The Big IDEA: Educational Support for Your Child.
In the United States’ public education system, there are many options and supports available for a child with hearing loss. The biggest obstacle to taking advantage of them is simply being aware of what’s available. That means that parents have to be proactive in researching and advocating for support for their school-age children.
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), children with hearing loss are entitled to an Individual Education Plan (IEP). This plan outlines, among other things, the child’s placement, and the supplementary aids and services he or she needs.
Will your child be placed in a regular classroom? The IDEA specifies that children with disabilities should have the maximum appropriate opportunity to learn alongside children who do not have disabilities. This is referred to as the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), and it means that if your child can learn in a regular classroom (with supplementary aids and services, as needed) as well as he or she can in a special education classroom or other learning environment, the child should be placed in the regular classroom. However, it’s important to remember that what is least restrictive for each child is based on that child’s unique needs. Read more about placement.
Supplementary aids and services aren’t just for the classroom, either: the IDEA states that they’re also available in “other education-related settings, and in extracurricular and nonacademic settings.
Supplementary Aids and Services
According to the IDEA, supplementary aids and services are “Aids, services, and other supports provided in regular education classes, other education-related settings, and in extracurricular and nonacademic settings.” This can include :
Supports to address environmental needs, such as a seat at the front of the class; planned seating on the bus, in the classroom, at lunch, in the auditorium, and in other locations; or acoustic modifications—for example, adding carpet or wall hangings to reduce echo.
Staff support, such as:
- An additional aide in the classroom
- An interpreter. The school should provide an interpreter in your child’s accustomed means of communication, whether that means providing oral transliteration services, cued language transliteration, sign language interpreting services, or others. Learn more about exactly what is allowed for in the U.S. under IDEA. (Here’s a great, though long, article about one parent’s journey to make sure her child had an interpreter in the classroom.)
- Note-takers, also called “transcribers.” This may include an adult who is a professional note-taker or a peer who’s been trained in note-taking techniques. The note-taker can transcribe what a teacher says so that your student can review the notes afterward.
Extra planning time for teachers and staff. Standing up for your child’s teachers, to make sure they get this extra time, could really benefit your child.
Hearing assistive technology. There are many options in this category, including:
- Wireless system. Wireless microphone technology, such as the Phonak Roger system, actually allows its users to understand up to 62% more speech in noise and over distance than people without hearing loss. Consisting of a wireless microphone for the speaker and a small receiver that attaches to a hearing aid or cochlear implant, the system transmits sounds directly to the hearing instrument.
- FM system. The predecessor to wireless hearing accessories, these systems use an FM transmitter, worn by the teacher, that sends sounds to receivers connected to the student’s hearing aids or cochlear implants. Unlike with wireless systems, the sound transmitted via FM can suffer from static and interference.
- Hearing loop: An extremely simple and effective means of transmitting sound. A hearing loop is a wire that encircles a room and is connected to a sound system. It transmits sound electromagnetically, creating a signal that is picked up by the telecoil in a hearing aid or cochlear implant. (Read more about hearing loops.)
- Sound field. A sound field system is essentially a public address system specifically designed for speech sounds. It includes a microphone for the teacher (and sometimes another for students or others) along with a system of speakers placed throughout the classroom. Sound field systems improve hearing for everyone in the classroom; research has shown that they improve test scores, too.
Presentation of subject matter. If your child needs subject matter presented in sign language, the school must present it that way. Videos should be captioned (it’s also a good idea for the teacher to put the microphone for a wireless or FM system next to the audio source).
Testing adaptations needed. For example, oral tests (such as traditional spelling tests) may not work for your child; it’s incumbent upon the school to come up with another form of testing. Likewise, your child shouldn’t be tested on a video that was presented without captions.
Training needed for personnel. This could mean training for your child’s teacher in how to use the wireless system, or in how to effectively communicate with your child; or it could mean more large-scale training.
It’s important to remember that the supplementary aids and services your child needs must be listed in his or her IEP. If you need to change your child’s IEP, contact the school to schedule a meeting. (Learn from a professional education consultant and the mother of a profoundly deaf child about getting the most from your IEP meeting.) Supplementary aids and services aren’t just for the classroom, either: the IDEA states that they’re also available in “other education-related settings, and in extracurricular and nonacademic settings.”
The IDEA offers a wide variety of options; if you want to learn more, check out this resource. It’s up to you, as a parent, to advocate and make sure your child receives the support he or she needs.