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«Sally Patton UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST ASSOCIATION BOSTON Copyright © 2004 by the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. All rights ...»

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Parents who choose to teach their children ASL generally use the bilingual/bicultural approach, in which children learn ASL as their primary language and English as their second language. With this approach, a deaf or hard-of-hearing child can gain access to the Deaf community, with its customs, history and values, and thus develop a feeling of belonging. Yet he or she can also gain access to and participate in the hearing world.

Hearing parents must learn to create an environment that meets their child’s needs. In doing so, they can learn from deaf parents. According to Lane et al., deaf parents will bring their new deaf baby home to an environment that is set up to provide visual cues and conducive to using vision as the main means of commuDeafness and Hardness of Hearing nication. For instance, their home will be wired so that the doorbell and telephone will flash lights, instead of ring, and it will have a teletypewriter (TTY) system, so they can communicate over the telephone. Daria Medwind and Denise Chapman Weston have many suggestions for people learning to parent deaf children in their book Kid-Friendly Parenting with Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children.12 As ministers and religious educators, we need to realize that the parents who come to our churches with a deaf or hard-ofhearing child will already have spent much time and effort deciding on the best way to raise and communicate with their child.

Moreover, they may be exhausted from balancing a home and a job, parenting other children, trying and learning new methods of communication, and advocating for their child.

Our most important task is to support and accept the family, no matter what decisions they have made, because if church is another place where they have to struggle for acceptance, they will most likely leave. In addition to support and acceptance, we can offer these parents some time off to take care of themselves.

Ideas for Teaching It is important that religious educators create an environment in which the deaf or hard-of-hearing child feels welcome and accepted for who he or she is. These children’s attention to the visual provides them with a different view of the world than that of hearing people. This visual awareness is a strength that we can incorporate into the religious education program.

Unless your church has developed a special ministry for deaf people, the deaf or hard-of hearing children who come to your religious education program will most likely have hearing parents.

Discuss with them how they communicate with their child, and use that approach in the classroom.

If the deaf or hard-of-hearing child is using sign language for communication, then it will be necessary to hire a sign language interpreter. You may find an advanced sign language student who 210 Welcoming Children is willing to interpret for young children, but for older children, it is important to hire a skilled, certified interpreter. Most states have certification procedures; if yours does not, consult the national Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) for assistance in locating a qualified interpreter.

Some congregations balk at the expense of hiring an interpreter. Clearly, making this decision will depend on the church’s commitment to welcoming all children. Awareness training for the entire congregation may be helpful in encouraging this commitment.

Technology is continually evolving and producing new assistive devices to help people hear. Be sure to find out from the child’s parents what type of hearing aid he or she is using, if any. Also find out how much sound the child can actually hear. Some assistive devices include a microphone for the teacher/speaker to wear that transmits his or her voice directly into the hearing aid, so the individual does not receive all the confusing background noise. A church committed to ministering to all children may consider purchasing such devices a worthwhile expense.

Once a communication approach has been identified, teachers and others in the religious education program will need to practice communicating. Again, consult with the parents. No matter what approach you use, assume that the deaf or hard-of-hearing child will need visual cues in order to follow what is being taught.

Also consider that the amount of hearing loss will affect how much a child can understand and how well he or she can converse with others. Moreover, deaf and hard-of-hearing children who use the oralist approach often lag behind hearing children in developing language and therefore may become confused in the religious education program.

Where and how the deaf or hard-of-hearing child is being educated is another significant piece of information for your planning, as it will probably determine his or her level of socialization with peers. Children who are mainstreamed into public school classrooms may feel isolated and have few friends, or they may 211 Deafness and Hardness of Hearing function well in a hearing setting. Deaf children who attend a school for the deaf will most likely have Deaf friends.

The attitudes of the children and teachers will, of course, be important in creating an environment in which the deaf or hardof-hearing child feels welcome and accepted. Many of the children and teachers may never have met someone with deafness or a hearing impairment, and so some sensitivity training will be helpful. The parents and the child may be willing to talk about what it means to be deaf and how the child would like to be treated.





In particular, it is important to teach the children in your religious education program that deaf and hard-of-hearing children are just as smart as hearing kids and they have dreams and goals, strengths and weaknesses, wants and dislikes, and individual personalities—just like all children do. As I. King Jordan, past president of Gallaudet University, told a group of Gallaudet students, “You can do anything except hear.”

The following list of teaching tips is recommended for including children who are deaf or hard of hearing in our religious education programs:

• Deaf and hard-of-hearing children learn primarily through visual means, so be sure to provide them with many colorful and engaging visual cues about the lesson: pictures, diagrams, calendars, gestures, and body movements.

• Use gestures consistently.

• Do not just read stories. Act them out using the children as actors.

• Keep the order of activities consistent from session to session.

• Be sure the deaf or hard-of-hearing child sits close to you, so he or she can receive the maximum sound and read your lips, as needed. Do not cover your mouth with your hands while speaking, and avoid mumbling and speaking quickly. Also make eye contact when speaking to the child.

212 Welcoming Children

• Slow the pace of the other children’s talking and foster respect when anyone is speaking. You can encourage these practices by using the Native American talking stick idea. Designate a special object for this purpose and pass it from child to child while sitting in a circle. When a child holds the special object, it is his or her turn to speak and everyone else should listen. (Be sure children know it is acceptable to pass the stick if they do not want to speak.) This technique gives children who are deaf or hard of hearing the chance to be part of the conversation.

