It takes teamwork: mainstreaming kids with hearing loss
Since the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) in 1975, the number of children mainstreamed into public schools with hearing loss has increased dramatically. About 75 percent of children with hearing loss are now mainstreamed into public schools, and about half of those children spend the majority of the day in a “hearing” classroom.
When it comes to meeting the educational needs of a child who is deaf or has hearing loss, there are many different professionals who play a part in their success. These professionals work in collaboration with each other in the best interests of the child to facilitate a good outcome. It is important to know the roles of the professionals who are part of your child’s team so you know what to expect from each party involved. The more you know about the roles, the more comfortable you will be interacting with staff and, most importantly, being an effective advocate for your child.
A multidisciplinary team
Certified educational interpreter (CEI): Though responsibilities can vary, the CEI is generally responsible for ensuring communication access at school. A certified educational interpreter is responsible for sitting with the student during class and translating the teacher’s spoken English into signed communication if needed. Ideally, the educational interpreter can sign in both English and American Sign Language (ASL). ASL is a visual language in which hand shape, palm orientation, placement and movement of the hands, as well as facial expressions and body movements replace vocal language. Although the interpreter is a valuable part of the educational team, the exact role of the CEI differs based on each child's individual needs according to the Individualized Education Program (IEP). Responsibilities include:
- attending IEP meetings.
- sharing observations about how well the student understands the interpreted classroom or any other issues related to interpreting.
- providing communication access not only in the classroom but across a variety of educational settings including recess and extra-curricular activities.
Teacher of the deaf: Another staff member who might play a role in your child’s education is a teacher of the deaf. Also known as an itinerant teacher or hearing support teacher, this person plays a vital role in facilitating the personal, social and intellectual development of the student by helping with language acquisition, communication and advocacy skills. Part teacher, part counselor, they work with the student, staff and administration and communicate with parents regarding the child’s educational progress. They also help students with amplification needs (e.g. making sure an FM system is working properly). Other responsibilities include:
- meeting on a regular basis with the student to provide support.
- assisting in the development of the IEP.
- working within the IEP to help develop an educational plan.
- acting as liaison to other school personnel.
- monitoring personal hearing instruments or other hearing technology to ensure they are in working order.
- troubleshooting to diagnose and fix any basic problems with hearing equipment.
- contacting the school-based audiologist for more complex equipment problems or need for repair.
Educational audiologist: Educational audiologists have a broader role to manage school-based hearing screening programs and promote healthy hearing, but when it comes to the individual student with hearing loss, their role becomes more focused. They communicate with the teacher of the deaf in order to make sure all personal listening devices and audiological equipment are calibrated and in working order, and they make recommendations based on the results of hearing evaluations. Other duties include:
- collecting and reviewing outside audiological evaluations for students with hearing loss.
- performing comprehensive hearing evaluations, interpreting results and making educational recommendations based on those results.
- assessing classroom acoustics and making recommendations to improve the listening environment including hearing assistive technology.
- managing and making recommendations for personal hearing devices.
- participating in IEP meetings.
Speech-language pathologist (SLP): Also known as a speech therapist, a speech-language pathologist works closely with the school audiologist to gain insight into how a student is managing with regard to their hearing devices (e.g. cochlear implants). In the event that the school does not have an educational audiologist, the SLP becomes the lead staff member to work with children who have cochlear implants and works with the child’s clinical audiologist to understand how the equipment is affecting language development. Speech language pathologists also develop communication and linguistic goals for each student so they can achieve a level of verbal communication on par with their hearing peers. Other duties include:
- correcting, improving and preventing communication disorders.
- assessing the student’s communication skills.
- evaluating the results of comprehensive assessments.
- offering input into the development of the IEP.
- collaborating with teachers and other staff.
- integrating communication goals with social and academic goal.
Case manager: Often the primary contact for parents, it is the responsibility of the case manager to oversee all aspects of the child’s mainstreamed education. They are responsible for seeing the child’s IEP is followed and that every effort is made to help the child achieve their goals. Other responsibilities of the case manager include:
- facilitating placement in the appropriate grade and classroom.
- training classroom staff in matters of hearing loss including hearing assistive equipment.
- scheduling team meetings.
- working with parents.
- reporting student’s progress.
- assuring that all materials and services are in place for the student.
- communicating all decisions to parents and team members.
- communicating any safety and welfare needs of the student to team members.
What if your child has trouble hearing?
If you suspect your child has hearing loss, the first thing to do is see a hearing professional for an evaluation. And remember: even though the diagnosis of a hearing loss may be worrisome or overwhelming, there are more support systems and resources available to your family now than ever before. The educational resources available for children with hearing problems have come a long way since 1975, and becoming familiar with the role each party plays can give your child the best chance to reach his full potential and have a bright future.