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Addressing Hearing Issues’ Impact On The Learning Curve In School

Addressing Hearing Issues' Impact On The Learning Curve In School

We all know that a disability such as a hearing impairment is not an automatic strike against a child’s ability to learn. They are just as capable, intelligent, hard working and dedicated as any student that walks through the doors of a classroom, with their own unique talents and strengths that set them apart from their peers.

However, as a deaf student or a student who has a significant hearing impairment, they will face challenges. There are many that they face on a day to day basis and only by acknowledging them can they be addressed and corrected. By looking at and removing these barriers, we can give our students the direct attention they need to be successful in classrooms, whether they are specialized or general population.

But first, let’s see what studies have to say about current learning environments and the hearing impaired.

Sound and The Impact Of Acoustics In Localized Environments

An interesting study was done on the acoustic qualities of classrooms, including background noise, distance of sound travel, interaction, and other factors in classrooms across the country. It was found that bad acoustics have a profound impact in the learning abilities of students, and that means all students, both average of hearing and hearing impaired.

This study is very significant. It shows us that something as simple as the quality of acoustics in a room can negatively influence children en mass. A child with hearing impairment is set at an increased disadvantage, making it harder for them to learn than their peers who may also be facing audiogenic  obstacles.

Another study verifies this fact. Due to the challenge of following the material, lessons, and communication with their teachers and peers, many students who have trouble hearing fall below the academic average. These are the difficulties that must be dealt with to make the classroom a learning friendly environment for students with hearing loss.

Distracting or Disorienting Sounds

When a child has partial hearing loss they can hear some of the sounds around them. In a classroom environment, those sounds can become jumbled, disorienting, or distracting for the student. For example: there may be a lawnmower running outside in the field, an air conditioner in the school, and the low murmur of students working on a group project. This could make it difficult for the child to concentrate, as all these sounds combine to make a droning noise.

Noise Interference

Another common hearing problem comes from noise interference in cochlear implants or hearing aids. Fluorescent lighting, appliances, and some other electronics can cause a high pitched squeal or static in the ear. It is all created by the implant or aid picking up on certain frequencies and projecting them back to the wearer. This can be as mild as an annoyance, or as severe as causing pain for the student.

Environmental Learning Deficits

Have you ever heard a child say something so outlandishly adult that it makes you laugh? Maybe they comment on a political candidate, or they say some complex bit of legal jargon you would here in a police procedural. This is proof that children soak up information all the time from their environment, whether from parents, peers, television, or snatches of conversation from complete strangers. Deaf or hearing impaired students miss out on these types of learning experiences, and so many concepts and language ideas have to be compensated for during their time in school to make up for this experiential gap.

Lack of Individualized Attention

It has been a serious problem for quite some time: teachers lack the time, energy, resources and support to provide individualized attention for every one of their students. This issue is especially serious for teachers in public schools, where lack of funding is becoming an epidemic. For hearing impaired students this presents a huge obstacle to overcome. They are expected to keep up with regular classrooms, but they are not on the same level because of the lack of environmental learning opportunities, and how hard it is to communicate without being able to hear everything being said. The alternative is to go into special classrooms that have more teacher-student interaction face time. But those classes come with their own struggles…

Inappropriate Class Placement

Special classes for disabled students exist in every school. However, they are not all built for the same disabilities, and most cater to students who have trouble learning in a traditional environment due to conditions such as Down Syndrome, Autism, or severe behavioral issues. While this is a great program to help those kids succeed, hearing impaired or deaf students have different challenges, and so these classroom placements are often not appropriate, relevant or helpful for them. In some cases they may also begin to feel resentful of the placement.

Social Impairment

Both traditional and specialized classrooms make it difficult to socialize kids who have hearing impairments. They may feel isolated or left out in games and activities. They may struggle to play certain games popular with the class, or find it impossible to work in a group without help to translate or bridge the communication gap. Many parents choose schools for the deaf or hearing impaired to overcome this particular point, so they can interact with other children facing the same problems. But that isn’t always possible, and so special care has to be given to make sure they have ample opportunity to interact with peers regardless of hearing ability.

Overcoming These Hurdles

Unfortunately these are not easy hurdles to clear. They may even seem impossible with an underfunded education system that can’t provide the changes needed to make a learning environment more friendly to the hearing impaired.

That is why parents should work closely with teachers to make changes needed on an individual basis, to assist the student through the school year to do their very best. It may require extra work and intervention of everyone’s part, but with communication and effort it can be done.

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