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Posted on Monday, March 05, 2012

Childhood Hearing Loss, Education, and Bullies

Doctor looks in girl's ear for signs of childhood hearing loss. Children with hearing loss are more likely to be bullied.

The impact of bullying on children can be devastating--loss of interest in education, feelings of isolation, and low self-esteem. As difficult and unacceptable as this behavior is for a hearing student, it can be worse for a student who already has to bridge a barrier with the world of education, a child with hearing loss.

According to a Swedish study reported on by Hear-it.org, “Between one in three and one in five hard of hearing students become victims of bullying.” This abuse can take the form of name-calling, threats, excluding someone, spreading rumors, cyber bullying, or talking badly about someone behind their back. Science Daily similarly reported that, “Seventy-seven percent of deaf and hard-of-hearing respondents indicated experiencing some form of child maltreatment, compared with 49 percent among hearing respondents.”

It's not just students whose hearing loss has been diagnosed that have to worry about bullying.

Unilateral childhood hearing loss, hearing loss in one ear, and undiagnosed hearing loss can cause the same bullying and mistreatment as diagnosed childhood hearing loss. In the case of undiagnosed childhood hearing loss there is an additional intolerance and impatience from teachers and other adults who don't recognize the cause of a child's confusion or lack of interest.Undiagnosed childhood hearing loss can lead to a misdiagnoses of ADD and greater frustration for a student who is bullied by peers and misunderstood by adults and teachers. As Lauren Lundin, hard of hearing since childhood, expressed in her article on about.com, “Teachers accused me of day dreaming. Peers made fun of me with name-calling and avoidance. I had seen the school psychologist and was put in a special reading class, but none of that changed my "stupidity." I also spoke with a lisp, which was also a prime target for bullying.”

Lauren's story demonstrates why it is so important to have children tested annually for hearing loss.

Children with hearing loss react in different ways to bullies, but warning signs your child isn’t coping well with bullies could be, denying they have childhood hearing loss—becoming withdrawn, coming home with bruises, change in temperament, refusing to wear hearing aids, acting out--playing up hearing loss to gain sympathy, pretending to be too sick to go to school or crying before school. If your child is refusing to use their hearing aid, there are proven ways to help them adjust to hearing aid use. A child won’t always come out and explain what is happening, so parents must pursue these signs and seek out solutions, perhaps with the advice of a hearing health professional.

“Prepare your child for school. If you’re
worried that they’re going to be a target
for bullies think, ‘how do I prepare them
for this?’ Build their self-confidence and
self-esteem.”
(p 5)

What is a parent or grandparent to do if they find out their child or grandchild is being bullied because of their childhood hearing loss? Talk to the child, try and give them the tools necessary to deal with the bullies of the world. As Lauren said, “My Mom got in good with my educators and my Dad told me that I'm better than them (the bullies.) He taught me to stand up for myself by looking my tormentors in the eye and basically telling them that they don't bother me!”

Lauren’s mom had the right idea. “Getting in good with the educators” is one tactic a parent can take to help their child at school. Once a parent has connected with educators, they could investigate speaking before the class about hearing loss and what an audiologist does. Most children are receptive and empathetic when the information is explained in a thoughtful and open manner. Children are curious and interested in technology, so showing a hearing aid and explaining how it can almost be like a spy device—allowing small details of sound to be amplified, could make the topic fun while helping them to grasp the situation. There are also many books and helpful technology to aid them in school and socially is an important part of making them feel secure while offering them necessary educational assistance. It's also important that a child with hearing loss regularly see a hearing health professional who has experience with pediatric patients. A doctor who specializes in childhood hearing loss is more likely to know about bullying and be able to offer hearing instrument accessories designed for children in school. Finally, a parent helping a child with hearing loss deal with bullies may want to develop a bullying plan of action. On Wednesday, People Hearing Better will describe what a bullying plan of action would look like, but until then make sure to reach out to your hearing health professional and find out what new technologies are available to help your child in school.

If you'd like to learn more, see your hearing health provider. If you need help finding a hearing health provider click HERE to be connected with the largest network of trusted hearing health professionals in the nation!

References
Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 13 December 2007; American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, May 2008
A guide to dealing with bullying: for parents of disabled children (nd);Family Lives (Formerly Parentline), Retrieved September 29, 2011 from http://www.cafamily.org.uk/pdfs/bullying.pdf

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