Invisible Needs of Beautiful Minds

Strategies for Working With Children With Hearing Impairments


Lauren is a beautiful and bright girl with a sweet personality who, without the intervention of her mother, may have been overlooked as a learner with special needs. The fact is, Lauren is hearing impaired. Hearing impairment is an invisible disability.

A child who is “deaf” has a hearing impairment that is so severe that his or her learning is impaired. Because he or she is unable to process linguistic information through hearing, with or without amplification, his or her educational performance is adversely affected.

A child who is hard of hearing or has a hearing impairment, whether permanent or fluctuating, has a learning need that adversely affects his or her educational performance, but that is not included under the definition of “deaf.”

Because children with a hearing impairment adapt to their learning environment with their own creative and particular strategies, it is easy for catechists and teachers to forget about them and neglect to offer an environment, communication strategies, and presence to help them learn, fully participate in, and benefit from the opportunities offered.

Upon first meeting her, none of Lauren’s catechists suspected their attentive and knowledgeable student needed any accommodations. Lauren has benefited from a cochlear implant, and her skills are stellar. Lauren’s mother, however, alerted the Director of Religious Education to her daughter’s very important needs. Consequently, Lauren was placed with a catechist whose voice carries a little more clarity and volume, and Lauren’s catechist was asked to position herself in Lauren’s eyesight when speaking. These few but significant accommodations made a world of difference for Lauren

Since signs and symbols are integral in the study and prayer of the Catholic faith, the religious education environment welcomes the use of symbolic language and visual aids. Hearing-impaired children and children with learning disabilities benefit from posters, banners, icons, and symbols. Facial expressions, gestures, and other body language help convey the catechist’s message. Educators from the field recommend that when working with a child with a hearing impairment, the catechist should:

  • ask where he or she would like to sit, in order to communicate in an optimal manner.
  • get the attention of the child before speaking and communicating.
  • always face the child.
  • gently touch the child on the arm or shoulder to indicate that he or she is being spoken to.
  • speak clearly and naturally and at a normal pace, unless asked to slow down.
  • repeat new vocabulary in different contexts for reinforcement.
  • sequence topics so that new material is related to the material that was previously learned.
  • use written announcements for assignments, changes in the class schedule, special event dates, and so on.
  • use captioned films, videos, and laser disks upon consultation with the family.
  • make chalkboard notes legible.
  • remember not to talk while writing on the chalkboard or when not facing the child and the group.
  • eliminate background noises—sounds taken for granted and normally ignored by hearing individuals are amplified by a hearing aid and interfere with the communication of the person who is hearing impaired.
  • establish with the child a procedure in case of an emergency. (For example, agree that for a fire drill (or fire) the catechist will write on the board “Fire drill FIRE—go out backdoor.”)
  • learn the signs for emergency, fire, go, and so on if there is a signing student in the group.

Follow up with the hearing-impaired child and make sure he or she feels in sync with the activity of the group.

Children who are deaf will benefit from the experts in the diocese. Consult the diocesan office for the deaf and/or seek the advice of the children’s families and professionals in the community.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that materials and information be available in alternate formats whenever possible and reasonable to do so. It is reasonable to assume that there’s a good chance that a group will include a child who is hearing impaired. When sessions are made accessible to children with hearing or vision loss, everyone in the group will benefit.