Most students look forward to the break that comes with the ring of the bell for lunch. This is a time when there are no academic challenges and students have the opportunity to relax and socialize with their peers. However, for the student with hearing loss, lunchtime in the cafeteria poses a whole additional set of challenges that need to be addressed. How can you help?
Be sure to speak with your audiologist about the settings on your child’s hearing device. With today’s hearing technology, many hearing aids and cochlear implants allow for programs to be created which provide better hearing in noisy situations. Once created, the child can change programs when entering the cafeteria. For some of these programs, the child needs some training on how to best benefit from them. For example, for a program which turns on a unidirectional microphone, the child must learn how to look towards the person speaking for optimal access.
The Right Seat
Take the time to assess the cafeteria environment and the set up of the tables within the room. Is there a place that might be the least noisy? The best place would be away from the lunch line where children are buying lunch, away from the center of the cafeteria, and along the perimeter of the room. If there is a location that is closest to a wall, reducing the amount of conversation around the child, this would be most advantageous. Be sure to have the hearing specialist within the district (Teacher of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Educational Audiologist, Hearing Specialist) teach your child what makes a seat in the cafeteria a good choice.
FM System/Wireless Technology
While use of the FM system/wireless technology during lunch is not always favored by students and can be complicated, it is an option that should be considered. Depending on the child and cafeteria set up, it might allow the child to have conversations with at least one peer. Ideas for FM/wireless technology usage in the cafeteria include use of a pass around microphone on a stand on the lunch table, having one student wear the primary FM microphone throughout the lunch period, use of the Roger Pen, or use of the newest wireless technology, such as the Mini Mic or the Com Pilot. Fortunately, as technology continues to improve, the use of wireless technology outside of school continues to increase, making this a more natural and comfortable technology for children with hearing loss to utilize.
At many schools, it is typical to have a lunch bunch for children to work on social skills. Sometimes these groups are set up through regular education to include participation by all students across the year. Other times, they set up as a special education service with regular participation, according to the IEP. This same idea can be used to create a lunch group that eats in an alternate, quiet location, which includes the child with hearing loss. A core group of children can be used each day or the children can be rotated to always include the child with hearing loss, so that opportunity exists for socialization with a variety of peers.
While self-advocacy is at the very bottom of the list, by no means is it the least important. As a matter of fact, this might be the most important strategy for success in the cafeteria. The child with hearing loss that understands the impact in noisy situations and how to best advocate in these settings is the most prepared for life’s experiences. It is important for goals to be set around self-advocacy and for the child with hearing loss to learn what to do to improve auditory access. These include sharing information about hearing loss and its impacts with classmates, understanding what makes optimal seating in a variety of settings, and knowing how to asking for clarification (rather than just repetition).