I realize back to school has already happened for many of you, but out here on the east coast we are soaking up the last few weeks of summer!
I have had many conversations over the summer with parents who are sending their child with hearing loss into mainstream schools for the first time. I understand their nervousness and tried to recall some of the things I wish I had known for my son’s first day of school. I found myself returning to these tips time and time again – I think they can also serve as a reminder for some of the more experienced parents as well.
- Schedule an appointment with your child’s audiologist the month before school begins. It is a great way to ensure your child and her hearing equipment is ready for the school year. Make an appointment to get fit with new ear molds, fine tune hearing aids, and figure out any cochlear implant mapping issues before the busyness of the school year arrives and any problems can be addressed with a reduced impact on classroom learning. In addition, many districts send out FM and other Assistive Listening Devices over the summer. If possible try to contact the person in your district that is responsible for this and make sure that classroom equipment is ready to go.
- Take time to review IEP or 504 plan. My son’s IEP meeting typically occurs in March. A lot happens between March and September so I always make a point to sit down just before school begins and review his classroom goals. Now that he is older we also spend some time talking about the upcoming year and give him an idea of what to expect. If your child is in middle school or high school they should be reviewing the IEP goals with you and maybe writing down some ideas on what they can do to help achieve their these goals.
- Try to meet with classroom teacher and service providers, if possible. This can be tricky for so many reasons – holiday schedules, difficulties in accessing school building, etc. Some children, and parents find comfort in meeting with classroom teachers and seeing the classroom before the start of the school year. This an also give you some quiet time to discuss your child’s hearing loss and provide suggestions to the classroom teacher on how to use the FM system, what optimal seating looks like for your child, and if the classroom is need of any additional supports.
- Before school starts is also a good time to begin to put some systems in place – who’s responsible for what. Who should your child talk to if their FM isn’t working? Where are extra batteries to be stored? Is there someone in the building at all times who can be responsible for making sure his equipment is working? Nothing needs to be set in stone at this point, but if you begin brainstorming that will make the first few weeks of school run a little more smoothly.
- Every child needs some down time and a chance to connect with their friends and to explore interests. Children with hearing loss can easily fall into the trap of becoming so focused on after school therapy sessions that there is sometimes no room for different interests. Take a look at your child’s classroom goals and see if there are any after school activities that will complement these classroom goals. For example, “to demonstrate the ability to retell a story using sequential vocabulary and recalling details” is always a popular goal. It might be beneficial to sign your child up for a puppet or theater class where they need to memorize parts of scripts. This will help to build memory muscle that can help develop recall skills.
- School-based services only go so far, and if your child is performing well they might have reduced services. Additionally, in higher grades there is the worry that if they are pulled out of classes to much for services they will miss what is happening in the classroom. Sometimes it can be helpful to hire a speech-language pathologist, or a tutor that can work with your child at home. And depending on your child’s needs it doesn’t always have to be someone who necessarily knows about hearing loss. A college student who is majoring in English, or a high school math whiz might do the trick. Speech language pathology students in your area might also be interested in gaining some real life experience.
- Think about life beyond the first day of school. What do you, and your child, want the teachers, other students, and others to know about hearing loss. I have a friend who sends in a large binder the first day of school every year, it has all the information anyone would ever need about her son’s cochlear implants and what adaptations he needs. I, on the other hand, send in a one page summary of my son and what his needs are – it basically serves as an introduction to his classroom teacher. I know others who have their older children write letters to the teacher talking about how they learn best. This is a personal choice and not every family chooses, or needs to do this. It can depend on comfort level and how long your child has been in the school/district.
What works in your family to help make the first few days and weeks of school run more smoothly? I would love to hear about other tips to add to the round up…