, however, that speaking slowly or too loudly can make lip reading more difficult.
Check out the information and advice available from the NDCS, or call the charity’s helpline on 0808 800 8880. Your understanding of the general issues facing children with hearing impairment, and the specific issues faced by those children in your care, is a significant factor in helping all in your care to thrive, and the help and advice from organisations like NDCS will be invaluable.
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About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.