Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Teaching While Deaf: Understanding Student Situations

It's vitally important for teachers to recognize what happens on the other end, with Deaf kids. This can be tough for a hearing teacher who has no clue what Deaf people go through on a daily basis or what it's like from the Deaf end. This is often exacerbated by the distance inserted by using an interpreter, para, or external aid. Here's some observations from five years working in the mainstream which I hope will benefit teachers:

1. Eyes get tired. Kids in mainstream programs using interpreters sometimes go into zombie mode; their eyes get exhausted and they can no longer make the muscles function (this is especially true with the high-glare halogen lights used in many public classrooms.) I certainly did, and I had students who do. Even kids with teachers who are themselves Deaf will go into zombie mode. Watching interpreters or signing for long periods of time takes practice, and even then, the eyes still need a rest. Looking is active. This can have positive effects; active watchers are more likely to process and analyze information. What to do about this? When I see kids go into zombie mode–and I don't know how easy it is for people to identify this, but I can always see the eyes glaze over–I encourage them to go get water or go to the bathroom. A couple minutes of eye-rest can make sure the student is engaged for all but those two minutes of class–while ignoring the problem means the student may miss half the information provided! Another solution: bring in lamps and use that lighting instead, if legal in your area. Such a solution may not be useable during state examinations, however.

2. Kids with limited communication at home have limited power. I applaud the parents in this article who are trying to learn BSL, but the same situation applies here in the US: while the government will spend thousands on experimental audiological equipment which only works on a functional level for less than half of the recipients, they will not spend a far smaller amount to help parents learn a language which will last forever and works for all Deaf kids.  There is no Deaf student who cannot learn ASL. 100%. (This is why I support the use of both: until the student reaches the age of complex language use, it's tough to determine how functional those audiological aids are on a practical level; I have seen students graduate with very little OR very much benefit, and none have complained about knowledge of ASL.)

When kids can't communicate at home, they often have less power to control their daily lives. This past summer I had students come to me desperate because parents scheduled appointments on days when students had tests–without consulting those students.

Further, when students don't have the ability to communicate they and their needs are often infantilized at home. I've had parents tell me summer school wasn't important, and behind that is the unspoken assumption that the student themselves is limited. I was fortunate to have parents who insisted on including me in scheduling appointments and ensured students had the most opportunities to achieve.

How to solve this? Teachers are sometimes the only voice in support of students having increased responsibility. Pointing out that, later, students need to be independent and self-supporting, and discussing strategies to do so, is very important… but not always successful. Sometimes parents and I will discuss things in depth, and then at the IEP meeting they'll get nervous. Giving parents opportunities to learn ASL, to help bridge the communication gap, are important.

It's also equally important to encourage kids to bridge those gaps. I have students who think there's no point, or who are so overwhelmed by the power dynamics of the family that they don't think of trying to engage in dialogue. Helping students figure out how to frame their needs can be vitally supportive.

3. Hearing aids and audiological aids aren't always pleasant. Mine often sound like someone screaming at me. They demand attention. And the training makes you react to hearing aids the way hearing people react to telephones ringing: GOTTA ANSWER GOTTA ANSWER GOTTA ANSWER! I often take off my hearing aids to think and process. I've discussed this with my students; some of them report no problem at all (about one-third;) others report lots of problems. The design and structure of the hearing aid/implant itself is also an issue: when you are paying attention to a speaking teacher and suddenly your left ear goes WEEEEEEEEEEE TIME TO CHANGE THE BATTERY! and you have to leave class, sometimes you decide to sit there and endure the sirens so you don't miss a point.

And then there's the gym-ey sweat issue... don't get me started!

Talking to students about their needs and experiences is vital. Asking students what works well for them gives them independence and empowerment, and makes them begin the process of analyzing those needs. Is sitting in front REALLY the best place for the student? Not with all hearing aids; some use technology to localize voices. The student might find sitting in the center or on the side more profitable. Or they might want to be in back, because it helps them visually locate other students/teachers/etc.

4. The parent's perspectives, prejudices, and problems with Deafness sometimes extend to the student. Infantilization again; when a parent has an 18 year old, six-foot Deaf son and they require that person to go on the little yellow bus from mainstream school "for safety reasons," what is actually happening? Is the student really more "safe," or is it just the parent's worry that's assuaged? And practically, what happens with that bus? Buses sometimes don't show, and students miss class. Buses need to leave on time, and students leave class early. Those fears spill over into other areas of the students' life–and when you grow up with that kind of hemmed-in limitation, you often don't question it. The result is often a student, already in need of more context, having even less.

How to deal with these fears? Being a Deaf teacher in a mainstream school helped me enormously. Parents saw an educated, capable Deaf adult, and often asked me how I got that way. It's tough to be a model, and it's important to remember all Deaf kids are different: there's plenty who do warrant such fears! Sitting down with parent and student and helping them engage in dialogue is vital.

