From Cradle to Kindergarten - Reaching Deaf Children

Helping families prepare their child to learn is a real challenge when your preschool district is the whole province.

By Tracy Morey

Her students are preschoolers in Hawkesbury, Hamilton and Kapuskasing. "Also, we just got a call from Trenton," says Lorraine Page about a baby just added to her caseload of 24 families from across the province.

"I'm on the road a lot," admits the teacher-consultant, who is based in Sudbury and whose mandate is the development of deaf and hard-of- hearing francophone children from birth to age six. But Page's enthusiasm drives her. "With early intervention and the right approach, we can minimize the effects of deafness."

Page has been working with Ottawa's Jules-Léger Centre for 10 years. The centre offers services to blind, deaf and seriously learning-disabled francophone students, their families and the 12 francophone school boards in Ontario.

"The hearing program allows parents to access information about language development, communications strategies and services that are available in their community," Page explains. Her role is to help parents focus on the importance of the child learning a language - oral or sign. The parents learn communication strategies to use with their child, and how to stimulate all aspects of the chosen language. It is also crucial, says Page, to put parents in touch with the deaf community.

Trains Parents

Lorraine Page assists deaf and hard-of-hearing francophone children.

She also helps by involving specialists and then later working with the child's daycare providers. She sets up training sessions for parents, community agency staff or for regular teachers. Weekend workshops are now available to show parents how to develop communication strategies through play.

"My role is information, training and helping the child through the system. People still have trouble accepting deafness," Page remarks.

Page's role also offsets the "fix it" approach to deafness, which treats the condition as something to correct. "At the Centre, we are more open to all the possibilities: seeing the child as a child first and working with his many strengths, so he has access to a language. Not spending that crucial time on the deficit." She looks at approaches that will work for the family and what's accessible to the child.

Myths about deafness still abound, notes Page, and sign language still bears a stigma. "I think everyone should learn sign language, the way they take English as a second language. I'm not that fluent in LSQ (Québec sign language), but it sure is helpful when I'm with a deaf or hard-of-hearing person who needs it." Teachers of the deaf must also constantly adapt pedagogical approaches and educational materials, she adds.

Full Capacity

Facilitating language development must be broadened, says Page. She has more success, for instance, when she uses all of the senses in her communication with children. In a school system geared to verbal-oral, it's not evident to most teachers to be more visual for students who might have minimal hearing loss. Page has noted that teachers for the deaf, who take advantage of all visual aids and use a visual language to communicate, find their students "develop better self-esteem, are more relaxed and learn more."

Page has also found that "as long as students with a hearing loss behave well, we tend to lower our expectations."

"But that's not enough," she adds, "you have to stimulate them to full capacity. A child who doesn't question hasn't been challenged to his full potential."

A native of New Brunswick and graduate of the University of Moncton, Page taught domestic science before branching out into special education. In the mid-80s Page was ready for a change and took up her school board's offer of a year's training in deafness.

"What I love," Page says, "what motivates me, is the challenge of getting in real contact with a child, working with parents, putting in place services the child and their parents need-it's crucial that deaf children have access to the same quality education as other children in the province."


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