Despite the benefits of a mainstream education, deafness can be very isolating for a child. The deaf child who may be the only hearing aid wearer in that school has no deaf peer group or rôle models.
These factors can play a large part in developing the deaf child’s self-esteem and also in the mental well-being of the future teenager and adult.
In order to address this, the West Lothian Hearing-Impaired Services (WLHIS) has, for the past two years, successfully run an After-School Club. However, membership depends on parents bringing their children into Deans Primary School. In order to develop a more comprehensive provision, a pilot Personal and Social Development (PSD) Course has been established. WLHIS was fortunate to be awarded a grant from West Lothian Council’s Practitioners Research Fund. This enabled the pilot project to get off the ground.
The aim of the course was for all primary-aged hearing aid users to come to the Hearing-Impaired base within Deans Primary School and spend the afternoon on a series of activities promoting self-esteem and developing skills in letting others know of their communication needs, using Circle Time activities. The core theme of all the activities was emotional well-being. Deaf children very often don’t have the language needed to express their range of feelings. Frustration and jealousy can be a part of a deaf child’s world which may spiral into anger.
The major difficulty was the transport and Mary Hunt at Lindsay House helped us out. She put the contract out to tender and dealt with several little hiccups along the way. The course was planned for the spring so we were all disappointed when we had to cancel our first session in March because of the snow!
Transporting these pupils from all over West Lothian was a learning experience for everyone involved. All the pupils were collected from their school by mini-bus (and escort) and brought into Deans Primary in time to eat their packed lunches with the Deans' pupils. Sharing lunch with our team and the Deans' pupils set things off to a good start. I had had a slot at Deans’ assembly and explained a little about hearing loss and the visitors to their school. I was overwhelmed by the interest this generated and the many thoughtful contacts that were made by Deans' pupils over the period of the project.
The West Lothian Hearing-Impaired Service had spent a lot of time and thought on the content and presentation of the materials we would use. We had eighteen pupils from 6 - 12 years of age. Many had not met any other hearing aid wearers.
We divided this number into two groups (younger and older) so that we could target activities appropriately for the age group.
We bought in Lucinda Geoghan to provide a musical element to get the pupils to gel as a group. Lucinda had a range of musical activities which boosted self-confidence and self-esteem as well as breaking the ice.
The younger group had age-appropriate story-based materials illustrating different feelings and were invited to comment on how the story characters might be feeling. The inclusion of dolls/puppets helped convey the meanings of the feelings being discussed. The pupils were encouraged to think about times when they themselves felt happy, sad and angry.
The group of older pupils discussed a range of feelings and spent a fair amount of time on anger. Anger is an emotion familiar to the whole group so time was spent in giving a range of strategies for recognising and dealing with their anger. This involved rôle play and explaining that one of these strategies may not always succeed but it was important to try another.
The feedback from those taking part was altogether very positive. Although there were a few anxieties in the first session, all 18 pupils completed the course. On the pupil evaluation sheet they all requested further sessions. One pupil commented spontaneously that the anger management strategies provided had been of benefit to him. On reflection, the WLHIS team felt that the activities we had provided had been appropriate and successful. They had noticed that during their regular visits pupils were keen to talk about the Thursday sessions and asked about other pupils too. We appreciate that we cannot address all the issues surrounding feelings and emotions in six afternoons. However, we consider that a regular programme could give the pupils a chance to develop a deeper understanding of the issues being addressed.
Having had such positive feedback from our team, pupils, parents and mainstream schools has been most encouraging. We feel that these responses justify making this a regular part of our pupil support. West Lothian Council has acknowledged the importance of this project by offering a budget to cover costs so planning is now under way for our new course.
West Lothian Hearing-Impaired Services