Self-Advocacy Skill Development is Required for Full Participation in the Classroom

December 2018

Students do not know what they didn’t hear because they didn’t hear it – yet they are held accountable for receiving and fully understanding this information. Full participation in the classroom requires that a student recognize when a communication breakdown occurs, and self-advocate for their listening and learning needs. If a student who was low vision was continually knocking into people, desks, and classroom walls due to the inability to clearly see everything, a vision specialist would likely be called in to assist the student in developing appropriate orientation and mobility skills. A student with hearing loss often incompletely hears, misses spoken information, or misunderstands what is said. Self-Advocacy training is to a student with hearing loss what orientation and mobility training is to a student with visual impairment.

 

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The Power of an Appropriate Program of Special Education Support

The special education pendulum has swung away from segregated settings where students with special needs minimally mixed with ‘regular’ students in the 1980s to the current full inclusion model, where direct 1:1 instructional services are becoming rare. Students with hearing loss are already at high risk for ‘academic slippage’ due to their inability to completely access classroom communication without appropriate accommodations and supports. The move from pull-out services to provide intensive teaching in reading, language, and self-advocacy, places our students at even higher risk for developing increasing academic delays over time.

In light of this, I found a court case from 2002 that gave me pause, and hope. In Kevin T. V. Elmhurst Comm. School District No. 205 Kevin, who had a learning disability and ADHD, had received twelve years of special education (age 6-18). Kevin had average intellectual potential but his reading, math and writing skills were at the 3rd to 5th grade levels despite receiving special education services. Triennial assessments over 9 years showed that his IQ dropped nearly 20 points. Scores on academic achievement tests also decreased significantly over a 6-year period. The school was aware of his poor reading scores but did not make IEP changes to address his reading difficulties. It was stated multiple times that he should have been assessed for, and given, assistive technology (AT), but the district did not consider, let alone provide Kevin, with AT. Modifications or accommodations during state testing procedures were not included on his IEP. Although Kevin’s skills were deficient, at the end of his 12th grade year while receiving all Fs, he graduated with a high school diploma. Per this court decision, “Automatic grade promotion does not necessarily mean that the disabled child received a FAPE or is required to be graduated.”

At the urging of the parents, the district transferred Kevin to a specialized day school where he received intensive instruction. In one year, Kevin made about 3 years of progress in reading, math, and writing. His parents then decided to bring the case to court. The court ruled that Kevin receive compensatory education. The school district was required to reimburse the parents for tuition paid to the specialized school and for his continued education at the school.

 

Where is the silver lining in this case?

First, schools can and should be held accountable when students with disabilities are not making sufficient progress. Indeed, the March 22, 2017 US Supreme Court decision rejected the standard of minimal progress. For children fully integrated in the regular classroom, the IEP should be reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.

Second, a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) for students with disabilities includes specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of the child. Present levels of performance and continuous performance monitoring are critical elements for determining student needs, and also identifying if the specially designed instruction is truly meeting the needs of the child. Children who display hearing loss as their only disability do not have a learning disorder. Issues in education are related directly to the access barriers caused by the hearing loss. These barriers must be accommodated per ADA and an IEP be suitably designed to close the existing gaps in learning and support the student’s ability to keep pace in the classroom.

Third, intensive instruction by persons who truly understand the unique learning needs of the specific disability is likely to result in substantial progress to close achievement gaps. If our students are 1+ years delayed in their achievement, it is unlikely that they will close this gap nor keep up with the current pace of learning UNLESS an appropriately intense program of specialized instruction – by a teacher of the deaf/hard of hearing – supports this progress.

 

Services need to be appropriate if a child with hearing loss is to receive FAPE.

Appropriate:

Accommodations to optimize access to school communication
Assessment to identify the learning needs unique to students with hearing loss
Intensity of specialized instruction tailored to meet these unique needs by a knowledgeable teacher with specialty in working with students with hearing loss
Continuous progress monitoring to measure progress in closing learning gaps
Revising IEP services and accommodations/supports to support GROWTH.

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Self-Advocacy Skill Development is Required for Full Participation in the Classroom

 

The ‘bread and butter’ of itinerant support to students with hearing loss is often considered to be ensuring communication access, supporting language development, and self-advocacy skills training. While access relates to ADA requirements, and supporting language is linked to academics, training in self-advocacy is too often considered to be non-academic and therefore not necessary. One thing we know for sure about our students is that they will miss or misunderstand more communication than their peers. This is the basis for ongoing language and vocabulary issues and underlies the need for self-advocacy. Access and teacher accommodations cannot close all ongoing speech perception or communication gaps. It truly is necessary to teach self-advocacy skills to enable students to fully participate in the classroom and act appropriately when they know they have not fully received or understood information.

