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Helping Kids Cope with COVID

We all thought by now COVID-19 would be nothing more than a bad memory. We all thought we’d only be saying the word “mask” at Halloween. And I, for one, never thought I’d still be standing six feet away from the person in front of me at the grocery store. I truly believed by now, we’d be home free. But with recent surge, thanks to the Delta variant, we’re still in the grips of COVID-19.

If you know any kids who have headed back to school, I’m sure they’ve complained to you about having to wear masks and not being able to hug their friends on the first day. It’s upsetting. The situation is hard for all kids, but it’s especially difficult for children who are hard of hearing. Imagine trying to understand someone who is six feet away and talking through a mask. Masks dampen sound, and they eliminate facial cues and prevent lip reading. These are the elements hard-of-hearing children rely on to understand verbal instructions and to communicate effectively. 

Added to that, hard of hearing kids who did virtual learning last school year may find it difficult to transition to a physical classroom. They may no longer have access to closed captioning or other hearing technology paired to their computer. And, there will be more background noise in the classroom, from other students, air conditioning units, etc.

So what’s to be done? If you are the parent of a hard-of-hearing child or know one, you can play a role in his/her success in school. Here are some suggestions from the American Speech-Language Hearing Association on how to help.

Advocate for classroom technology. There are technologies that can improve the listening environment. Classroom audio distribution systems, or CADS, involve the teacher wearing a microphone that distributes speech evenly throughout the room. This will benefit not only children who are hard of hearing but all students. The use of such technology can be written into a child’s individualized education program (IEP) or 504 plan.

Talk to school staff about enhancing teaching strategies. Teachers may not be aware of how difficult it is for hard-of-hearing kids to understand speech through masks and with social distancing. Suggest they do things like wearing a clear mask; talking while facing the class, rather than talking while writing on the board; providing written instructions to supplement verbal instructions; and double-checking with the student to ensure he/she is understanding the concepts being taught.

Consult your school’s educational audiologist. These professionals can help teachers arrange classrooms for maximum effective communication, and they can provide guidance on technological solutions, such as microphones or captioning. They can also provide input on a student’s IEP or 504 plan. IEP/504 plan coordinators should be able to put you in touch with your school’s educational audiologist.

Help children successfully wear masks. Wearing a mask along with a hearing aid or a cochlear implant can be tricky and uncomfortable. Have the child practice taking his/her mask off and on, which will be necessary during lunch or at other times of the day. Choose a mask for the child that ties in the back if he/she can tie it. You can also use a button extender to attach the mask behind the head instead of behind the ears. You can also opt for hearing aid clips, retainers or cords to prevent losing a hearing aid if it comes off when the child removes his/her mask. You can find plenty of options from online retailers.

Encourage the child to speak up if he/she can’t hear. Practice ways that the child can ask a teacher or other staff member to repeat themselves. Provide the exact vocabulary that a child can use to ask for help. If the child isn’t comfortable asking, you may be able to work with the teacher to develop a non-verbal signal that the child can use if he/she is having trouble hearing. 

Revisit your child’s IEP or 504 plan. These plans may have been adjusted last year for virtual and hybrid learning, and likely will need to be adjusted again. It’s important to include accommodations consistent with the learning environment and assess the child to determine whether he/she require any additional services that address any communication and/or social skills that were lost during virtual learning.

According to the Center for Disease Control, more than 15 percent of school-aged kids, from 6 to 19, are hard of hearing. If you can help even one child to hear more clearly in the classroom, you can be sure he/she is smiling underneath that mask. 


Claudia Hensen's Blog Series