Sunday, January 19, 2014

A Positive Sense of Self

My second grade student doesn’t just think his hearing aids are cool, he knows that they are cool! He looks on with amazement as I check them at the start of our sessions, softly exclaims, “Cool!” as I remove wax from the tubing, and quickly flips to a designated page in my notebook where he can give himself a “check plus” for reporting a dead battery earlier in the day. He wears his hearing aids like a fashion accessory, showing off his new orange and yellow marbled earmolds.

My current junior high student is also very comfortable with her hearing loss. She gave her elementary school graduation speech last year to a room full of parents, teachers and friends. She articulately described learning that some students with hearing loss attempt to hide their technology, going on to talk about how that never even occurred to her.

These students are confident and proud, but unfortunately not all of the students we serve feel this way. What happens when our students do not have accepting attitudes about their hearing loss and hearing technology? How can we help them to see themselves in a more positive light?

I have two new students this year, one in high school and one in upper elementary school. During the beginning-of-the-year “Getting to Know You” activities, it quickly became clear that both were embarrassed by their hearing technology. Each student expressed feelings of isolation and anxiety over being “different.” Both were reluctant to express their needs to teachers for fear of “annoying” them.  I began a series of activities designed to help these students to set goals in order to gain a greater sense of self-confidence.

During our individual sessions, each student identified areas she feels confident advocating, and areas she does not yet feel comfortable. Building on their individual strengths, we created short-term goals for each student to improve self-advocacy and self-acceptance. For the high school student, we started by reviewing her audiological records and standardized testing so that she could gain a deeper understanding of her abilities. My student was surprised to learn that her standardized tests placed her in the average intelligence range. My student had always perceived herself as being “stupid,” and this glimpse into information adults knew but never shared was key for countering her inner critic.

Her next goal was to create a Powerpoint presentation about her hearing loss and listening needs and present it to all of her teachers. She did an amazing job! Finally, she met with a disabilities services counselor to discuss accommodations available for college and the job market. Currently, we are researching deaf adults who are working in my student’s field of interest. Seeing successful adults with hearing loss achieve their dreams has helped to change her perspective on her own abilities and potential. Her newfound confidence has shown up in other ways, as well; during a recent observation, I saw her change her hearing aid battery in class, rather than leaving the room as she’s done in the past. I consider that a step in the right direction in terms of acceptance of her hearing technology and of herself.  

For my elementary student, we agreed that she would tell one new person about her hearing loss each week, carry her FM transmitter between classes, and create a Powerpoint presentation to share with teachers. She expressed concern that she is the only one in her school with hearing loss. To address this concern, we are in the process of setting up a mentor relationship with an older student with hearing loss. Her teachers and family are on board and supporting her in these short-term goals.  Beaming, this student recently reported that she told the staff at the after school program that she wore hearing aids (her “person of the week”), “And they just said, ‘Ok, cool. So what do you need me to do?”  

The work is not done. It will be an ongoing process throughout their lives but the more we can help our students see the good in themselves and take those difficult steps towards self-advocacy and self-acceptance, the more opportunities will open for them in the future. Everyone has something to work through and at times I know I am pushing my students to their limits in acknowledging their personal struggles. However, it is important to help these students surpass the boundaries they've set for themselves. Making connections with other students with hearing loss as well as successful adults helps our students to see the endless opportunities ahead of them. Patience, listening, and support are key components to the work we do. I do not have a hearing loss. I’ve never experienced the emotions my students describe. But I can be a sounding board for ideas, an ear for frustration and fear, and a cheerleader to celebrate every small victory on the path to self-acceptance.

How do you help your students accept their hearing loss and hearing technology?