Hi, and welcome to a new blog post!
In this one, I will be talking about what it is like to be deaf and in (school) education. I will be focusing on mainstream Primary Education as I feel that in Primary school, children are at the age where they are getting more independent, but still finding themselves and learning how to communicate their needs. They may not always understand why they are getting frustrated or tired, and the aim of this blog post is to try and help teachers and parents understand what it is like for a deaf school child. I would like people to understand where deaf children’s frustration and exhaustion is coming from.
Everything written here is my own view. If you do not agree with me, that is fine, but I am writing from the point of view of a deaf person who has experienced mainstream school life. There were times when I felt frustrated and tired, and there were times where things were a little unfair, but I have never fully realised why until fairly recently.
Extra teachers, extra equipment, extra sessions.
It is more than likely that a deaf child in mainstream education will have extra everything.
More often than not, a deaf child will be allocated a teacher to sit with them at all times during lessons. This alone points out that they are ‘different’ from everyone else. Those teachers are needed, yes, but it can come with some implications, which I will explain more about in other sections below.
Back in my day, I had a MASSIVE radio aid that I had to wear, first on a harness (in kindergarten, mind you!), then in a bumbag, and finally in my pocket. Luckily, such equipment has dramatically reduced in size, but (I assume) they also come with other issues, such as breaking down, needing collecting, etc.
If a piece of equipment should malfunction in the middle of a lesson, the child has to – more often than not – miss part of a lesson to sort it out, and then spend precious break or rest time catching up on the missed lesson. I agree that catching up on what they have missed is important, but at the same time, it is extra work having to go and get equipment fixed and then coming back to a lesson.
For a deaf child in mainstream education, they will be in the minority where equipment is concerned. It is natural for them to feel anger towards the equipment. One reason being the ‘why can’t I be like everyone else?’ mentality and another being the ‘ I’m being weighed down by all this extra stuff I have to wear and carry’ mentality. Yes, it is important to encourage them to wear it, but please do remember that sometimes they would like some time away from it, to fit in with their peers, or to just get a little break. Heavy forcing can have negative implications.
Another issue with extra equipment is they need to be collected from a deaf centre/unit every morning. One memory I have of Secondary school is: I got a taxi to and from school. If the taxi was late or there was traffic, I would be late through no fault of my own. One such morning, I arrived at school with two minutes until the bell for registration would go. I had an agonising decision to make: should I go to the Unit and get my equipment and be late for registration and risk detention, or go straight to registration and get into trouble for not having my equipment? I chose the latter.
My point in telling the above story is that I want to make people aware that deaf children have extra responsibility in the morning and I find it very, very unfair that they will get into trouble for this. Yes, it is important to get to school on time, but sometimes things are out of their control. This just adds to their frustration about school life.
More often than not, deaf children will have extra sessions, apart from the usual school lessons and one-on-one sessions at the same time as the main lessons. I won’t lie, when I was in primary school, some teachers made them fun, and I sometimes even got to take a classmate with me, which they loved. But the important thing to remember is that some children do those extra sessions ON TOP of school lessons. which means extra concentration and extra learning.
I do agree with one-on-one sessions, especially if you learn through games and such. It is beneficial for deaf children to learn quicker that way. But I would say the best way to do this would be maybe once or twice a week – or even once a day – during an actual lesson. That way, deaf children would get that extra time to learn, but also they would not miss out on much-needed play and switch-off time. Bringing in another child from their class would also mean they have a chance to bond with other children more easily, since it is harder for deaf children to interact with their peers in a big group.
Being a deaf child can lead to concentration fatigue. There are a few very good blog posts that tackle this topic:
I know I am adding on a lot more reading to this blog post, but I really recommend reading those blog posts. For me, reading them was like reading about myself at school.
I won’t go too much into it, as the posts above cover a lot. But essentially, I would like to mention that all deaf children have different methods of communication, and they can all be exhausting. Why? Because deaf children need to concentrate extra hard. Even if they have the same structure to their day as their hearing peers, they are doing so with extra concentration.
Remember, deaf children (and deaf people in general) are adapting for YOU, more than you are adapting for them. You may have adaptations put in place for deaf children, but they are still adapting to fit in a predominantly hearing world, which is much more hard work.
Yes, deaf children do need to be reminded to concentrate, but please agree with the deaf child of a way of doing this. I remember in school, one teacher would click her fingers right in my face to make me concentrate. I HATED that. I also remember a teacher holding up a sign saying ‘Jenny – pay attention!’ I did not mind that so much at the time, but looking back, it was a bit much.
Also, where possible, allow a deaf child to have a one or two minute eye break. As mentioned, they are adapting for you, and concentrating ALL DAY, and most likely go home with a headache or extreme fatigue. Maybe even allow them to go out of the room, and walk up and down the corridor, or sit alone for a minute. This can work wonders for their fatigue.
To start this section, I want to mention that I agree that bad behaviour does need to be rectified. Children do need to learn that there will be consequences for their actions. But also, most children will misbehave at one time or other, which warrants a telling off or disciplinary action. They are children, and learning about life after all!
The absolutely important thing to remember is that – as mentioned above – deaf children will likely have an extra teacher, which means they will get double the telling off, at different times. And if their parents are told, they will likely get yet another telling off at home.
