In the ideal classroom environment, every student can succeed. But creating equal learning opportunities is often easier said than done — especially when it comes to balancing the needs of students with and without disabilities.
Pediatric audiologists and speech-language pathologists know this issue from both sides. As professionals who work with children, they understand the challenges of reaching kids who face roadblock after roadblock in their educational paths. Through their education, training, and experience, these professionals know the latest in care approaches that can help smooth the way for students with hearing, speech, and language disorders.
Among the resources they offer, here are four things audiologists and speech-language pathologists can bring to the classroom.
1. Safe spaces for students to talk about their learning disorders. When a student regularly struggles with grasping a lesson or picking up on social cues, an audiologist or speech-language pathologist can step in to delve into what’s occurring. This way, educators can focus on the lesson at hand, while hearing, speech, and language experts focus on healthy problem-solving.
“We sit down to talk with students about what’s going on, why language and reading are hard for them,” says speech-language pathologist Emily Kinsler, coordinator of countywide services in Howard County (Maryland) Public School System.
Then, without compromising any child or family’s right to privacy or medical confidentiality, Kinsler collaborates with the educator to come up with classroom solutions for students’ problems.
2. Knowledge about a child’s medical background – and home issues – that might be affecting their ability to learn. Hearing and speech problems are medical issues. As professionals, audiologists and speech-language pathologists will work to gain parents’ confidence in this area and solicit a detailed history of a child’s hearing, speech, or language issues. Once experts are aware of how far back medical issues go, they can more accurately assess what it will take to get the child back up to speed in the classroom.
By getting a full picture of the child’s medical history and life at home, audiologists and speech-language pathologists can often pinpoint missing puzzle pieces that might be hindering learning. For example, when Julie Verhoff, director of pediatric audiology at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood, Florida, recently encountered a 4-year-old boy in need of a cochlear implant, there was much more to his diagnosis than just his hearing. A coordinated effort among Verhoff’s team at the hospital and the educational audiologist, speech-language pathologist, and educators at the boy’s school revealed that the family had recently moved to the United States. The team discovered that newborn hearing screenings were not performed in the boy’s country of origin and his mother’s English was severely limited, which explained why his hearing issues had been identified so late. It was clear that any solution to the child’s hearing problems had to be affordable and provide the parents with appropriate guidance.
3. A network of professionals whose expertise goes beyond hearing and speech. “No child just has hearing loss,” says Verhoff. Sometimes hearing, speech, and language issues can accompany or contribute to other obstacles. But there is power in numbers: Audiologists and speech-language pathologists can help bring in other experts, such as occupational therapists, psychologists, and the teachers themselves, to weigh in on each child’s situation from numerous angles and suggest appropriate ways to change behavior and deal with underlying physiological or psychological concerns.
4. The ability to set and manage expectations. Every child is different, including in how communication disorders affect them. Based on their expertise and holistic understanding of a child’s situation, audiologists and speech-language pathologists can help teachers set expectations regarding student progress. Although everyone involved — parents, teachers, and students themselves — may want change to happen immediately, it can take time for treatment plans to engender new learning behaviors that stick. Audiologists and speech-language pathologists are available to help create equal learning opportunities for every student with hearing, speech, and language disorders.