A cochlear implant is a type of hearing aid which is fitted during surgery and stimulates the auditory nerve via electrical signals. It differs from other hearing aids which amplify sound. There are a number of issues that teachers should be aware of if they have students in their class with a cochlear implant. It is sometimes easy to assume that, because students have a type of hearing aid, they are then able to hear normally, but this is not the case and there are a number of adjustments that may need to be made. Issues to be aware of include the following:
The sound heard is not normal hearing
Cochlear implants are usually fitted for people with serious bilateral hearing loss and for whom other types of hearing aid are not useful. However, they do not restore hearing, but rather allow wearers to detect some sound, which includes speech. This means that teachers may need to adjust their speaking volume and clarity to give the student the best opportunity to understand. This may also need explaining to other students, especially if they have normal hearing.
Benefits vary from child to child
It isn’t enough to find out how a cochlear implant affects one child, because it will affect every child in a different way. This depends on their level of hearing, when they received it and how they adapt to it. Teachers will need to speak to each student on a regular basis and also monitor any changes. Liaising with parents and any professionals involved is also a necessity, because some children may not be willing to draw attention to any problems for fear of being singled out.
Not responding to sound could mean a problem
Teachers will need to check that students are picking up sound on a regular basis. If they don’t appear to be responding to sound, it could be that there is an issue with the implant, or the external part of the hearing aid, which consists of a microphone, lead, transmitter coil and a speech processor. Teachers should check that the batteries are working in the first instance and then contact the person dedicated to looking after the student’s cochlear implant needs, probably an educational audiologist.
Advice needs to be sought about contact sports
Students with cochlear implants may not be able to wear the external part of the device when taking part in contact sports, and certainly not for swimming, so teachers should always seek advice on this issue. If it needs to be removed, teachers may need to double check that the student has put the equipment somewhere safe and that hearing students are fully aware that he or she will not be able to hear sounds for the duration of the sport session.
Pupils will need time off for checks
Cochlear implants need to be checked on a regular basis. This will involve students needing time off school to go to their local implant centre, or it may involve an educational audiologist sitting in on the lesson while checking that everything is working correctly. Audiologists will need to liaise with teachers on a regular basis to discuss any issues; an unwillingness to wear the external part of the device, or any problems with the implant, could mean that the student falls behind in class and will need extra help.
Electrical equipment can cause problems
Teachers, and indeed anyone else involved, should be aware that cochlear implant systems can be affected by electrical equipment. They can also be affected by static. Teachers need to work with students to be aware of what type of equipment can have an effect and what they can do to help. Not doing so can be intensely frustrating for students and can mean that they are unable to do their work properly. Classroom modifications may need to be made, so advice needs to be sought from audiologists.
Knowing that a student has a cochlear implant can be foreboding when not used to it. However, provided that teachers don’t ignore the fact and find out as much about the student and their needs as possible, there is no reason why student and teacher shouldn’t be just fine.