Ten Tips for Working with Students with Hearing Loss

May 29, 2019
7 min read
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Students with hearing loss must navigate challenges unique to their experience. Make sure you're able to adjust your techniques to their needs.

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Due to the all-encompassing nature of hearing impairment, treating the needs of individuals with hearing loss can seem daunting. While you’re tasked with addressing their speech and language needs, you will also need to navigate challenges linked to their unique life experiences. Whether you are working with students with hearing loss for the first time ever, or you’re jumping back in, here are 10 tips to help you get the most out of your sessions.

1. Keep in Touch with Your Audiology Basics

Whether you’re fresh out of grad school or you’ve been in the field for a few years, you’ll eventually have a student with hearing loss on your caseload. Keep those audiology basics in the back of your mind. Make sure to keep handouts of the speech banana and the Ling Six Sound Test handy—you may need them for assessment and troubleshooting purposes.

2. Check the Tech

Speaking of troubleshooting, make sure to check devices at the start of each session! Whether your student is utilizing hearing aids, an FM, cochlear implants, or a combination of devices, make sure everything is in working order. Listen for whistling that may signal that a hearing aid needs to be readjusted. Make sure the FM system is turned on, all of your students are looped into the same frequency, and that the FM is adjusted so that it won’t hit anything (i.e. tables, chairs, or computer screens).

3. An Interpreter is a Communication Tool

Working with students who are hard of hearing is a unique experience because you may have a third party with you during your therapy sessions — an interpreter. If this is the case, remember to always face your students when you speak to them. Our natural inclination is to face the person who is speaking, so it can seem unnatural to “ignore” him or her. Just remember that during sessions interpreters are communication tools to converse with students, not communication partners.

4. Get Used to Silence

Silence is golden, but it can feel uncomfortable. Working with students who have hearing loss guarantees that silence will play a part in your sessions. Silence may be needed if you’re doing tech checks, waiting for signs to be interpreted, or allowing for processing time when you ask your students a question.

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If you feel yourself having a hard time resisting the urge to fill the silence, focus on your students’ nonverbal signals (i.e. facial expressions, gestures, posture). Even if they aren’t speaking, their nonverbals are likely speaking volumes about whether they are comprehending what you’re asking of them.

5. Be Flexible

With your students’ goals in mind, you build an activity that will elicit opportunities for practice. You bring the materials needed for a great activity and excitedly show them to your students. At some point in your presentation, you are met with looks of confusion. I experienced this when I introduced a craft that utilized tissue paper.

My students had no idea what tissue paper was. My plan to target sequencing temporarily took a backseat in favor of teaching them about the supplies needed for the activity. What your students are not familiar with may surprise you. Don’t be afraid to backtrack!

6. Embrace Everyday Activities

Speaking of unfamiliarity, students with hearing loss have varying levels of experience with language learning opportunities we may take for granted. When planning sessions, make sure to build in opportunities for incidental learning. Start out sessions by having them talk about their weekends, a class trip, or a family celebration. Use everyday activities to target your goals.

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For example, my students love making food. Throughout the year, I have expanded the purpose of this activity from sequencing the steps of the recipe to using categorization skills to look for ingredients on a map of the grocery store. We can also talk about quantities when adding up the prices of the items we need for a recipe.

7. Learn Some Signs

Learning some basic signs can lead to some major benefits for you as well as your students. Even if you’re working with an interpreter during your therapy sessions, I suggest learning some basic back-and-forth chit chat in sign language (i.e. How are you? How was your day?). Your students will be more willing to participate in sessions because you’re showing them that their language matters!

You can even ask them about different signs and have them teach you. Aside from building rapport, seeing you put effort into learning some of a new language can help to demonstrate that gaining new skills takes persistence and practice. Also, it can remind you to keep your expectations at an attainable distance (i.e. How many signs could you learn and retain from one session to the next?).

8. Be Ready to Offer Comfort

Having a hearing loss can be isolating. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), the prevalence of congenital hearing loss is 2-3 children per 1,000 live births. Of those children, 90% are born to hearing parents (NICID, 2016). Many students may come to you with an acute awareness they must face challenges their peers do not.

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I have been on the receiving end of comments like, “I wish I could hear” and “School is so hard” more than once. There may be days when you must put your therapeutic plans aside and hear them out. Let them voice their frustrations but remind them of their unique talents.

9. Target Self-Advocacy

Living in a hearing world will be a constant challenge for this population. Of all the skills we can teach as practitioners, we must not forget to target self-advocacy. You can target this skill in a variety of ways. Use the art of sabotage when making crafts or working on recipes. If your students are going on a field trip, talk about what they will need to say to or ask of people they may encounter.

Talk about what they would do if they did not have access to an interpreter. You might even want to build time into sessions when the interpreter leaves early or arrives a few minutes late. These opportunities will expose them to what life will be like after school ends and reinforce the importance of having a variety of communication strategies at the ready.

10. Trust Yourself

Hearing loss impacts a wide array of critical skills from the ability to distinguish the difference between vowel sounds to the ability to participate in a back-and-forth-conversation with others. The goal possibilities can seem endless. If you’re anything like me, you’ll feel like a deer in the headlights at times. When this happens, take a deep breath. You have the skills you need to get your feet under you. Look through previous evaluations and progress reports, observe them in class, interview their teachers, and lean on your colleagues for support. It may not seem like it at first, but you’ll be surprised by how much you do know.

Sources

  1. Advanced Bionics. Tools for Schools: The Ling Six Sound Check. [PDF File]. Retrieved March 3, 2019, from https://advancedbionics.com/content/dam/advancedbionics/Documents/Global/en_ce/ab-ling-six-sound-check.pdf
  2. John Tracy Clinic. (2012). Audiogram of Familiar Sounds. [PDF File]. Retrieved March 3, 2019, from https://www.jtc.org/wpcontent/uploads/2015/11/Audiogram_What_Does_Child_Hear.pdf
  3. NIDCD. (2016). Quick Statistics About Hearing. [online] Available at: https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/statistics/quick-statistics-hearing [Accessed 5 Mar. 2019].
About Kate Menzies

Kate Menzies is a speech-language pathologist working in a public school district outside of Austin, Texas. She graduated from Texas State University with a special area of focus in autism spectrum disorders. She has worked with students from ages 3 to 22, but she has a passion for working with upper elementary, middle school, and 18+ students. She has a special interest in working with students with autism spectrum disorders, augmentative and alternative communication needs, as well as hearing loss.