Emily K: Middle school years are difficult for all students to navigate but are often more difficult for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. 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.
In order to make healthy connections in school and life, students need to learn how to get along with others, exercise good judgement and manage their emotions. Social skills also include interpersonal life skills that progress through childhood into adolescence and adulthood. Middle school years are particularly challenging as students evolve their social connections from physical play to more complex and sophisticated language in a wider variety of social situations.
Middle school is a critical time for development of self-identity and social relationships for all students. Students have the added challenge of navigating a world with limited access to communication. They may struggle with making connections and the social aspects of friendships with many different peers. It is important to remember that each student is an individual, but many students share common experiences and challenges. However, it is not always a positive experience as Jessalyn shares next.
Jessalyn: As a Deaf girl who went to school with 15 other kids who were Deaf and Hard of Hearing, only 3 other kids were my age. Two of them were girls, and I became friends with them.
These two girls would take the same bus home as we all traveled 30 minutes each way to go to school. Every other day, the girls would decide if they would be my friend or not. The bullying in this small group was intense and horrific. This lasted almost 4 ½ years. Part of what the teachers did was to try to continue to fix our friendships by demanding that they be nice to me. This didn’t help the situation. What was needed was more social language. Instead, the teachers should have not only shared this information with my parents, who were clueless about the bullying, but also they should have taught me to advocate for myself by giving me words for what to say and encouraging me to find better friends. This took a huge social-emotional toll on me.
Emily M. It is important for teachers to recognize the social struggles and provide students with the social language supports needed to develop and foster friendships.
When considering social-emotional goals for IEPs, friendship is a very important topic to teach to the middle school-aged students because of the nuances of friendship levels and the language involved. There are approximately four levels of friendships that students need to learn about in order to understand the social dynamics of middle school. The first level of friendship might be when students share a friendly greeting in the hallway which is called acquaintances. It is important for students to be aware that other students may greet them in the hall and the social norm would be to respond with “Hi”, smile, or a head nod. It is also important for students to recognize that these students are not necessarily good friends.
Diane: An eighth-grade student, who is hard of hearing and has other disabilities, desperately wanted to fit in with her peers but she does not have full access when others are chatting and relies on what she can see other girls doing. The student has said thinks that other students are her friend when they wave and smile at her The student has said, “That is my good friend because she smiles at me and waves to me every morning in the hallways.”
In another situation, the same student sees a group of girls that she wants to be friends with and she sees them doing ‘jumper cables’ on each other,laughing hysterically about it as a group. ‘Jumper cables’ are when someone pokes another person on the side, and that person jumps. It is implied that there is a level of close friendship that allows them to touch each other like that. Not understanding levels of friendship, the student jumped in among the group of girls and started doing ‘jumper cables’ on one of the girls. The girls were startled and looked at her first with shock and then discomfort. Smiles were fake and uncomfortable. They were unsure of how to respond to the student. The student laughs at them, thinking that they accept her attempt to join the group with ‘jumper cables’, but she’s unaware of the social norms. An interpreter observes the interaction and tries to provide social coaching to the student. However, the student says that the girls are her good friends because they smile and say hello each morning. She does not know their names. Understanding levels of friendship needs to be taught directly since some students rely only on vision and what they observe.
SG Mission: to serve our viewers by providing reliable, valuable, and important Deaf community oriented information in every newcast.