If a student who was low vision was continually knocking into people, desks, and classroom walls due to the inability to clearly see everything, a vision specialist would likely be called in to assist the student in developing appropriate orientation and mobility skills. A student with hearing loss often incompletely hears, misses spoken information, or misunderstands what is said. Self-Advocacy training is to a student with hearing loss what orientation and mobility training is to a student with visual impairment.

Students do not know what they didn’t hear because they didn’t hear it – yet they are held accountable for receiving and fully understanding this information. Full participation in the classroom requires that a student recognize when a communication breakdown occurs, and self-advocate for their listening and learning needs. Students who are deaf or hard of hearing must have the knowledge and skills to access accommodations and support in any setting and as an integral part of an independent adulthood. Ideally, students would have instruction in self-advocacy from preschool through grade 4 (about age 10). As they reach the tween and teen years, focus should change on supporting the student’s ability to problem-solve communication issues as part of their self-determination of future goals.

 

Components of Self-Advocacy: Following are basic questions that students with hearing loss typically require instruction in so that they can understand their hearing needs and respond appropriately.

Self-Advocacy

  1. 1. What does it mean to have a hearing loss?
  2. 2. Why do I have problems understanding (relate to hearing loss and language issues)?
  3. 3. How does my hearing loss affect me (school, socially)?
  4. 4. When do I have problems understanding what people say?
  5. 5. How important are my hearing devices?
  6. 6. How do I know when my hearing devices are not working?
  7. 7. What should I do when they are not working?
  8. 8. What can I do when I know I have not heard what was said (specific self-advocacy & communication repair strategies)?

Self-Determination

  1. 1. How much am I willing to have the hearing loss impact how well I do in school (planning/future goals)?
  2. 2. When is it critical for me to disclose my hearing loss (problem solving)?
  3. 3. What are my legal rights to access, supports, and services?

 

From the US Office of Civil Rights:

We need to encourage students to understand their disability.

  • They need to know the functional limitations that result from their disability.
  • Understand their strengths and weaknesses. Be able to explain their disability to others.
  • Be able to their difficulties in the past, and what has helped them overcome such problems.
  • This should include specific adjustments or strategies that might work in specific situation.
  • They must practice explaining their disability, as well as why they need certain accommodations, supports, or services.

U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, Transition of Students With Disabilities to Postsecondary Education: A Guide for High School Educators, Washington, D.C., 2007

 

He does not know what he did not hear.

This reality underlies the requirement to teach self-advocacy, specifically teaching the student about what he does hear, does not hear and under what conditions, and how to use situational awareness to recognize when he likely missed information. Some knowledge of hearing loss teaching and assessment resources:

  1. 1. Advocacy in Action Self-Advocacy Curriculum
  2. 2. Audiology Self-Advocacy Checklist – Elementary School  Middle School  High School
  3. 3. Building Skills for Success in the Fast-Paced Classroom
  4. 4. ELFLing
  5. 5. Monkey Talk Self-Advocacy Game
  6. 6. Phonak Guide to Access Planning
  7. 7. Recorded Functional Listening Evaluation Using Sentences (FLE)
  8. 8. Rule the School Self-Advocacy Game
  9. 9. Steps to Success Sequence of Skills for Students who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing

Teaching Hearing Device Use and Troubleshooting

Some knowledge of hearing device use teaching and assessment resources:

  1. 1. Advocacy in Action Self-Advocacy Curriculum
  2. 2. Building Skills for Independence in the Mainstream
  3. 3. SEAM – Student Expectations for Advocacy & Monitoring Listening and Hearing Technology (PDF)
  4. 4. Steps to Success Scope and Sequence of Skills for Students who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing

Teaching Self-Advocacy Strategies

Some knowledge of self-advocacy skills teaching and assessment resources:

  1. 1. Advocacy in Action Self-Advocacy Curriculum
  2. 2. Building Skills for Independence in the Mainstream
  3. 3. Building Skills for Success in the Fast-Paced Classroom
  4. 4. COACH: Self-Advocacy & Transition Skills for Secondary Students who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing
  5. 5. Guide to Self-Advocacy Skill Development: Suggestions for Sequence of Skill Attainment (PDF)
  6. 6. Monkey Talk Self-Advocacy Game
  7. 7. Phonak Guide to Access Planning
  8. 8. SCRIPT 2nd Ed: Student Communication Repair Inventory & Practical Training
  9. 9. Steps to Success Scope and Sequence of Skills for Students who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing
  10. 10. What’s the Problem Game

Success in the general education setting requires an ongoing instruction program in self-advocacy skills needs, including hearing aid independence, to be a part of the services provided to students with hearing loss as part of their IEP or 504 Plan.

 

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