Hearing impairment as a disability category is similar to the category of deafness, but it is not the same. The official definition of a hearing impairment by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is “an impairment in hearing, whether permanent or fluctuating, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance but is not included under the definition of ‘deafness.'” Thus, knowing the definition of deafness is necessary to understand what sort of disabilities are considered hearing impairments. A hearing loss above 90 decibels is generally considered deafness, which means that a hearing loss below 90 decibels is classified as a hearing impairment.
The National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY) explains that hearing loss falls into four subcategories: conductive, sensorineural, mixed and central. These identify the location in the body in which the hearing impairment occurs. Hearing aids and other sound amplifying assistive technologies (AT) often work for students with conductive hearing loss, as their impairments stem from the outer or middle ear. Such does not hold true with sensorineural, mixed and central hearing losses, as these impairments stem from the inner ear, the central nervous system or a combination of the two. Typically, hearing loss is categorized as slight, mild, moderate, severe or profound, depending on how well an individual can hear the frequencies that are commonly associated with speech.
Educational obstacles related to hearing impairments stem around communication. A student with a hearing impairment may experience difficulty in:
- the subjects of grammar, spelling and vocabulary
- taking notes while listening to lectures
- participating in classroom discussions
- watching educational videos
- presenting oral reports
Underscoring the difficulty that students with hearing impairments may have in presenting oral reports are the potential language development problems linked to hearing impairments. Arizona’s Department of Education’s Parent Information Network notes that, “Since children with hearing impairments are unable to receive some sounds accurately, they often cannot articulate words clearly.”
Tips for Teachers and Parents
The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) strongly endorses early intervention. This can limit communication hurdles. Typically, both oral (speech, lip reading and use of residual hearing) and manual (sign language) communication are used with and taught to children with hearing impairments. Voice and articulation training is often recommended to help students learn to form the sounds which they cannot hear.
Designating a note taker can allow a student with a hearing impairment to concentrate fully on listening to a lecture. A combination of traditional communication, lip reading, sign language and assistive technology can compensate for issues which make listening to lectures and participating in class discussions challenging. Children who read lips often need to sit close to the teacher, while those who use sign language may use an interpreter. Turning on captions during a video can reiterate what a student may pick up from his or her amplifying device.
Finally, it’s important that parents and teachers don’t underestimate a child’s intelligence based on a hearing impairment. Arizona’s Department of Education’s Parent Information Network warns, “For most children with hearing impairments, language acquisition and language development are significantly delayed. As a result, some may incorrectly estimate the child’s intelligence as low.” Avoid this mistake!