Supporting Peers in the Classroom


Audra Stewart, DO, MPH, Texas H&V

 As I gear up for another school year with my daughter, Camille, I have a few butterflies in my stomach. The typical questions flutter: Will she make friends? Will they tease her about the “things” on her ears/head? Will my beautiful daughter lose some of her self confidence due to ignorant comments? 

I am fully aware I cannot control every situation but I CAN educate her peers about her hearing loss, equipment she uses, communication style and her communication needs. (She has a severe loss, uses a hearing aid and a CI, and is fairly auditory/oral with some SEE as a support.) I began last year when she started Kindergarten. Prior to the first day of school, I asked her teacher if I could meet with the class for 30 minutes or so. She responded positively so we arranged a time during the first week of class. We also included her auditory teacher in the process who provided me with an anatomical model of the ear.

Demystification Education

I had five “demystifying” objectives in mind. I would help them understand that people are born with different gifts and challenges. Second, I would help them understand HOW the ear works. Next we would address WHY Camille needs her equipment and HOW it works.  I would allow some firsthand experience of her hearing. Lastly, I would give them some pointers on how to effectively communicate with her.

When I met with them, the class was so positive! The kids paid close attention and asked good questions. They were excited to inspect her equipment and listen to it. I have to admit, I played Camille up as a “Bionic Woman.” I told them she could read lips from across the room so they had better be careful about telling secrets.  

The real gratification came a few weeks later at a classmate’s birthday party. The birthday girl’s mom told me how her daughter came home and described my discussion with the class. The girl said “Mom, we are all just made differently. People have different gifts that make them unique,” in that definitive “no big deal” tone making it clear that her mom may not be clued in to this little factoid. I love that the most important point I hoped to make came across to at least this one child.  

Teaching Classmates about Hearing/Hearing Loss:

Pointers for talking to your child’s class:

  • Consider asking your child’s deaf educator/special education teacher to help you with the material.
  • Make sure it is age appropriate. Use your child as gauge as to what they would understand.
  • Use the comparison of people wearing glasses to help them see better with amplification equipment for those that are hard of hearing.  At later ages, this can be explained more as hearing aids don’t correct hearing in the same way that glasses can correct for near or farsightedness.
  • Do an internet search about sound waves and hearing. Use it as a guide to explain how sound “travels” to the brain. No need to be too complex.
  • Allow the children to experience limited hearing by providing ear plugs or use their fingers to “plug” their ears then talk softly to them. Say a nursery rhyme or a poem. Ask them about what they heard.  Older children can use the “unfair spelling test” found online to simulate hearing loss.
  • If you have a stethoset to listen to hearing aids, attach it to a spare hearing aid and allow the kids to listen. Point out to them that everything is amplified including footsteps, air conditioners, fans, filters for aquarium tanks, etc.
  • Provide some pointers on the best way to talk with your child. In my case, we discussed getting her attention in a few ways, avoiding shouting, avoiding whispering, allowing him/her to see your face when you talk, try to take turns talking, talking normally without exaggerating mouth movements, etc. It’s easy to have a list here but stick with the top three items that you think would help your child the most.
  • Play up your child’s strengths and activities (sports, music, dance, etc). All kids want to make friends and you may say something that sparks an interest for them to become friends with your child.

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