Group activities seem to be a given for kids. Whether it’s team sports, dance classes, scouting, or something similar, these activities provide children with the opportunity to explore, discover and learn new things that they may not otherwise get a chance to.
But what happens when kids communicate differently? When the children so eager to learn and grow in group activities have hearing loss?
Today’s coaches, teachers, and activity leaders are evolving, growing, and learning too as they implement strategies to include children of all hearing abilities in group activities.
Kids and hearing loss
Kids with hearing loss are nothing new. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), two to three children out of every 1000 are born with hearing loss, and almost 15% of children 6 to 19 years of age have some hearing loss in one or both ears. This hearing impairment could be due to genetics, complications at birth, medications, or any number of other reasons.
When we hear about kids and hearing loss, the conversation usually revolves around developmental milestones and academic impact. Still, as more support becomes available to these children and their families and more is understood about hearing loss in kids, we have witnessed a shift.
It is a broader understanding that hearing ability and communication are as varied as the individual. That with new strategies, better understanding, and a few simple changes, kids of all hearing abilities can benefit from group activities that have long catered only to those with “normal” hearing.
Strategies to open the doors
If you are involved in group activities for kids in your community, chances are you are personally invested in helping those kids learn and grow just as someone was once invested in you when you took part in similar activities as a child. It doesn’t matter to you if they have brown hair or blond, if they’re short or tall, if they are the best or worst player, or if they have full hearing or hearing loss. As long as they show up and are open to learning.
Strategies like these can help you open the doors to every kid, even if it means finding new ways to communicate:
Ask to understand – Some group activities leaders may be familiar with hearing loss and how to work with kids with hearing loss. If it’s new to you, don’t be afraid to ask questions to better understand how to communicate and support these kids. Openly discuss communication preferences and any special needs at the start of the season, class, or during the first activity meeting to find out if anyone in the group does have hearing loss or other special needs. Have a conversation with the child’s parents to uncover what you need to know about their hearing loss and how they manage it, plus the best ways to communicate and work with the child during group activities.
Seek out support and resources – In many cases, additional support may be available to group activity leaders working with children with hearing loss. Reach out to your organization to discuss options. You may also consider reaching out to hearing loss organizations in your area for recommendations on working with kids with different hearing abilities.
Make communication multi-dimensional – This doesn’t just benefit kids with hearing loss; communicating with the kids in your group, class, or team in more than one way can help you better connect with them. Everyone learns differently, regardless of hearing ability. For example, pairing an audio recording with a written transcript and a visual aid can help engage all the kids in the group while effectively communicating the important information.
Practice effective communication – The basics of effective communication can go a long way in helping everyone stay on the same page. Using visual cues to help supplement speech, getting the child’s attention before beginning to speak, keeping hands away from your face while speaking, and even maintaining an average volume of voice (instead of speaking louder) are all essential to communicate effectively.
Every child should have the opportunity to participate in group activities, regardless of hearing ability. These strategies can help.