• Flash the lights in the room to signal a time for children to be quiet.

• If the child has an interpreter, talk to the child, not the interpreter. The interpreter will not be offended.

• Do not allow the other children to interrupt when talking to a deaf or hard-of-hearing child. Make sure they understand this and remind them of it, as needed.

• Do not correct a deaf or hard-of-hearing child’s English, unless he or she asks for help. Children who use the oralist approach are constantly being corrected. It will be a nice break for them if they do not have to worry about it in church.

• Do not pretend that you understand what a child is saying if you do not. If a child can read and write, always have a pencil and paper available for him or her to use when you have difficulty understanding.

• Try some sign language and encourage the other children to sign as well. Do not worry that you might make some mistakes; the deaf or hard-of-hearing child will be delighted that you are trying.

• Gently touch the child in order to get his or her attention.

• Encourage children who are deaf or hard of hearing to participate in all activities, and make the adaptations necessary to allow them to do so.

Hidden Disabilities (Chronic Illnesses) The term hidden disabilities refers to conditions that involve chronic illnesses that affect day-to-day life but are not immediately noticeable to others. In many cases, we may never know someone has such a disability unless we get to know him or her better. (Of course, severe forms of these diseases can cause more noticeable difficulties.) Children and youth with hidden disabilities may have physical limitations, tire more easily than other children, and need to take medication at certain times of the day. We need to be aware of the children with chronic illnesses who come to our churches. In particular, we need to know what special accommodations they need and what to do in the case of an emergency.

Description The most common of the chronic illnesses that affect children and youth are asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, heart conditions, juvenile arthritis, and lupus.

Asthma. Asthma is a chronic lung disease involving two primary factors: constriction, the tightening of the muscles surrounding the airways, and inflammation, the swelling and irritation of the

–  –  –

airways.1 Together, constriction and inflammation cause breathing problems. Symptoms are wheezing, coughing, tightness in the chest, and shortness of breath. Usually, these symptoms are triggered by things in the environment that irritate the lungs, such as allergic elements, infections or viruses, strong odors or fumes, and particles in the air.

People who have asthma need to manage it every day. If left untreated, it can cause long-term loss of lung function. Children are often treated with two kinds of asthma medication: an inhaler and a controller medicine.

Diabetes. Diabetes is a chronic disease in which the body does not produce or properly use insulin, a hormone needed to convert sugars, starches, and other food into the energy required for living.2 Although there is no known cause of diabetes, environmental and genetic factors contribute to its onset. Lack of exercise and obesity, in particular, have been identified as significant factors in causing diabetes.

Diabetes is a silent killer. Often, people become aware that they have diabetes only after they have developed life-threatening complications, such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, vision loss or blindness, amputation, nervous system disease, dental disease, pregnancy, and kidney disease.

There are two major types of diabetes that affect children.

Type I diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body does not produce any insulin. In children, the symptoms of Type I can mimic the flu. Warning signs include frequent urination, unusual thirst, extreme hunger, unusual weight loss, extreme fatigue, and irritability. Type II diabetes, which is more common than Type I, is a metabolic disorder resulting from the body’s inability to make enough insulin or to use it properly. Once seen mainly in adults, Type II diabetes is increasingly diagnosed in children and adolescents. Warning signs include those of Type I as well as frequent infections, blurred vision, cuts and bruises that are slow to heal, tingling or numbness in the hands or feet, and recurring skin, 215 Hidden Disabilities (Chronic Illnesses) gum, or bladder infections. However, people with Type II diabetes often have no symptoms.

Managing diabetes involves diet, exercise, and often weight loss. Monitoring blood glucose levels is critical. Children with Type I diabetes need to take insulin injections. Children with Type II diabetes may be able to control their disease with diet and exercise. If that strategy does not work, the doctor may prescribe diabetes pills or insulin if the pills are ineffective.

Epilepsy. Epilepsy is a fairly common neurological condition in which the normal electrical signals in the brain are disrupted by overactive electrical discharges of energy.3 (The word epilepsy means “to hold or seize” in Greek.) This disruption causes a temporary communication problem between nerve cells, which may affect a person’s consciousness, movements, and sensations. When these physical changes occur in the body, the individual is having a seizure.

Anyone can experience a seizure as the result of extreme conditions, such as severe dehydration and high body temperature. A person is considered to have epilepsy, however, when the seizures occur repeatedly for no apparent external reason or because of an internal problem that cannot be corrected. The conditions in the brain that produce seizure episodes may be present from birth or may develop later in life due to injury, infection, structural abnormalities in the brain, exposure to toxic agents, or other factors that are not well understood.

Seizures are not painful and they affect people in different ways, depending on the type of seizure and the person’s specific biological makeup. There are two main types of seizures: generalized seizures and partial seizures.

Generalized seizures involve electrical disturbances that occur simultaneously all over the brain. Consciousness may be affected in some way, such that the person may not respond to any stimuli;

he or she may appear to be daydreaming or staring off into space.

The person may also pass out, his or her muscles may stiffen, or he 216 Welcoming Children or she may make jerking motions and suddenly go limp and fall over. Generalized seizures may be triggered by flashing or bright lights, a lack of sleep, stress or overstimulation, fever, and certain medications.

Partial seizures start in one area of the brain and sometimes move to other parts of the brain. There are two types of partial seizures: simple and complex.



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