May 28, 2010

Teaching Deaf and HOH Students To Be Independent

My job, as an itinerant teacher for deaf and hard of hearing students, is to make sure I give my students the support they need. I come in to fix their hearing aids or amplification devices, provide a shoulder for them to cry on, scold them for not doing their work, cheer them on when they give a class presentation, tell the teacher once again that the student should not be sitting right next to the noisy air conditioner vent during class, and such.

But, what I find myself doing the most is really getting onto my students about advocating for themselves or being more responsible for themselves. I am not going to be there all of the time to hold their hands. They will have to learn how to take care of themselves. Part of it is also educating the parents and teachers about helping them become independent. My ultimate goal is for my students and their parents not to need me as much.

Eventually, it would be great if one of my students was able to say to his teacher, "Listen here buddy, my hearing aid is not working and yet again you have put me right next to the loud air conditioning vent. I am going to have to move to a better location in the class. Capisce?" OK, well maybe I don't want them to be that brazen. But there are several effective ways to self-advocate and this is what I try to work with them on. For example, I may suggest that the teacher and the student to come up with some visual cues and signs in the classroom (signs or cues for "I can't hear you" "My hearing aid is not working" "Repeat, please"). Then I taught this to the whole class so that she is not the only one using these signs and cues (some classes use the "bathroom" sign for "I need to go to the bathroom").

I cannot stand it when some of my students pity themselves, make up lies, or use excuses for not speaking up or taking care of the situation when they are more than capable of doing so. Now, I am sensitive to the ones who are new to this or who are painfully shy. But, they have got to learn how to take care of themselves. I do work with the parents on this. Reminding them that they are not babies, and that we can't use deafness as reason for why you are still helping them put on their hearing aids even though they are not in preschool anymore. I am sensitive to the parents. But, I am very honest too.

Another thing about encouraging independence, I do not want my students to feel as if they are entitled to getting help and benefits all of the time. I feel that because they are "special" we can tend to their needs a little too much instead of teaching them how to do it themselves. I cringe when I hear about adults receiving certain benefits they don't need because they feel entitled to them because of their deafness.

One thing I do with my older students when I am called for some non-issue that they could have dealt with themselves is ask them before going back in the class, "Do you want me to hold your little hand and help you get back to your desk?" Usually they smile and cry, "No! Go away!"



  1. Having been there in a mainstream classroom with pull-out support, let me suggest that it is an overall classroom attitude that the deaf kids have to cope with. That of being "special needs" "short bus rider" "don't deal with it now, call the special needs teacher". No wonder they might seem dependent or feel entitled.

    The classroom teacher could think of ways to make the deaf student appear less obvious or less unique in the classroom. A few examples: not segregating the deaf kid unless the class as a whole are segregated into smaller groups and that the deaf kid is in one of them. Not having you come into the classroom at all, but allowing the kid to leave the room at the same time as others do for activities. Giving the deaf kid responsibilities that are rotated with other kids such as taking roll call, cleaning erasers, passing out papers and emptying wastebaskets.

    Each kid being highlighted for a special strength is important, too. Even if it is a classroom of 30 kids, there is still time in each week to spend five minutes highlighting one kid at a time. When it comes to the deaf kid, a strength that is both unique and common to many others can be spotlighted in a way that makes the kids curious and want to share.

    For sure, it ain't easy to be the teacher without the authority in such situations.

  2. I'm doubtful deaf children can be 'independent' in real terms, it's all relative isn't it ? to communication ? Confidence comes with good communication skills, but the deaf are very limited as to where that communication will be most effective, they may well be confident individuals WITHIN a deaf world but independent outside it ? I'd be interested to see how it works, as many adults have never done that. I thought that was the major failing of deaf schools with respect, in that it never really primes a deaf child for the hearing oriented world we have to live in.

  3. "I'm doubtful deaf children can be 'independent' in real terms, it's all relative isn't it ? to communication ?"
    --Deaf can be completey independent. What' important is not that they'll always be able to hear in certain situations- we have to understand that that's not possible- it's important that they'll be able to identify WHY the situation is not working for them and fix it. Just because I'm in a movie theatre and I'm trying to listen to the person next to me doesn't mean I throw my hands up in the air and give up! I turn to face them or ask them to speak in my better ear, or turn my volume up.

    Children can be independent. Period. Deafness won't change the natural child. I met a kid when I was running a workshop, she was all of about 6 and wore CI's, she walked up to me and said "HEY! I'm deaf TOO!" then SHE positioned herself right next to me so she could see and hear what I was going.

    Deafness isn't a disability unless you make it one.

  4. I agree deaf kids or adults can be as independent if they wanted to be. Relying on interpreter may seem to some to be a dependence on another person, but, other than that...anything is possible.


  5. Congratulations on being a great teacher and advocate!

  6. Joy, I try. I still have a lot more work to do and plenty more to learn as a teacher!

    'Deafness isn't a disability unless you make it one.'

    I 100% agree! That is exactly the point I try to make with my students.

    I think MM meant that because of the way many deaf children are taught or brought up (at least where he is) they do not seem to learn how to become independent.


  7. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  8. Thank you for your kind words, Alena. I am glad you enjoy reading my blog!


Keep it civil.