Hearing children will get less. Is this fair? I don’t think so. And also, don’t forget that deaf children will be more likely to be told off for not concentrating, for playing up because they are exhausted, or some other reason. Being told off is negative, and too much of it can have a big impact on their lives and the way they view their hearing peers and authorities.
Being kept out of certain classes/not being given a choice
Sometimes there will be a class or session/outing where it is assumed it would be too difficult for a deaf child to be involved in. In some cases, yes, this is true, but unless you try, how will you know?
In cases like these, I would like to ask you – do you THINK they cannot get involved, or do you KNOW they cannot?
If you THINK they cannot, it is simply not good enough to exclude them. Also, you cannot KNOW, as each and every deaf child is different, and sometimes they may feel they are able to do one thing, then feel different about something similar, because they are exhausted.
How can you resolve this? Take them aside and ask them if they would like to try. Never assume.
Also, please remember, They may also be getting purposefully excluded by their peers. I remember when I was in secondary school, one of my classmates excluded me from a game they were playing because it was ‘guess the tune’. I know for sure that I would be able to participate, or at least try, but no, I was left out. If you suspect this, do encourage the deaf child to be more assertive in cases like this, and also remind peers to INCLUDE.
I will mention (for the one and only time) a College experience I had that I think relates to this. I found out that I was excluded from Voice classes (I studied Performing Arts) without them consulting or even mentioning it to me. I (along with a CSW) decided to be assertive about this and bring it up with the head of the course, who apologised and agreed to let me partake in the classes.
However, being initially excluded made me very nervous. I remember quite early on, we were put into pairs and given an assignment: to create a 10 minute vocal warm-up session to try on the rest of the class. On the week and day I was to do mine, my partner was off sick a few times, and I was left to do it alone (which was all the more nerve-racking, being deaf and not in a clique). I managed to do my own part of the warm-up, which I had planned myself, and only managed to do 6 or 7 minutes. This resulted in me being harshly criticised, and made me feel very down.
This culminated in a few results: Firstly, I did not go back to those classes, out of choice. I felt it was unfair that I was excluded, then criticised for joining in. Secondly, this class was included in my certificate, and I got an ‘Unclassified’ for my trouble. Thirdly, I missed out on important actor vocal training.
Most of my vocal training has come from directors in shows I have been in, who have all been so incredible and understanding of my situation, which I am very grateful for.
As previously mentioned, it can be harder for deaf children to make friends, for several reasons (Please check out my other blog post on deafness in social situations here). One main one being that it is harder to participate in large groups. One way to get round this problem would be to arrange a ‘play session’ (more about that above) for the deaf child and one or two of their peers, or even have a ‘deaf unit/centre’ playtime once a week, where all deaf children in the school are allowed to come, and bring one friend. This way, they would be able to make bonds with their peers, and be more likely to be included during play or breaktime.
Also, do (gently) encourage deaf children to mix with other children. But do not (deliberately or not) point out the differences between them and other children too pointedly. This only reminds the deaf child that they are different, and also reminds the other children of this too. By all means, do remind other children that they must be patient and understanding, and do remind them to include, but do this in a positive way.
At home (this part is mainly for parents)
After a long day at school, deaf children come home, having had double the load of concentration and learning than their hearing peers. When they get home, they will likely be exhausted and may want to switch their hearing aids or cochlear implant processors off for a bit. Do let them. If you force them to keep their devices on, they may start to resent those too (see the equipment section above), but do gently encourage them to wear them until bedtime or just before – I like to switch and take my processor off an hour before I go to bed, as a way of winding down, and giving my head and ear a break while I am awake.
They may also need some alone time, or some time run around and let go of some frustration. Where possible, do let them. It will soon be time for the big ‘H’.
Ah yes, the dreaded ‘H’ word. Homework! More often than not, your child will have homework. As I mentioned, deaf children will be exhausted from concentration fatigue, and doing homework is an extra, daunting task. Try and make it light-hearted and fun, without too much frustration, and plenty of praise. And do allow them to have a one-minute eye break every 15 minutes or so.
Concentration fatigue also is not limited to school. It is also included in home life. Family gatherings, outings or other doings also require concentration.
I would like to try and show a visual demonstration of the difference between what a hearing child and deaf child have to carry through their school day in the hope it will make an impact. I am not saying some hearing children do not face discrimination or difficulties, as this will happen to others too, but in this instance, I am focusing on a deaf child’s point of view.
School lessons School lessons
Telling off Telling off
Telling off Homework
Telling off Worrying about lessons
Worrying about lessons
Worrying about the fact they are ‘different’
Trying to fit in
Difficulties with communication
Trying to assert themselves
More concentration in school
More concentration outside of school
In conclusion, I think it would be a good idea to sit down one-to-one with each deaf child once a month, and ask them how they are getting on. Ask them if there is something they would like adapted (such as eye breaks), and try to reach an agreement together – you do not have to drop everything for them, but making things work with a deaf child is a two-way street.
Just to reiterate, the deaf child is the one making the most adaptations in their life. They are the ones having to carry a lot more. They are the ones who get more exhausted than their peers. And they are the ones who are being constantly told to concentrate, sort their equipment, and many other things. They have to deal with having to ask people to repeat themselves (and often will get the sigh of exasperation). All of the above and many more could cause them to act up more out of frustration. Please be mindful of this.
Many thanks for reading. Please feel free to share!