Raising and Educating a Deaf Child

International experts answer your questions about the choices, controversies, and decisions faced by the parents and educators of deaf and hard-of-hearing children.

Question from S.K., USA

Our five year old son has mild to moderate bilateral sensorineural hearing loss. He has had hearing aids since he was 2 1/2 years old. He is speaking very well due to all the support he has received from speech therapists and deaf educators over the past two years. When he was three we put him in two different half day programs for children with hearing loss. He seemed to flourish in those settings. However, he recently began Kindergarten at a school that specializes in D/HH children, but is mainly hearing students. He is one of two in his class who has hearing loss. We have begun to see behavioral issues that he did not have (or at least did not rise to this level) at his preschools. At one point he pushed a little boy and pulled his hair and spit on him. These behaviors are odd for him outside of the home. (He has a three year old brother who he sometimes hits). He has also began to act very odd when he leave certain places. For instance, last night we went to his open house at school and he was doing fine, but when we were getting ready to leave he began to lay on the ground and laugh and would not cooperate. He recently did this at a park as well. We also continue to have problems with him in the bus line, where he is hitting/pushing kids.

Since this is all new for us we are unsure what measures to take. He has a deaf educator who is in his classroom in the mornings and she has been very helpful. I should also mention that this summer we had a baby and moved to a bigger house, so he has had a lot of change. I appreciate any information that you might be able to offer.

Question from S.K., USA. Posted October 3, 2014.
Response from Patrick Brice - Gallaudet University

I must start by saying that without spending time with your son and looking closely at everything in his life, it is impossible to explain what is happening with any level of confidence. What I can do is offer some thoughts on possible explanations given what you have described.

My first thought is that you’ve described a number of quite significant changes in his life. He is now in a different sort of school program, he has a new sibling in the family, and is living in a different house. Even with all the best preparation, that can be very hard to accept and adjust to. It also can leave a youngster feeling like life is not in his control. Some of the behaviors you’ve described seem to be connected to exerting control – pushing other kids out of his way, not transitioning out of an activity, and those sorts of things. This is one possible underlying theme.

I’m also struck by the change from being in a school program for kids with hearing loss to one where most of his peers are hearing, even though the program specializes in kids with a hearing loss. It’s wonderful that he has made such good progress with his aids and speech therapy, but it is critical to keep in mind that a youngster with a hearing loss living in a hearing environment expends a great deal of energy over the course of a day. Even the most skilled oral communicators will admit to being completely tired out at the end of the day. Constantly working to fill in the blanks in the sound stream of language can be exhausting. When children are stressed or simply very tired, their ability to cope with everyday stresses of playing with peers, learning, moving in and out of activities is diminished. While you described some problems at home, such as difficulties leaving the park, many of the issues appear to involve school in some way. This would suggest examining the challenges of the new school.

Some ways to address this include giving him as much reasonable decision making power as is possible, and giving lots of warning about transitions. If he feels many things have changed without his “input,” one way to help with that is to emphasize the things he can make decisions about, such as clothes to wear, games to play, and any of the normal choices 5-year-olds make in a day. For managing school stresses, perhaps some quiet times during the day when he need not worry about what his classmates are saying, or some structured time where the communication is adult mediated and made clear to all could be integrated.

If these issues do not resolve with reasonable understanding and support, it would be wise to involve the school counselor or school psychologist for help with further evaluation to understand more deeply what might be happening.