“It’s Wednesday and Heather’s here. Jack, who will you invite?” The kindergarten teacher is seated with the class on the rug and hands a card to my student as I walk into the room to get him and his buddy. “Choose me, Jack!” “Pick me!” “Is it my turn?” Children scramble to get closer, waving their hands to get Jack’s attention, eagerly awaiting his response. He holds the name card in his hand, looks at the picture and name, then grins and walks over to Eli. “Eli, come play!” Jack takes Eli’s hand and they rush over to me, both beaming at each other. It’s time to work!
Many of our students with hearing loss become adult-oriented at a very young age. Hours of individual therapy with adults and the structured, predictable interactions with adults can lead to difficulties making and sustaining friendships with peers. Reading social cues and keeping up with the fast moving, unpredictable conversations among peers can be much more challenging and result in frustration and withdrawal. Purposefully creating more structured interactions with classmates promotes friendships in the more causal settings in and outside of school. Some students participate in lunch bunches, groups that meet during lunchtime in a quieter setting to foster relationships. Bringing a peer to an individual session is another great way to start bridging this gap, as long as these sessions are thoughtfully planned. Allowing students to invite classmates, especially in upper elementary and middle school, can eliminate the stigma that is sometimes associated with leaving the room to work individually with an outside service provider. Typically hearing peers can serve as language models for our students with hearing loss and for us as the TOD/HOH as well! I find it helpful to listen to the causal conversations of peers in order to make sure my expectations for my own students remain high and age appropriate. Inclusion of peers is also a way to assess the skills our students with hearing loss have and the areas in which they need more practice and support. Some things to keep in mind:
· You will need permission in order to take a peer out of class to join an individual session. I’ve never had a problem, but always check with my contact at the school as well as the classroom teacher. I’m also very clear on the purpose of bringing a peer. I explain what we will do and the benefits to both students. Collaborating with the SLP is another great strategy. Many SLPs that I work with set up situations where we can meet and have our sessions together with our students for activities that we have co-planned.
· Teachers should have ample notice when you plan to take a peer so that they can plan for that student’s absence.
· For younger students, a system that is clear to the whole class is also important since jealousy can be an issue if the same students always get chosen. Some classrooms have a sign-up list where students can request to join one of my “Buddy Sessions.” Other teachers prefer to choose the peer themselves. Be clear about your expectations for the session when meeting with the teacher so that she can share her thoughts on choosing an appropriate buddy.
· When possible, especially for younger students, have a set plan for when the student will bring a buddy. It is important that the student with hearing loss does not miss critical time from individual sessions. They should know when a friend can come and when it’s time for individual work. This will vary for each student. For example, I see my kindergarten student three times each week and he brings a buddy every other week for the first half of our time together.
What do we do together? We work on social skills, listening, and self-advocacy! My students practice these skills with me but it is more meaningful to practice with a friend. Pre-teaching games that require language and listening before playing them with a friend allows the student with hearing loss extra time to practice and become familiar with the activity. Games such as *Moods (reading tone of voice and facial expressions), Imagine If (taking on the perspective of others), and Storymatic (listening to each other to create a story using prompts) are great for older students or students with higher language levels. For younger students or students with lower language levels, card games using a regular deck of cards or games such as Go Fish still require them to listen to each other and use language to interact.
Once the peer joins us, this quieter setting is an ideal time for the student with hearing loss to explain to the peer how and why to use the FM while playing, and to practice self-advocacy by asking for repetition or clarification as needed. Expressive language skills are practiced when the student has to explain the game to his peer using temporal and sequential language.
Bringing a friend to an individual session can be a rewarding experience for everyone involved. My students with hearing loss gain social confidence, and their classmates learn to see my students in a positive light.
How to you help foster friendships?
*I always edit the decks of cards for any board game. Know your student and his skill level. Pre-teach vocabulary as necessary and be sure your student feels confident in playing before bringing a friend.
Imagine If: http://www.amazon.com/Buffalo-Games-175-iMAgiNiff-Game/dp/B00000JKWY/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1418153933&sr=8-2&keywords=imagine+if+game