The minute you find out your child has hearing loss you step into a role that you most likely never imagined for yourself all those months, or years, ago when you first looked down and saw those two lines on your home pregnancy test; the role of teacher.
What does this mean for yourself and for your relationship with others? You might not realize it yet but you are on your way to becoming an expert. And it’s a role you need to assume, whether you like it or not.
Some of us might receive this news with a renewed sense of passion and enthusiasm (that’s what happened to me, although I didn’t have far to go as I was already an educator.) But for others this is a role that often seems impossible to fully embrace. They already have a career – they’re bankers or lawyers, or managers, or sales people, or healthcare workers, or electricians. They have other children, other responsibilities, and other stress.
But take a deep breath and realize that you don’t need to gain this knowledge all at once. You’ll do it slowly. You’ll accomplish this by attending a conference, or a seminar. You’ll find a webinar that looks interesting.
You’ll connect with other parents of children with hearing loss, whether that’s in a formal support group, parents you become friendly with at your child’s school or therapy sessions, or parent you have connected with over the internet.
You’ll read journal articles and blog posts about childhood hearing loss and slowly but surely you will begin to understand and make the connections with what the authors are saying.
And then you will be ready to teach others about your child’s hearing loss. And you will need to because the reality is the majority of our children will be educated in mainstream school settings and the mainstream isn’t always ready for them. And that’s okay – that’s where you come in as a parent and pull out your suitcase full of knowledge and let it rip.
You will know how to move beyond that stale set of menu items the school district will present to you, the cookie cutter options that are supposed to benefit every child with hearing loss and help them to succeed.
You will be able to state that captions need to be available on all visual media for students with hearing loss; that sound fields and pass around microphones are not luxuries, but necessities to access all parts of the curriculum (and yes, I am still stunned to hear that some school districts believe that FMs are optional for students with hearing loss.)
You will be able to help the classroom teacher move beyond putting tennis balls on chair legs and preferential seating for your child (although these are a step in the right direction).
You will be able to explain that hearing loss is not a learning disability, but that children with hearing loss might also have a learning disability in addition to their hearing loss, and it’s important to get the right diagnosis for that.
You will be able to tell them that having Computer Assisted Real-time Translation (CART) in the classroom is no more of a distraction than doodling in your notebook and checking out because you are unable to follow what is being said.
Most teachers want to learn – they view themselves as lifelong learners, but like all of us are stretched for time. Most teachers want this information but they are afraid to ask, they are supposed to be the experts, they are supposed to know it all.
You can help them figure out where to begin with your child and the needs that your child has, and eventually as your child gets older they can take over in explaining and advocating for their own needs.
But you need to move into your new role one step at a time. Don’t spend time planning your child’s high school graduation while they are still in early intervention. Learn what you need to, maybe a little more so you can stay one step ahead of your child. Trust me – before you know it you will have the experience and the knowledge that you and your child need.