General Strategies for Improving Communication with Students with Hearing Loss
Amy Lawrence, Hearing Support Teacher, SCASD
A hearing aid does not correct a hearing loss. It can make the sounds louder, but not necessarily clearer. Remember, the hearing aid will amplify all sounds, including unwanted environmental noise. The student may become inattentive and fatigue easily because of the strain at needing to pay close attention to “see” what is being said.
Many students hear better on some days than others. Colds, allergies, and upper respiratory conditions may increase the severity of the hearing loss temporarily.
Persons who rely on speechreading skills to supplement the information received auditorily can not distinguish every phoneme with 100% accuracy. Only 30-40% of conversational speech is visible under ideal conditions. This accuracy is reduced when the speaker presents inadvertent obstacles to the listener.
- Speak in a normal voice. Do not shout since that only distorts the quality of sound but also the lip movements.
- Speak at a normal rate. Do not exaggerate lip movements as this distorts the message and is distracting to the speech reader.
- Facial expressions help the individual to remain on-topic and pick up on subtle cues of the conversation. Appropriate gestures can be helpful if not overdone.
- Make certain you are visible to the listener. Avoid eating, chewing gum, or covering your mouth when speaking. Mustaches, beards or long hair can obstruct a clear view.
- Avoid too many visual distractors, such as several speakers at a time or talking while referring to a slide or map behind you. When you call on a student to answer, call on them by name and/or pointing so the student with a hearing loss can turn and quickly find who is speaking.
- Adequate lighting is very important. Do not stand in front of a sunlit window to speak. Make sure adequate light is on your face.
- Since a moving target is more difficult to lipread, stand in one place when dictating directions or spelling words.
- Speak only when facing the class. Try not to talk while writing on the board or facing the screen. AUDITORY ENVIRONMENT
- Try to avoid communicating in a cluttered auditory environment, like the cafeteria or hallway. The best environments are those free of auditory distractors such as TV, or background noise. Close your classroom door to reduce extraneous noise from the hallway.
- All rooms have a certain amount of noise and reverberate to some degree. The average classroom has a signal (teacher voice) to noise (background classroom noise) ratio of +5 decibels. This means your voice is only slightly louder than the noise around it which makes it much more difficult for the child to discriminate your voice above the noise. Ideally, students with hearing loss need at least a +15-20 decibel ratio in order to compensate for their hearing loss. An FM system, or Streamer, will improve this ratio. Please be sure to consistently wear the microphone 4-6” from your mouth if your student has a system. When other students or guests are presenting, they should wear the microphone.
- Carpeting greatly reduces noise. A mat outside the door can help to absorb noise, too.
- Students with hearing loss should be seated away from windows, hallways, pencil sharpeners, heaters and fans.
- Be sure you have the visual and aural attention of the student before giving assignments or announcements. “One, two, three, eyes on me”, clapping, or flashing lights are good ways to get everyone’s attention before you start.
- Cue the topic and use of transitions are helpful. This can be done verbally or graphically.
- Write down important points, key words, and new vocabulary in advance of teaching so students can have visual hints of what’s to come.
- Allow adequate time for a response from the listener. When the ears do not hear every phoneme, the brain is constantly working to fill in the missing sounds in order to make sense of the message. It’s like playing “Wheel of Fortune” for every phrase they hear. There is often a lag time between when you say the message and when the student can process what you said to reply or follow a command. Frequently saying, “what?” or “huh?” is a poor compensating strategy that buys the listener a little more time.
- Make a habit of asking all students to repeat directions for the benefit of the whole class. Simply asking if the student understood is not effective as he/she will often just nod.
- Before introducing a new topic, familiarize the child with new vocabulary. The hearing support teacher would love to help with pre-teaching and/or re-teaching of vocabulary and concepts that may need supported during our sessions. Please communicate with her and the parents frequently to ensure we are supporting the student as best we can. Keeping webpages and homework/grade postings up to date is essential.