Hooray, hooray! You’ve mastered a goal! Where to now?
There are some simple ways to take a skill that your child has mastered and “kick it up a notch” to continue to challenge them to expand their skills. Try this:
DISTANCE: Starting out, closer to the microphone of the child’s device is best, but once they’ve mastered a skill, increase the level of difficulty by increasing the distance between the speaker and the listener.
NOISE: For new listeners, a quiet environment is best, but it’s also not the real world! Start off close and quiet, but then introduce the all-to-familiar element of background noise into your training exercises. Move therapy out of a quiet, self-contained room and into the real world, play the radio or some music in the background, have a conversation in a cafeteria or restaurant, or walking down a busy street. These are challenging situations, but they’re situations our kids are going to face every day, so we’d better prepare them to face them and succeed!
SET SIZE/CRITICAL ELEMENTS: Critical elements are the “important info” pieces of an instruction. If you tell a child, “Put the blue hat on your head” they must understand BLUE+HAT PUT-ON HEAD(MINE). Start off small, “Give me the cow.” Move to more complex requests by asking for more items (“I’d like the cow, the chicken, and the dog”) using descriptions instead of item names (“Please give me the animal that says MOO and gives you milk”), using qualifiers like “or” (“I want the dog OR the cat”) and “except” (“I want all of the animals EXCEPT the rooster”). A really good way to check to see if the child is really, really listening is to make an absurd request. Do a few “normal” questions and then throw in something like, “Put the chicken on Mama’s head.” Does the child just hand you the chicken, like you’ve asked him to hand you other animals in the previous trials, or is he listening for ALL critical elements of the sentence, in which case, he really might put the chicken on your head — or just look at you like you’ve lost your mind!
TELEPHONE PRACTICE: Your child has mastered a task live and in person. Now go to another room and give them a call on a cell phone! Can they do it over the airwaves?
SEQUENCE: Sequence words are tough because they require a child not only to listen to the items or elements requested, but also to key words like, “first, next, last”. It’s tricky, but it’s a HUGE part of listening in the average classroom environment. Primary school teachers will often give instructions like, “WHEN you finish your picture, FIRST show it to me and THEN put it in your backpack.” A child who is kind of listening, but not quite there, might stop right then and put the half-finished picture in her backpack, having heard PICTURE ? BACKPACK and filling in the blanks from there. Close, but not quite! “Simon Says”-type games are great for practicing this skill. “Touch your head before you jump up and down three times. First, spin in a circle, next, touch your toes, last, sit down.”
Remember, too, to calibrate your expectations to the child’s level. Don’t jump from a set of 1 to a set of 30 all in a day! Work up slowly to allow the child to experience a “just right challenge” and enjoy the feeling of success at every level. The goal is for children to follow a typical developmental sequence (which means slow steps — not just for children with hearing loss, but ALL children!) and have positive feelings about their ability to listen, speak, learn, and SUCCEED!