At a time when there is increasing pressure to devolve funding for Support Services and to promote the generic SEN function of mainstream schools, Audiology is a key specialist area in which our skills and knowledge set us apart from other teachers. Yet, many experienced Teachers of the Deaf (ToDs) find audiology challenging. Over time technological advances have facilitated developments in assessment and amplification hardware which, although ultimately beneficial to the children, have added to this challenge.
Teachers of the Deaf have had to become familiar with increasingly sophisticated hearing aids, analysers and diagnostic systems. We are currently at the dawn of an era which is characterised by a relentless and unprecedented spate in developments across a significant range of audiological contexts.
Many ToDs are not actively involved in these developments. Some may not be well informed or even be aware of the very rapid progress which is currently taking place related to:
Hearing aid developments are moving, it seems, at an exponential pace. Many children are already using digitally programmable or DSP hearing aids. Through the Paediatric Arm of the MHAS project 9 centres will develop and evaluate the provision of DSP aids for children. Four high specification contract hearing aids are to be used for 7-15 year olds and three additional models are being considered for small babies.
Hence we must expect more and more children to be using digital aids. Indeed, it has been suggested that, mainly due to economics and design flexibility, it is likely that within the next few years all new hearing instruments will be ‘digital’.
How familiar are Teachers of the Deaf with the concepts mentioned and how does this impact on their crucial rôle in monitoring and promoting the effective use of children’s residual hearing?
The training needs of Teachers of the Deaf are unknown at this time but we can make predictions.
The key question is, 'Are ToDs sufficiently aware of what UNHS involves and the potential implications for the profession?'
Whilst BATOD would argue that ToDs should be at the core of the response to UNHS, there is some debate as to who will be the provider.
Clearly ToDs will need to enter the partnership with parents much earlier than is the current practice. Whilst it might be assumed that this will simply be an extension of current LEA Service provision, it is by no means certain that this will be the case.
There may be issues regarding the availability of funding to staff this additional commitment which may be exacerbated by uncertainties linked to educational funding for 0-2 year olds. It is also necessary to consider the provision of ToD support for 52 weeks of the year.
The concept of Family-Friendly Hearing Services for Children (FFHSC) is actively promoted as a pre-requisite for successful audiological rehabilitation of children and families and for the introduction of Universal Neo-natal Hearing Screening (www.unhs.org.uk/documents/ffhs6). It is suggested that this may require a significant change in working practice within the Health Services. Effective multi-agency collaboration and working practice will be at the core of FFHSC and is likely to involve multi-agency funding strands.
We might ask, 'Do ToDs have the skills and knowledge to work with infants and families at this stage and within such a multi agency framework?'
It cannot be taken for granted that the existing professional skill base will be appropriate to this earlier involvement and there will be a need for revised practice and the acquisition of new skills.
There is a real risk that if LEAs and Education Services do not proactively anticipate these issues and react in a positive, constructive manner, other agencies may take the initiative. It needs little imagination to realise that with the potential for multi-agency funding, radical proposals could see ToDs being frozen out of this vital rôle. More likely, however, is the possibility that ToD support could be provided by other agencies. This could involve independent agencies or the Health Service as is common practice in most Cochlear Implant Programmes.
Such developments are at the leading edge of technology in a field that already challenges the knowledge base of many ToDs, including some who are closely involved with the centres! However, ToDs cannot ignore the likely impact of such development on the expectations we have of deaf children.
Whilst this era of change presents some significant threats and challenges, it also offers major advantages for deaf children and new opportunities for the professionals that work with them. It is vital that ToDs seek to keep pace with the developments in audiology as a means to highlight our skill base and promote the unique and essential nature of Teachers of the Deaf.
ToDs should ensure that they alert managers to their specialist training needs and seek access to funding for appropriate training. BATOD will continue to inform members of developments in the field and of forthcoming training opportunities. BATOD will also promote training in key areas. Hence, ToDs are encouraged to participate fully in the activities of BATOD including involvement in the CPD log scheme.
BATOD Magazine September/October 2001