In classrooms around Australia teachers will find communities of diverse learners with different backgrounds, cultures, and abilities. The challenge for teachers is to guide students to succeed by creating classrooms that are inclusive, supportive, and free from judgement.
“Mum, I can hear my footsteps!” Harry stated, upon being fitted with his first hearing aid (M. Mitchell, personal communication, July 8, 2010). Harry is a nine–year–old boy in Year 5 who attends a public school in New South Wales. In 2010, when Harry was in Year 1 at school, his mother assisted with class literacy groups and questioned why Harry was so far behind his peers in literacy. Harry was tested and subsequently diagnosed with moderate sensorineural hearing loss in his left ear. Sensorineural hearing loss is most commonly caused by problems with the cochlear (Schoem & Darrow, 2012), which sends and receives messages through nerve fibres to and from the brain. A healthy cochlear uses the information it receives from the brain, for example to omit background noise (Hamilton & Kessler, n.d.), and this helps explain why people with sensorineural hearing loss often struggle with background noise. There is currently no medical treatment for sensorineural hearing loss (Schoem & Darrow, 2012), however, the person may benefit from amplification in the form of hearing aids. In Harry’s case, wearing a behind–the–ear (BTE) hearing aid on his left ear helps amplify the sound he receives, but unfortunately, even the best hearing aid cannot tell the brain to eliminate background noise the way a healthy functioning cochlear can (North Carolina Hearing Loss Inc., n.d.).
Hearing loss is also defined as either bilateral—meaning both ears, or unilateral—in one ear (Heward, 2009). Harry’s hearing loss is unilateral; a current audiology report indicates his left ear has a moderate loss of 55 to 70 dB between the frequency of 500 and 2000 Hz considered most important for understanding spoken language (Heward, 2009; Schoem & Darrow, 2012). Meanwhile, Harry’s right ear has a slight loss of 16 to 25 dB between the critical frequencies.
Schoem and Darrow (2012) suggest the reason children with moderate hearing loss are not identified earlier may be that they respond to loud noises and parental voices, but struggle to hear quieter sounds and voices. Nevertheless, early identification of hearing loss is critical for intervention, management, and can enhance the likelihood of age–appropriate language development (Heward, 2009). Lane (2014) warns teachers of the possibility of encountering students in the classroom with undiagnosed conditions. Furthermore, the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children (2012) statistics suggest “by school age, 2 in every 1000 children will have been identified with hearing loss” and this figure increases to 3 in 1000 children by the end of high school. Thus, there is the potential for teachers to find students like Harry with undiagnosed hearing loss in the...