Monday, April 26, 2010

Part One- Breaking The Fourth Wall

I am a teacher in a small private Waldorf inspired preschool. In my class I use ASL and spoken English. My students are typical kids. I have no identified deaf or hh children in my class. Some kids come with social struggles or separation anxiety. I do have one child on an IEP and one who has speech delays. Before I joined this school I worked with deaf children. I am a parent of a Deaf child. That is a short back story. I believe that every child that enters my class will be successful.

Let's say I have a student that is 2 1/2 years old when she first joins my class. At first she appears nonverbal and under stress when asked to answer a simple questions. I know children have many different ways of entering new environments so this is not cause for alarm but something to watch. After a few days I hear her speak. Short one word demands maybe 3 words total. Yes-Yea, no, more-moe

When she plays she plays like a deaf child with no language. If she wants to maybe join some friends building with blocks she will push a block onto another child's body. She waits and observes before trying things. A new game in circle time is confusing but once she gets the concept after watching she nails it as long as it is not a verbal activity. Again no alarm but something to keep an eye on.

During structured group instruction she watches the teacher demonstrate the lesson then waits watching to see what the other children do before starting. Once she starts she is very focused.

When she realizes the sign language we are using in class is a way to communicate she warms up and seems excited. She soaks it up and begins to use it. She then feels comfortable using her expressive verbal English which sounds like a child with a hearing lose. She will give the shape and duration of a sentence but it is unintelligible. She drops the beginning and end of words. If shown several objects in a category she may label them all with the same word. For example a cow, sheep and chicken are all "peep". Anything soft like a blanket, tissue and towel is a "fuff".

As I watch her closely I see many things that just don't point to developmentally appropriate language.

I begin to become more concerned. The alarm is going off. I have been documenting my observations.

After watching her and giving her time to relax and gain confidence I feel it is time for a parent conference. This is delicate because my thinking is she has a speech delay and possibly a hearing lose. She looks like it could be auditory processing issues, motor control or hearing lose. It could be a combination or something else entirely. No parent want to be told you think their child may have a "problem". I want her to get a speech/ language assessment and a reliable hearing test. I want to find out what is going on then help getting the tools to support her.

The parents are visibly relived when I gently bring up the idea. They tell me they have been asking her pediatrician about this but were told she was within normal range. Of course this may seem shocking but most pediatricians have never had a deaf patient. She may not be deaf but this kind of speech delay screams for a hearing test. Most office visits are short and based on parent report. This family has a mode of communication and nothing to compare it to. So they report language that is family code as spoken English. This child may comes off as shy in front of the doctor and this is common with children this age.

So I suggest they contact the school district early intervention program for an evaluation, call the doctor and set up an audiology appointment and check out her ears for infection. I also tell them using ASL at school fosters communication and confidence. I tell them that it helps me decode her speech and model speech when I figure out what she is saying from her signs. I ask them to sign at home. They jump on that and go home to order books and videos. The next time I see them they tell me how great signing at home is. They have an appointment with the pediatrician.

So we are all on board and ready to get things rolling to help her. I am so excited the parents were so open. They are motivated to do whatever they need to to help their child. Why is it what follows is like herding cats? It seems pretty clear to me we need to figure out what is going on and move forward as a team to support this child. The thing is the people we will deal with next don't know her, can't get accurate information the way they operate and maybe, just maybe, don't really care much.

The thing is I do.

I hope it isn't true but from a parent's perspective that is how it looks. This time I am a teacher. This time I am watching from the outside.

I am breaking this up into several posts because I think the topic is important. It is just a reminder to me how families need a village and how sometimes the professionals are too far removed from the family to be effective. They may have their hands tied by policy. Sometimes they maybe are not qualified or have too many cases. Whatever the reason I want parents to know what can happen when they search for help. I want families who have been through this to know how much they have to offer.

"Breaking the Fourth Wall" is a theater term. If you google it you will understand where I am going.


  1. This family is so lucky to have you on their side.