Choosing the right school for your child is hard for any mum or dad, especially with all the options. From the many different types of schools to location, size and price – it’s no wonder parents find it tough! If your child is deaf, choosing the right school may come down to how experienced their staff are with dealing with deaf children or how much support they will offer your child.
We know the diagnosis of having a deaf child can be tough, as mum madsbellesngeorge on our forum tells us:
"I just thought I would let you know I had Georges ear appointment today and it's not good: he is profoundly deaf in both ears and will need a hearing aid and... a little operation before he is one as the deafness is very bad.
"They don't even think the hearing aids will work by themselves as it is in his inner ear! Still in a state of shock and confusion at the moment."
But there is help at hand: here we'll look at how to deal with choosing a school for your child who's deaf or has hearing loss.
What type of school is best for children with hearing disabilities?
Parents of deaf children will want to consider different aspects of a school from parents of any other child. It’s important to look at the whole environment of the school, as well as finding out what extra support the school can provide in relation to your child’s individual needs.
Some children may be able to adapt and work quite well in a large school with a large number of pupils, whereas other children may be better suited to schools which have smaller classrooms and smaller class sizes.
“You may want to consider whether the school has a peer group for your deaf child and whether there are other deaf children. It’s also important to know whether the school has experience in supporting a deaf child," says Peter Weston, Family Support Team Manager at the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS).
"If it’s a mainstream school that doesn’t have a unit attached to it, then maybe a specialist school would be better.”
What’s the difference between a mainstream school and a specialist school?
Specialist schools, particularly one that is suitable for children with a hearing loss, will have staff trained especially to work with deaf children in the classroom. As Peter says:
You’d also expect the environment of the school to be good too - for instance all the classrooms should have good acoustics. Just in the same way that if your child has a mobility disability, you’d expect there to be level access, ramps and wide doors.
Both schools will work towards similar standards that you would expect for any child. However, the curriculum may be adapted slightly to meet the needs of the children in a specialist school.
Specialist schools may also have smaller classes and the ratio of staff to children may be higher.
“Many deaf children today cope just as well in a mainstream setting as a specialist school,” says Peter.
Should you speak to your child’s teacher if your child has a hearing loss?
Yes. It’s important to talk to your child’s school about how they can support your child’s individual needs and what extra help or advice they can provide your child with.
If your child has a statement of special educational needs, then take it along when you visit the school and talk to the staff about whether they feel confident they can support the special needs described on the statement.
If your child doesn’t have a statement, then go along and talk to them about what you know about your child and what things you hope the school will be able to do to support them.
What can your child’s teacher do to help in the classroom?
Once you’ve spoken to your child’s teachers about hearing loss, he or she will understand they may need to repeat a question or instruction more than once, and give eye contact if necessary.
“A simple way of doing this is by reassuring the child that it’s okay to ask questions, by saying for example: “If you didn’t hear the instruction, that’s fine, just make sure you tell me you didn’t so I can tell you what it is”,” explains Kids Audiologist Vicki Kirwin, Development Manager of Audiology and Health at NDCS.
Your child’s teacher may provide more written information than usual and may move your child nearer the front of the class, close to where he or she is, if that helps.
There’s also some specialist equipment, called Radiowaves, which kids with hearing aids may be able to use in schools to hear their teachers more clearly, without the need for shouting.
“The teacher wears a microphone and the child wears a receiver which plugs in to the bottom of their hearing aid. It helps them as it brings the teacher’s voice directly into the hearing aid so you don’t encounter any problems about how far away the teacher is,” says Vicki.
What is a specialist teacher of the deaf?
Every child with a permanent hearing loss in this country is allocated a specialist teacher of the deaf, regardless of their level of hearing loss. A teacher is allocated as soon as your child’s audiologist finds out there is a hearing loss, referring you straight to a specialist education service.
The teacher of the deaf will visit all the schools in their local area and assess the children with hearing losses. They'll make sure they have the right equipment and support they need in order to receive a good education.
They’re also there to advise mainstream teachers, telling them the things they need to provide to help make each deaf child’s education inclusive and to make sure that child has as much support as they need.
There is a full spectrum of support available from the teachers of the deaf depending on your child’s individual needs.
“If you have a very small baby, the teacher of the deaf may visit every week because parents may need a lot of support at that stage.
"Then, on the other end of the spectrum you have schoolchildren who are getting on well at school with their hearing aids and may only need to be visited once a year to make sure everything is okay,” explains Vicki.
How can you communicate with your schoolchild?
Communication is such a varied thing for all families and will very much depend on your child. You may decide as a family that you’re going to help your child speak or that you’re going to sign with your child, or use a mixture of both.
“The most important thing for each family is to look at all of the options and methods that are out there. Then, look at what works best your child and at what works best for your family because it’s going to have to be a whole family approach,” says Peter.
It’s also important that you take time out with your child to play and communicate solely with each other, making sure you have good eye contact.
When you’re together, do visual things, such as reading a picture book so you can look at the pictures together and make facial expressions and mime, to help your child understand.
How can you help your child interact with others?
Get your child used to being around groups of people, by having friends over. Of course, school is an incredibly social environment, so it’s best to start when your child is young and participate in nurseries, toddler groups and birthday parties.
Talk to the parents of the other children in your child’s class and help them to understand your child’s hearing loss.
“I think we worry about our children, but they seem to be able to communicate and get on and play much easier than we give them credit for sometimes, even if there are disabilities or different languages involved,” says Peter.
Open up your home, involve your children in group activities and take them out on trips to family attractions.
The NDCS also has a network of groups in the UK where parents of deaf children can meet other parents and share experience and support for one another, explains Peter. To find your local group, visit the NDCS website.
How can you help your schoolchild be independent?
“The National Deaf Children’s Society is a firm believer that a deaf child can achieve anything,” says Peter.
Approximately 90% of deaf children are born into a hearing family, who have no prior experience to dealing with a deaf child and according to Peter, the questions he hears the most are, “Will my child ever drive?”, “Will my child get a job?” and “Will my child get married?”.
“We consider all of those things to be part of independence, so there’s no reason why a deaf child can’t achieve them.
“The key thing is to allow your schoolchild independence, within specific boundaries. It’s important that all children have the opportunity to learn and to grow and to experience life as independently as they can,” says Peter.