The Teacher’s Role in an Early Childhood Classroom When a Student has Hearing Loss by Jacklyn Theis

Jacklyn Theis holds a Bachelor of Science degree and is a third year Doctor of Audiology student at Illinois State University with an expected graduation date of May 2015.

Emily is a three-year-old girl who will be starting in your afternoon preschool class next week. She has bilateral moderate sensorineural hearing loss and wears hearing aids in both ears. You take a deep breath, and calm yourself as you wonder what this all means, how do you support Emily, and how does Emily’s hearing loss impact your classroom activities?

You are remotely familiar with hearing loss, but have not had a student in your classroom who has worn hearing aids. What steps do you take when preparing for Emily to join your classroom? You want to think of child-specific factors and classroom considerations.



Child-Specific Factors

You know Emily wears hearing aids in both ears. The hearing aids help Emily have access to the auditory information in the classroom, so it is very important she wear them all day long unless you have been given specific instructions from her parents of other professionals. You want to be sure her hearing aids are in her ears and are on. If you have questions regarding the use of her hearing aids or the hearing loss, you could contact her parents, the audiologist, or other professionals who may be familiar with hearing aids, such as a speech-language pathologist. It is important to remember each child’s hearing loss is unique and what works for one student, may not work for another.

Let’s break down Emily’s hearing loss: bilateral moderate sensorineural hearing loss. Bilateral means she has the hearing loss in both ears. The term moderate describes the degree of hearing loss. This is rated on a scale of mild to profound, so Emily falls in the middle. The term sensorineural describes the type of loss. This is hearing loss that is in the hearing organ and/or the auditory nerve. In Emily’s case, she has worn hearing aids since she was one year old and is used to wearing her hearing aids every day.

Classroom Considerations

The classroom environment is very important for the learning of all students, not just those with hearing loss. However, when a child, such as Emily, has hearing loss, there are additional factors to examine.

  1. Seating arrangement. Consider where the child with hearing loss is sitting in the classroom. Position the child in a seat where they can see the teacher and activities. Children with hearing loss are typically seated towards the front of the classroom to reduce the distance of the child from the teacher. You should also consider the proximity of the child’s seat to noise sources in the classroom. After examining this factor and your classroom, you decide to give Emily a seat at the activity table on the side of the room farthest from the hallway door. Upon further reflection, you decide to arrange carpet time in a semicircle instead of rows, so Emily can see everyone’s faces.


  1. Reduce noise and distractions. Use carpet squares, curtains near windows and doors, tennis balls on chair legs, and incorporate soft materials in the classroom where you can. The reduction of background noise will be helpful for all children in the classroom. You should also distance the child with hearing loss from noise sources (air conditioning, door to hallway, fish tank, etc.). You have been meaning to replace the filter in your fish tank and hang new curtains by the windows. Now is a great time as ever.
  2. Ensure there is proper lighting in the classroom. It is important for children with hearing loss to see visual and facial cues of the speakers in the classroom, including both teachers and fellow students. Glares and poor lighting can adversely impact a child’s ability to use visual information. Emily looks at your face when you give instructions and she relies on your facial cues.
  1. Assistive technology. If the child has assistive technology, be sure they are using it and it is in proper working order. Assistive technology can include, but is not limited to: hearing aids, cochlear implants, bone conduction hearing aid, FM systems, and classroom audio distribution systems (CADS). Emily has an FM system. Her system includes little “boots” that hook onto her hearing aids. You, her classroom teacher, wear a microphone that transmits your voice directly into her hearing aids through the FM system. This technology eliminates the distance between your voice and Emily and provides her with a direct signal.
    1. If you have questions regarding a child’s technology, contact their audiologist. Some schools even have their own audiologist within the district. Ask how you can use the technology and for troubleshooting advice.


Potential Signs of Hearing Loss

It is a few weeks into a new semester and you start noticing a student in your class who does not seem to consistently respond when you try to get his attention. You begin to wonder if any of your students may have an undiagnosed hearing loss. Here is a short list of signs of hearing loss. Remember that not all children with hearing loss will display the same signs, but if you have doubts, it is better to rule out a hearing loss than leave it undiagnosed.

  1. If the child does not respond/startle to loud noises.
  2. If the child does not look to locate sound sources.
  3. Delayed language development or unclear speech. If a child has a language delay, their hearing should be screened and/or tested as part of their initial assessment with a speech-language pathologist. If the child cannot hear the way a sound or word is supposed to be produced, then they are unable to correctly learn and therefore produce the sound.
  4. Turns the volume of the television or other devices up high.
  5. Often asks for repetition or says “what?” and “huh?”
  6. Inconsistently responds when spoken to or doesn’t respond until they see you.


If you would like more information regarding children with hearing loss in early childhood education, please visit:

1. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at

2. Katz, L., & Schery, T. K. (2006). Including children with hearing loss in early childhood programs. Young Children, 61(1): 86-95.


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