My husband and I attended at lecture at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto last week. The topic discussed was Social Interactions of Kids with Cochlear Implants in School. The guest speaker was Dr. Janet Jamieson, associate professor and director of the Program in Education for the deaf and hard of hearing at the University of British Colombia. She has conducted extensive research on peer interaction among hard of hearing children and their hearing peers in elementary school. Her research was designed to explore the challenges and coping skills of hard of hearing children (she stressed her research was in relation to kids who have hearing loss; not necessarily with cochlear implants - although she found similar results in the little research that has been conducted exclusively with implanted children) who are integrated into regular classrooms in terms of establishing and maintaining friendships.
It is very likely (but not always) that the hard of hearing child will feel socially isolated and withdraw at times because communication in a mainstream school and outside in the school yard can be difficult. It could be because they have trouble following rapid fire verbal exchanges between their peers, or not understand the quick rule changes that children may make in their daily play, or perhaps your child feels left out because they don't know the lyrics to popular songs, or maybe they misinterpret subtle social cues. Perhaps they have trouble knowing what to say if they just want to be included with a group of other kids already engaged in an activity. Some deaf children just need encouragement and a boost, to help them seek and build friendships.
Here are a few tips that Dr. Jamieson provided to help boost your child's self esteem and encourage friendship building:
1. Usually all a child needs is at least one good friend at school. Invite this child over to your house, often.
2. Consider signing up your child for after school activities that encourage social interaction, such as a sports team or drama. Encourage a friendship with a team mate outside of the regular team practices/games.
3. Model how you would have your child join in a group of other children playing. For example, if a group of boys have been playing with trucks at recess, send your child to school with a truck and have him just walk over to the group and start playing with them.
4. Get to know the parents of your child's peers. For example, Ava's older sister Lauren, who is 7, was upset about a particular classmate who was bossy and a bit of a bully. I got to know this classmate's mother and initiated having this classmate come over for a playdate. Now, Lauren and this classmate are good friends and regularly visit each other's homes.
5. If your hard of hearing child participates regularly in a group sport activity at recess (such as kicking around a soccer ball with a bunch of other kids), research showed that that child was as popular or more popular.
6. We have to realize that sometimes our child enjoys solitary or quiet play and that is ok. It does not necessarily mean she has withdrawn from group play due to a hearing issue.
A few of my own tips:
7. Print off the lyrics to the popular songs for your child (clean version of course!)
8. Learn the rules to common school yard games and lyrics to jump rope songs and practice with your child.
9. Another mom always buys the latest tech gadgets for her older implanted child (iPod touch, smartphone) so that they can text with their friends and not feel left out.
10. As soon as your child starts school, have them do a show and tell about their hearing aids or cochlear implants. Have your child explain, with confidence, why they are wearing equipment on their ears and how it works. Practice with your child what to say if someone at school asks "what are those things on your ears/head?"
If you have any additional suggestions that may be helpful, I would love to see them. Please post a comment with your suggestions!