Homeschooling for Children with Hearing Loss

Families of babies with hearing loss often ask, “Where will my child go to school?”  My answer is usually, “Wherever you would have sent her if she didn’t have hearing loss!”  Families who were planning on public school can send to public school.  Hoping for private or religious education?  Go for it!  Homeschool your other kids?  Why not your child with hearing loss?  The whole point of Auditory Verbal Therapy is that children with hearing loss can be integrated into mainstream environments, whatever that looks like for their particular family.  So that said, I’ve always had families on my caseload who homeschool their children with hearing loss, but now with the Covid-19 pandemic, families who never in a million years thought about homeschooling are considering this option for their children.  Let’s take a look at some options, considerations, and resources to help parents make this choice.

What are my options?

  • Virtual School is when a brick-and-mortar school (like your local public school) provides instruction online OR when you sign up for an online educational program (some states offer their state curriculum as an online homeschooling option, other families opt for virtual schooling privately from online-only programs).  This may happen synchronously (students all log on at a prescribed time to listen to a teacher live) or asynchronously (videos and other assignments are posted online and students complete them individually).

    • PROS: If you already like your local school’s teachers and curriculum but are worried about the risks of returning to school in person, this might be a good option for you.  If you want to choose an online school for yourself, you’ll have the curriculum and instruction all set up for you, so the parent’s role is more of proctor and facilitator than traditional “teacher.”

    • CONS: Children with hearing loss will need to think about the auditory accessibility of online videos and other content.  Tuning in to online learning can be very fatiguing for all children, but especially children with hearing loss.  Parents also have less control over curriculum and flexibility in terms of scheduling (if class is called for 9-2 synchronously each day, you’ve got to be there!).

  • Microschools or Co-Ops are when groups of families gather together to share some or all teaching responsibilities.  They may consist of groups of families where parents rotate teaching responsibilities or teach about their special skills or talents, and/or groups of families who all chip in to hire instructor(s).

    • PROS:  You get to share the joys and challenges of homeschooling, and your children have the opportunity to learn from other adults, particularly if those adults are sharing their expertise.  It decreases the cost of hiring private tutors for advanced subjects or subjects you don’t want to teach yourself.  It allows children the opportunity to learn in groups with others outside of your family without the same amount of exposure as they would have in a traditional school setting, even if the school has social distancing guidelines in place.

    • CONS:  You need to find like-minded families whose social distancing and general health precautions you trust and organize teaching and financial responsibilities.  Children with hearing loss will need to overcome listening challenges due to distance from other children and adults and muffled audio signals from masks and/or face shields.

  • Homeschooling looks as many different ways as there are different families.  A quick Google search will tell you that there are a mind-boggling array of different approaches (unschooling, classical, and so on…) and curriculum choices.  Some families choose a complete packaged curriculum and replicate school at home by sticking to consistent hours, subjects, and assignments.  Others take a more “whole life learning” approach and emphasize everyday experiences and child-directed learning.

    • PROS:  You have total control!  You can select an approach, curriculum (if you want a curriculum), schedule, etc.  You can optimize your child’s listening because you control the environment, and tailor instruction to your child’s particular strengths and needs.

    • CONS:  You have total control… and total responsibility!

Common Questions

 

Is this even legal?

Yes.  Homeschooling is legal in all 50 US states, but regulations vary (see HERE).  For other countries, please check your local education regulations.

 

But what about socialization?

This seems to be the perpetual question when we talk about homeschooling.  The first thing I challenge you to do is define what you mean by “socialization” and ask yourself, “Is a traditional school classroom the only place these skills can be learned?”  If your definition of socialization is a child who can raise his hand to ask to go to the bathroom and line up in alphabetical order, then maybe the typical classroom is the only place you’d learn that, but if your goal is a child who can hold a conversation, consider the opinions of others, and get along in a group… there’s nothing to say that can’t be learned in other ways!

The Covid-19 pandemic has added another wrinkle to the socialization question.  With social distancing, even schools that go back to face-to-face instruction won’t be looking so “social” anymore.  No more group work, no swapping food around the lunch table, no sharing jump ropes at recess.  I’ve never believed that homeschooling is an inferior option in terms of socialization, but I think even those who do may have to reconsider given the changes that are coming to traditional brick and mortar schools.

 

What about IEPs?  What about services?

Children with any kind of special education services are entitled to accommodations, modifications, and services during school-provided virtual instruction.  Many states and districts also allow students who are homeschooled to receive services like speech-language therapy or other therapies (e.g., occupational therapy, physical therapy, etc.) even if they aren’t enrolled full-time in a brick and mortar school.  Your child may have to go to the local school building to receive these services, or they may be available via teletherapy.  If you’re pleased with the school’s special education services and can continue them even if home schooling, that is a terrific option.

Many families, however, choose homeschooling in part because they are dissatisfied with the services provided by their local school district.  Homeschooling and teletherapy combined provide more flexibility to access services from specialists outside of your local schools.

 

What accommodations and modifications should we consider?

First, you’ll want to look at the accommodations and modifications on your child’s current IEP or 504 plan.  Most, if not all, of those would still apply to any kind of virtual learning provided by your school district.  But there are some accommodations specific to this particular situation you might want to consider:

  • Provision of clear masks and/or face shields to provide visual cues (we all — even people with typical hearing, even children with hearing loss who are usually excellent at auditory-only comprehension of spoken language — use visual cues to supplement our hearing, especially over distances or when the sound is muffled by a barrier like a mask or face shield)

  • Captioning for all videos shown during online learning

  • Live captioning (like CART) for spoken instruction and class discussions to help overcome hearing difficulties caused by masks, barriers, and social distancing

  • Use of remote microphone systems to bring the speaker’s voice directly to the child’s hearing technology (to overcome distance and attenuation of sound due to masks/face shields)

  • Increased listening breaks (time for a child to work quietly, take a break from synchronous videos, or move to a quiet location) to account for listening fatigue, either due to time in front of a screen or time listening in an in-person environment with difficulties due to distance and masks/face shields

 

What else should we consider?

Talk to your child’s audiologist — if your child is planning to engage in any type of computer-based learning, there are ways to connect your child’s hearing technology to the computer (through bluetooth or direct connect cables) to improve the sound quality for online videos, Zoom classes, recordings, etc.

 

Do we need a curriculum specific to children with hearing loss?

Not really!  While there are some specific curricula out there aimed at helping children who are sign language communicators crack the code of English to learn to read (and I cannot speak to the research basis for those particular programs), children who listen and talk in the language(s) of their home should be able to participate in whatever curriculum their families choose.  I would recommend focusing on phonological awareness when choosing a reading curriculum, though, as we know these important listening- and language-based skills are crucial to reading success.  One benefit to choosing your own curricula is the ability to customize the level of challenge to your child’s particular strengths and needs, which can be very helpful for children with hearing loss who may need to spend more time shoring up language and literacy skills, or practicing word problems in math, or reading comprehension, etc.  One excellent resource for evaluating the truly massive number of different homeschool curricula is Cathy Duffy Reviews.

 

Where can I learn more?

 

These are incredibly difficult times.  No one decision is going to be right for every child and every family.  Remember that your child’s (and your!) mental and emotional health come first.  Communication comes next, then literacy.  The rest is the icing on the cake.  You might feel that your child isn’t learning as much, or as well, as he did in the 2018-2019 school year, and that might (but might not!) be true, but these are not normal times.  We’re in the middle of a stormy ocean right now.  The goal is to get to shore in one piece with the mental and emotional health that will enable us to pick up the pieces and make up any lost learning once we’re safely on dry land.  Hang in there, everyone!

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