How to make play inclusive for kids with hearing challenges?  A speech therapist speaks.

Did you know that this is the International Week of the Deaf? For the past 3 years, deaf communities all around the world have celebrated the last week of September through various activities and awareness initiatives.

This year, the theme for this important week is ‘Reaffirming Deaf People’s Human Rights’. Keeping with this, we at shumee wanted to better understand the play and learning needs of children who are deaf or hard of hearing. 

We reached out to Bisma Shaikh, a Speech and Language Therapist and mom blogger. Read on to know what she says about making play and learning spaces more inclusive for all children.


Could you tell us a little about the role of language in the development of children who are hard of hearing? 

Children develop language through listening, typically. In the case of a child who is hard of hearing, this development may not follow the typical pattern. But the child would still be able to communicate, that is non-verbally, through gestures or sign language. 

The ultimate goal is for a child to be able to communicate, verbally or non-verbally. Both talking and sign language are acceptable forms of communication. Sign language doesn’t hamper the child’s development in any way. 

If the parents choose to rehabilitate using a hearing aid or cochlear implant, the child will need speech and language therapy to develop verbal language skills.

What are some games that could include or be easily tweaked to include children who are deaf or hard of hearing?

Ideally, all movement-based and visual-based games can be played by deaf or hard of hearing children. For listen and do games, replace the verbal instructions with sign language and supplement with pictorial instructions.

OUTDOOR GAMES

Young children: Catch me, hide and seek, land and water, lock and key, dog and the bone, colour colour, etc.

Older children: Football, cricket, kho kho, relay, seven tiles or lagori, hopscotch, badminton, etc. 

INDOOR GAMES

Uno, Monopoly, Ludo, Snakes and Ladders, etc. Gestures can be incorporated to communicate better during the game.

Could you tell us some simple ways to read to children who are deaf or hard of hearing?

Children who are deaf or hard of hearing can be read to through sign language or finger spelling. So the parent, caregiver, or teacher signs what is written in a book. Just like we would speak and read to a hearing child, we sign and read to a child who is deaf. Deaf children, instead of learning phonetically, can map words with sign language signs.

For children who are using hearing aids or cochlear implants, read facing the child, choose books appropriate to the child’s language and listening level, and use clear and unhurried speech. 

What are some everyday toys that toddlers and preschoolers who are hearing-impaired could enjoy and benefit from?

 "Children who are deaf or hard of hearing do not need any special or different toys. They just need inclusive opportunities!"

I would like to mention a quote here, ‘Passive toys lead to active children’. So children who are deaf or hard of hearing do not need any special or different toys. They just need inclusive opportunities! I would highly recommend open-ended toys for both toddlers and preschoolers for this purpose. Some of my favourites are:

- Blocks 

- Figurines: Human, animal, birds, fruits, vegetables, etc.

- Nature items: Pebbles, Leaves, Sticks

- Kitchen items: Spoon, glass, plate, Ladle

- Soft toys

- Ball

- Vehicles 

Based on your years of working as a speech therapist, what is something you wish more people understood about children with speech or hearing difficulties?

 "Let your children play with someone with a disability, make your children understand the differences. Try to communicate and ask the parent if they need additional support. Give them equal opportunities to be a part of the society." 

The most important thing I wish people understood was, ‘These children are NORMAL’.

Just because someone is using a different medium of communication, or someone is using additional support (hearing device, in this case) for their impaired sensory system, doesn’t make them abnormal’. 

Yes there is a disability, there is an impairment, they need a different way of interaction. But that is it, there is a difference

So let your children play with someone with a disability, make your children understand and aware about the differences. Try to communicate and ask the parent if they need additional support from us. Give them equal opportunities to be a part of the society. 

Is there anything more that you would like for our community to know?

Hearing impairment comes in different types and severity. The extent to which it is affecting a child will depend upon the type and severity of hearing loss. We should make amends accordingly.

Universal Newborn Hearing Screening program was initiated to identify congenital hearing loss early and provide appropriate treatment options to families. It is done in most of the hospitals and parents should get it done for their children.

Hearing loss can be acquired later on in one’s life. So if you feel that your child was unwell and after that he is not responding appropriately to sounds, please get them assessed by a professional.

Always consult an RCI certified Audiologist and Speech Language Pathologist for assessment and treatment services related to hearing impairment. 

The Government of India provides a lot of benefits and assistance to children who are deaf or hard of hearing under the ADIP scheme. One of the benefits is monetary assistance to buy hearing aids or towards cochlear implant surgery. 

Inclusive play and learning for deaf children

According to Bisma, the most common challenge for a deaf child is difficulty communicating with the hearing and verbal population who do not understand sign language. Here are some ways she suggests for us to bridge that gap in classrooms, play areas, and other community spaces.

1. Classrooms can be made inclusive with basic sign language training for the typically hearing children. 

2. Provide sign language translators in classrooms.

3. Provide closed captioning during presentations.

4. Increase awareness and acceptance of hearing disability through stories, movies, and campaigns for parents, teachers, and children.

5. Play spaces can include written and pictorial directions for easy navigation.

6. On playgrounds, have metal slides, as plastic is known to interfere with cochlear implant devices. 

7. Have a different colour wrist band to indicate that a child is deaf and needs to be with communicated non-verbally.

8. Have bright coloured flags to make deaf and hearing impaired children aware of danger as they will have difficulty paying attention to auditory-only signals like bells. 

9. Have a core words sign language board for staff to be able to communicate with deaf children.

10. Provide access to help switches like alarms that deaf children can press to ask for help. 

Remember that it just takes a little effort to make play and learning spaces more inclusive for so many more children! This International Week of the Deaf, let’s commit to learning more and doing better. 

 


 

Bisma Shaikh is a Speech and Language Therapist, specialised in pediatric developmental disorders. For more insights, you can follow her @thepseakingmummy on Instagram.

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