Online Learning for Kids with Hearing Loss: Considerations for Professionals
Written by Mary Lofreso, M.A., CCC-SLP
As the COVID-19 pandemic spans across the world, we know it is impacting the lives of professionals and students, adults and children alike. Professionals are limited to their home offices, while students are asked to move their learning from the classroom to online platforms.
With the technology we have today, students are more technologically inclined than those before them. Transitioning from a physical classroom to online learning may seem like a simple feat. However, not all students can access online learning so easily.
As a professional working in the educational setting, there are many considerations that come to mind when I think about how my students might learn online. For students who are deaf or hard of hearing, this does not look like any typical online classroom.
Although these students utilize technology such as hearing aids and cochlear implants to allow them to hear, there are still challenges they may run into with an online learning experience. We need to think about how these new circumstances could be a barrier to providing our students the best and most accessible education. As a speech-language pathologist working with this population every day, here are three main areas I like to consider:
Whether they be personal goals that the family has or IEP goals to be tracked with progress reports and record reviews, taking data and tracking progress for each student is paramount during treatment. When transitioning to a telepractice model, I want to be sure that I am tracking each individual goal. I can do this with the help of online resources or even use the parent at home as a live, in-person partner for treatment sessions, prompting their child and reporting responses.
When working with special populations, accessibility is always an area to think about. With the deaf and hard of hearing population, we want to be sure that our students are getting the best access to sound and communication. For my students during teletherapy, this often involves closed captioning. There are multiple options for this, whether it be a free captioning application (such as Otter.ai or Ava App) on their smartphone placed near the speaker or an online learning platform that includes closed captioning services (such as Google Hangouts or Skype).
Open and honest communication should always be a foundational part of any work, especially that of education. Schooling from home can be very overwhelming for families. During this process, the importance of meeting my students and their families exactly where they are has been echoed. This might look like periodic emails to check in or maybe even daily telepractice sessions. Each student is unique, just as their treatment should be.
According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), teletherapy may be provided as long as the quality of services delivered are consistent with the quality of services that were given face to face. This is possible.
Just as there are challenges in any situation, there are also advantages. How can we take the circumstances we find ourselves in and use them to better ourselves as professionals? Could this be an opportunity to empower our students and families? Here are some advantages I have found in my practices during this pandemic:
Five weeks ago, we were faced with the reality that every student was to be homeschooled and teachers were to continue their work remotely. Professionals and parents alike were very overwhelmed. However, we stuck together and gave it a try. Through this experience, I am finding that the parents of my students went from being discouraged to feeling empowered. They have begun to take the lead on planning their child’s sessions and to look to the future for what is next. They are fully engaged and active members of their child’s team.
As we know, parent involvement is key to a child’s success. With the strategies and tools to promote speech and language development, parents can help their children generalize learned skills from a structured classroom setting to their naturalistic, home environment. This is one of the most exciting and functional outcomes of telepractice!
From a very young age, we teach children to advocate for themselves. Ask if you need help. Speak up if you are in trouble. Stand up for what you believe in. This also applies to my students who are deaf and hard of hearing. We teach them self-advocacy strategies and hope they will utilize them in other settings or when they transition to a mainstream school. Due to school closures, my students are given opportunities to practice these strategies everyday via online learning. They have the responsibility to report whether or not the technology is working, the quality of the sound, and the level of volume during their classes and speech sessions.
Sometimes we are put in situations that stretch and challenge us both personally and professionally. How can we take this as an opportunity to learn and grow as individuals? It is my wish that each family, student and professional is able to identify one valuable lesson that they will learn coming out of this pandemic.
COVID-19 is not something that we can control, but our outlook is. These circumstances and the decisions we are having to make are unprecedented, but how will we go forward and what will we learn from our experiences? The sky is the limit for students who are deaf and hard of hearing because of the advanced technology that we have today. Who is to say that we cannot expand that to their educational and speech goals for the time being? I am honored and excited to be a professional in today’s situation and look forward to what it will help us become in the coming year.
Mary Lofreso is a Speech-Language Pathologist and Research Coordinator at DePaul School for Hearing & Speech.