6 keys to helping hard-of-hearing children return to in-person learning

About 15% of school-aged children have some degree of hearing loss, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates. 
By: | August 12, 2021

Continued use of masks and social distancing will pose unique communication challenges for children who are hard of hearing as they return to school over the next several weeks.

Masks dampen sound, block facial cues and prevent lipreading—key elements that hard-of-hearing children depend on to understand verbal instruction and communicate effectively, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASLHA).

The shift back to in-person will create several other hurdles. Students may lose access to closed captioning and technology that is paired to their computers. They may also have to cope with competing noise in their classrooms, causing them to lose instruction time, ASLHA says.

About 15% of school-aged children have some degree of hearing loss, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates.

Here’s how adults and educators can help hard of hearing children return to school successfully:

1. Advocate for classroom technology. Several technologies can improve the listening environment in the classroom. Classroom audio distribution systems (CADS) involve the teacher wearing a microphone to distribute speech evenly throughout the classroom. This technology can be written into individualized education programs and 504 plans.

2. Employ supportive teaching strategies. To improve the student’s ability to access instruction, teachers can wear clear masks, always face the class when talking (rather than talking while writing on the chalkboard), provide written instructions to supplement verbal instructions, and double-checking that students understand the concepts being taught.

3. Consult an educational audiologist. These professionals can help teachers arrange classrooms for maximum effective communication. They can also provide guidance on technological solutions such as microphones or captioning, and give input on a student’s IEP or 504 plan. IEP/504 plan coordinators can connect teachers with the school and district’s educational audiologist.

4. Help children fit masks with hearing aids or cochlear implants. This can be tricky and uncomfortable. Children might need to practice taking masks on and off. A mask that ties in the back, if children can tie it themselves, or a mask with a button extender can be more comfortable. Students can also use hearing aid clips, retainers or cords to prevent knocking out the hearing aid when a mask is removed.

5. Encourage students to speak up if they can’t hear. Students can practice the exact vocabulary they need to ask a teacher to repeat themselves when they didn’t hear or understand what is being said in class. Children who don’t feel comfortable asking can work with the teacher to develop nonverbal signals they can use to indicate they are having trouble hearing.

6. Revisit each student’s IEP or 504 plan. These plans may have been adjusted for virtual and hybrid learning and likely will need to be readjusted for the return to in-person instruction. Include accommodations consistent with each learning environment and assess each student to determine whether they have lost any communication or social skills during virtual learning.