These are all problems I encountered and experienced as a teacher. There's no easy solutions. Everything occurs in process, and the process will continue for the family and the Deaf student/individual way past graduation. Recognizing this takes some of the pressure off: even a tiny push to create better dialogue is a great step. Recognizing those small achievements makes the process even more beneficial.


Miss Kat's Parents said...

Where on earth do you get the idea that cochlear implants work "on a functional level for less than half of the recipients"? That isn't remotely true for people implanted in early childhood. All the data says that the vast majority of children get open-set speech understand from their devices, if implanted before age 5 (7 at the latest).

ninefingers said...

Hello, Miss Kat's Parents:

Please quote the studies you refer to so I can respond to them. I know several which actually used discriminatory sets of children and didn't really follow proper research procedure. I am desperately seeking numbers for school leavers (age 18 and above) and their ability to communicate well. One study shows only 38% of students with implants in mainstream programs are close to their fully hearing peers (NIH 2010) Geers in 2003 shows about half of early-implanted students reading at grade level and another study in 2007 shows empirical results variable (Marsharck)–and further, a lot of those studies pick and choose the students involved. Ofc, if you're talking about recent tech, we don't know the adult outcome. It's very important to remember that results in childhood differ greatly from results in adulthood. I'd appreciate hearing about more studies.

Frankly, as a hearing aid user and speaker of multiple languages, I think it's a lot more subtle than people realize. As a teacher in public schools, I have only met one implanted student out of eight with fully developed speech (can speak on the phone, can speak in noisy areas, can communicate with strangers easily.)

I hope this tells you where I've gotten some of my "ideas"; can you show me where you get yours? (And do you mind if I include them in the future?)

Miss Kat's Parents said...

I have met hundreds of children implanted in early childhood and exactly 2 have not developed open set speech understand. That however is not proof.

I would call your attention to the research of Christine Yoshinaga-Itano, and the studies she presented at this year's EDHI convention. She stated that the vast majority of kids who are being served today are, in fact, age appropriate in vocabulary, English grammar, syntax and speech articulation. They are on par with hearing kids.

ninefingers said...

Thank you for the link.

I've read some of her work. She, like other researchers, has yet to do longitudinal studies up to and through/past high school age. Language outcomes at 7 years of age and outcomes at age 18, 19 and 20 are quite different. I know of one or two studies which look at these outcomes; they are, however, mostly focused on a tiny number of handpicked students.

It's my judgment we're still waiting for a verdict on how efficacious these devices are at higher grade levels for the general population. When I see verifiable, testable data that's not cherrypicked, I'll happily report it.

David said...

The results you see with implanted children depend upon where you are. If you are in a private school, especially a non-signing school, you will see a *very select* group of implanted children who get enough auditory access from their CI’s to do well in that environment and whose parents can afford private schools. This is like the Oral Deaf schools of a generation or two ago. The students represent a select group and if you did not have more information, you could easily reach wrong conclusions. The same can be said if you are observing at the John Tracy Clinic or any of their summer sessions, or at any AGBell sponsored event.

If you are observing at a State School for the Deaf, you are looking at another population. When private schools and public schools fail to serve and teach deaf students, the students tend to end up at state schools. These students that get default-referred come to the state schools often deprived of language, often far behind academically, and many are Deaf+ (other issues or handicaps in addition to being deaf). CI users at State Schools for the Deaf tend to look not-very-successful.

Finally, there are the implanted children mainstreamed in public schools. These are a mixed lot, as varied as the public schools themselves. I have observed many implanted children in public schools, including some regional programs for deaf students within the public schools. I would say that the average implanted child I have seen and visited with gets a much more modest benefit from his or her CI than the glowing reports I see splashed across the internet – modest enough that the child struggles with access to language through the CI alone. Without visual language, these children are very much at-risk.

My final point is to reinforce what you have said. Deaf children and their parents tend to overestimate how well they are doing and underestimate how much they miss. I know that I certainly did. It is only later with more maturity that I’ve realized that there must have been *a lot* that went on around me that I never knew. I talk with people I knew in school, college, and post-grad and still find out new things I missed.

I appreciate your time and attention.


David said...

On another note, Miss Kat’s Mom is an aggressive poster and commenter (and then wonders why some respond to her aggressively). I encourage you to read through her blog when you have time. There are some important details she does not hide, but also does not mention when she comments on other blogs. Her daughter (Katrina or Miss Kat) was *not* born deaf, she had a progressive hearing loss. As you recognize, this means that it is likely that Katrina had some auditory language access when she was very small. The other point is that Miss Kat’s Mom signed with her daughter before her implants. I do not know how well MKM signs, but posted videos of Miss Kat show a child with age appropriate (or very nearly so) ASL skills. If Katrina is “doing great” with her CI’s, I would point to her early language access as being as important as or more important than the technology in her head.


ninefingers said...

Both of you have interesting points to make, but miss mine.

Implants hearing aids and other products may work well. Teachers should not make assumptions about these products and how well they work. Dialogue with the student and the family–ongoing dialogue–is vital.

I understand everyone's concerned about backing their preferred method. My concern is hacking through assumptions about children in the classroom.