Practice brief: Serving children with hearing loss who have been adopted and their families

By guest authors:
Elizabeth Rosenzweig, MS, CCC-SLP, LSLS Cert. AVT
Elaine Smolen, MAT, LSLS Cert. AVEd
Maria Hartman, Ph.D.

Our research team in the Program in the Education Deaf Education at Teachers College, Columbia University recently conducted a qualitative investigation on the experiences of parents who have adopted children with hearing loss.  Below, we share several key findings and resources that professionals can use to serve these exceptional children and their families.

Positive adoption language.  As communication disorders professionals, we understand the power of words.  Common terms like, “real parents,” or “natural child” carry hurtful implications for children who have been adopted and their parents.  You can find more information on respectful alternatives to old adoption-related terms at bit.ly/posadoptlang.

Adoption-sensitive classrooms.  Common classroom activities, such as Father’s Day/Mother’s Day projects, creating a family tree, mapping family genetics, or sharing baby pictures and memories, may be difficult for children who have been adopted or in foster care.  Consider alternatives, like allowing children to create a gift for any special person in their lives, making a collage of important people in their lives, using animal models for genetics lessons, or sharing fun facts or hidden talents rather than baby pictures.  Additionally, while some children may be eager to share their adoption stories and, if adopted internationally, stories of their birth culture, not all children are eager to serve as poster children for adoption. As in all things, follow the child’s lead and avoid putting students on the spot.  Including materials (dolls, dollhouse characters, books, etc.) that represent a variety of ethnicities and family configurations can help create a classroom environment that is welcoming to all.

Trauma-informed care.  Most importantly, practitioners must be attuned to the profound influence of trauma on the developing brain.  While many children who have been adopted are now in nurturing families, early experiences of institutionalization, separation from a primary caregiver, stress, material deprivation, and potential abuse leave lasting scars on the developing brain.  These effects of trauma may show up in various ways in the classroom: as language delays (above and beyond those attributable to hearing loss), sensory and emotional regulation challenges, and a fight/flight/freeze response to triggering situations.  Trauma-informed care prompts us to ask, “What happened to you?” instead of, “What’s wrong with you?” when confronted with a challenging behavior.

Here are some resources on trauma-informed care for children who have experienced any kind of early trauma (adoption included) that are essential for any interventionist work with children who have experienced any Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs):

Eager to learn more?  Check out our complete article in the November 2018 issue of The Hearing Journal, and contact us if you’d like to participate in future research!

Elizabeth Rosenzweig MS CCC-SLP LSLS Cert. AVT is a Speech-Language Pathologist and Listening and Spoken Language Specialist, Certified Auditory Verbal Therapist in private practice.  She works with families around the world via teletherapy and writes on all things hearing loss on her website: www.AuditoryVerbalTherapy.net.

Elaine Smolen is a doctoral student and National Leadership Consortium in Sensory Disabilities (NLCSD) scholar at Teachers College, Columbia University.  Prior to beginning her doctoral studies, Elaine was as a head teacher at Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech/New York.  She currently provides hearing education and consulting services in the New York area.  Elaine received her MAT in deaf education childhood education and English from The College of New Jersey.

Maria Hartman is a Lecturer in Program in the Education of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing at Teachers College, Columbia University teaching courses in language and literacy development as well as assessment and methods courses.  She is also the Coordinator of Student Teaching, supervising pre-service students in schools and programs throughout NYC.  Previously, Maria was a classroom teacher in a school for deaf children in Brooklyn, NY. She serves on the CID Professional Development advisory council.

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