Social-Emotional Support for Students (DHH): Elementary School Years

Diane: Elementary-aged children who are deaf or hard of hearing need instruction and guidance to develop social language and understanding of themselves in order to be aware of why they have challenges and to develop self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and friendship skills. Also, as mentioned in the introduction, students who are deaf or hard of hearing, will be referred to as “students” unless otherwise noted when compared to those who are hearing. Language plays a critical role in the understanding of social norms and development of problem-solving skills. Students often struggle with making connections and understanding the social aspects of friendship because they lack access to communication with hearing peers and have limited or no opportunities for incidental learning or social norms.

The following interview with Ka Lia by her teacher of students who are deaf and hard of hearing highlights the challenges she had as a student who was hard of hearing who was learning English as a second language in elementary school and how that affected her ability to connect with hearing peers in her classes.

Lived Experience Interview:
Emily M: What was it like being hard of hearing in elementary school? What do you remember?

Ka Lia: Growing up as a hard of hearing kid made it hard for me to learn English, especially because it is my second language. I had a hard time hearing my teachers when they taught, especially when they talked quietly. I wasn’t able to learn like other children my age. For example, I was a fourth grader with the reading level of a second grader. I was a shy child because I wasn’t able to speak English fluently. I didn’t ask a lot of questions, but when I did, I could barely hear the teacher’s responses. I remember kids would talk behind my back knowing I could hear nothing they were saying about me. It is also hard for me to understand and process the words through my mind. That affects how fast I think and my response time.

Emily M: How did you feel during that time?

Ka Lia: I

Emily M: Did you have difficulty connecting with students who spoke Hmong too? Or was just the English learning difficult?

Ka Lia: I
Emily M: You mentioned that kids would talk behind your back, what did you do when that happened? How did you react?

Ka Lia: I

Emily M: What do you know now that you wish you knew then? What do you wish you would have done differently?

Ka Lia: I

Emily M: What do you think were the factors that changed how you felt about school socially?

Ka Lia: I

Emily M: What about friends? When you were in elementary school did you have any really good friends? What were the struggles in making friends?

Ka Lia: I

Emily K: As you learned, Ka Lia had some unique challenges as a child who is hard of hearing and learning both the American culture and English for academics and to make social connections. This is important to remember as schools become more culturally diverse. Teachers for students who are deaf and hard of hearing frequently are the connection point between teachers of English language learners and the general education teachers, reminding teachers, staff and parents that it is more difficult to learn English when you cannot hear it well and may or may not have amplification both in school and at home.

Let’s begin by discussing some home-based interventions. To help parents support their children, it is important to connect them to support groups or parent mentors. An example of one resource is Hands and Voices and the various activities and programs that they provide in regional areas. Another option to support parents and families would be for schools and programs to host family events within the district or region for all students who are deaf and hard of hearing. These opportunities to learn about the unique challenges young elementary children have when learning academic and social language are important to build understanding. These activities also allow students and families to interact with other families. Interacting with adults who are deaf and hard of hearing promotes acceptance and understanding within the family culture. When the family has a greater understanding of the journey and connections to role models who are deaf or hard of hearing, as well as a support system for dealing with the unique challenges for both families and children, then they are more likely to provide an environment for the child that will foster positive social interactions within the home. Meeting deaf or hard of hearing adults and perhaps other families on a similar journey helps to provide validation to both the family and the child that they are not alone and there are connections after high school. It’s also important for parents to hear lived experiences from adults who are deaf or hard of hearing. The following is a story that was shared with Jessalyn by a friend.

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