Hesperian Health Guides
Making the community a better place for children who are deaf
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The way that adults and older children act towards deaf children can have a strong effect on others. For example, if people include deaf children in their activities, or if they oppose poor treatment of deaf children, it is more likely that others will follow their example. Here is a story about a school principal in Mongolia who used his position to influence how deaf children were treated in his school.
A school learns to welcome deaf children
In one town in Mongolia, a few families worked hard to organize classes for deaf children in their local school. After some cases of teasing and making fun of the deaf children, the school principal called all the students to a meeting and explained to them that this behavior was not acceptable, and that all children at the school should feel welcome.
Everyone's behavior changed when the school principal insisted on better treatment of the children who could not hear. As time passed, the teachers, parents, and students began to feel proud of their deaf classes and feel responsible for the students. Now, when the other children meet their deaf schoolmates outside the school, they are friendly to them. Children from other classes often visit the deaf class, and some of the older girls have taught the young deaf children the complicated steps of traditional Mongolian dances.
Help people communicate with your child
Adults and children in the community can help deaf children by interacting with them. They must treat deaf children with the same respect and kindness they show to others. When community members communicate with deaf children, they will learn that children who are deaf are just like other children.
Encourage people to communicate with your child whenever they see her. Introduce her to people you meet. Show them how to greet her, and teach her how to greet them. Just as you teach a hearing child the name or term of respect for each person you know in the community, teach your child a sign or spoken name for each person, and teach people your child's sign or spoken name.
People in the community may feel more comfortable with your child if you explain how to act, and show them a few signs or gestures. Explain to people that it is best to be at the same eye level as your child when they talk or sign to her. People can use gestures and expressions on their faces as if they are communicating with a child who can hear.
Families of deaf children can organize programs for people in the neighborhood to help them understand about 'differences', respect, and awareness of deafness and hearing. They can help their friends and community-based groups to welcome children who are deaf or 'different' in other ways.
People will better understand a child who does not hear well if they can get an idea of what that might feel like. Here are some fun ways to learn. These games can be used in public places such as churches, temples or other religious places, clinics, schools, and community groups. You can use them during awareness-raising sessions or during a parents' meeting.
How to help hearing people understand what it is like
to be deaf or not hear well
Game: What did you say?
One person covers his ears while another tells a funny story to the group. Or people can take turns sitting far away, so they cannot hear the story. Another person asks everyone questions about the story, including the person whose ears were covered or who sat far away.
Ask this person what it felt like not being able to hear the story well.
Then everyone can talk about what they can do to communicate better with children who really do have difficulty hearing.
How to help children communicate without speech
Children who have difficulty hearing usually have difficulty speaking. Their speech sounds strange to people who can hear. This is because people who cannot hear have no way to know how speech is supposed to sound. It is very hard for them to speak like hearing people do. As a result, many deaf people choose not to speak, and communicate only with gestures, or signs or sign language. People with different hearing abilities may feel shy and only talk to the people they know well.
Ask a group of children if they know other children in the community who are deaf or cannot hear well. You can all discuss ways to communicate with children who have different hearing abilities.
Game: Talking without words
This game will help children understand how difficult it can be for a child who cannot speak, or who cannot speak well, to communicate. Everyone takes turns trying to say something to the group without using words. Begin with easy ideas, like 'I am sleepy', or 'give me the ball'. Then try harder ones, like 'I'm lost and can't find my house', or 'I had a bad dream'.
Afterwards, you can talk about:
- Was it difficult to explain something without talking?
- How did you feel when someone did not understand?
- What did other children do that helped you communicate with them? What else could they have done to help?
- How might you communicate with children who cannot speak? Then you could make up some signs for the ideas you tried. See how much easier it is to communicate with signs.
This is a good time to tell children about their local sign language or about how families can make up signs to help each other communicate (see Chapter 4). See how to help children learn some home signs.
Services for deaf children and their families
All people need basic services such as water, electricity, transportation, education, and health care. It usually takes the resources of a whole community to provide services like these. The same is true of services needed by deaf children and their families. People in the community have knowledge, resources, and skills they can share. By working together, a group of families or an entire community can organize efforts toward things like:
- learning how to check the hearing of young children.
- helping local health workers learn to recognize and treat ear infections, which can help prevent deafness.
- finding a place where families with deaf children can meet.
- organizing speech or sign language classes.
- helping hearing people learn to talk so that children who can hear a little can understand them.
- translating between sign and speech at schools or play groups.
One group of parents in India worked to bring hearing aid services to their town, so that children would have trained health workers nearby to fit, repair, and maintain their hearing aids.
A parents' group or village health association can invite organizations or people from outside the community to visit the village to start new services, give training, or lead discussions. Or the community can collect money to send one person for training. This person can then train others when she returns.