By Lee Johnston
The transition to kindergarten can be an exciting and stressful time under any circumstances, for both children and their parents or guardians. But planning for the kindergarten transition for a D/deaf or hard of hearing child (DHH) includes its own special considerations. For myself and my partner, thinking about kindergarten, and the years of education to follow, was a very stressful process. This was due in part to the fact that we were open to considering all options—our local mainstream school, the BC School for the Deaf, Children’s Hearing and Speech Centre’s primary school, and more. We also recognize that being in the position to even be able to consider several options was a privileged one, in that we are centrally located in the lower mainland and geography did not pose a huge barrier for us. Still, it was stressful, and we did a considerable amount of work in making our decision. In this article I reflect on some of the lessons we learned along the way, and the resources we tapped into to provide us with the information we needed to make our decision. I hope it’s helpful for those of you thinking about kindergarten, and beyond!
Get (and stay!) involved with the DHH community
We often talk about the importance of incidental learning for children – the unstructured learning that occurs when kids pick up cues and information from their surrounding environments. I believe another kind of essential incidental learning takes place for hearing parents or guardians when they can spend time with other DHH families. This learning helped us understand the different ways of being D/deaf and hard of hearing in the world, which in turn helped us think about education options in a more informed way. You can learn so much from other parents and their children by going to local events hosted by service or parent support organizations, joining Facebook groups and forging relationships with other parents and DHH adults.
No one can speak to the experience of being a DHH student better than a DHH individual
As I just noted, parents are a wonderful resource, and we talked to many of them. However, no one can speak to the experience of going through school (and life) as DHH better than DHH individuals. Young adults are a particularly helpful resource as they’ve recently exited the school system and have had some time to reflect on this experience. And they have had such a diverse range of experiences—positive and negative—in all sorts of settings, and often evolving in their choice of language and identity over time. There are many ways to access the diverse range of experiences offered by DHH young adults—local intervention programs present panels, BC Hands & Voices presents online opportunities to talk to Deaf and hard of hearing adults and ask them about their experiences, and there are many books and online resources available to parents if you look for them.
This decision may not be permanent, and will be the first of many
One of the most helpful things a parent pointed out to us was that, while we were putting so much weight on this decision, we would be putting the work in every year—to evaluate our daughter’s education setting, educate new teachers (particularly in mainstream settings) regarding her hearing loss and required adaptations, and conversing with our daughter to determine if this setting was still the best fit for her, and what her other options might be. In a way that was a huge relief, and took some of the weight off.
Go through the intake process for all of the schools you’re considering
I’m a person who worries about wasting other people’s time. As such, I thought it would make sense if we decided which school we would attend first, and then go through one intake process. Our early interventionist encouraged us to go through the full intake process for the two schools we narrowed in on—our local mainstream school and BC School for the Deaf (BCSD). I’m so glad we did, as it gave us a much more complete picture of what each school could realistically offer in the way of supports. Meeting the teams at each school will also be helpful if we (or our daughter) decide to switch paths in the future.
Don’t forget to celebrate this milestone!
At one point during a meeting with one of our potential school placements, a principal asked us what our daughter was excited about for attending kindergarten. It struck me that we didn’t know, because we had been avoiding talking to her about it beyond telling her we were considering the two schools, which would offer really different experiences. It was much easier to get excited about kindergarten once we made our decision. And it is an exciting time!
In the end, we chose to enroll our daughter in the BC School for the Deaf. We were worried—our daughter identifies as hard of hearing and our primary language is spoken English. We were trying to learn American Sign Language, but not doing so consistently. But we decided that kindergarten was a good time to try it out, and thought of it as something akin to French immersion. Being involved with the local DHH community, and seeking out the experiences of a diverse range of DHH young adults paved the way for us to understand our options, and make what we felt was the best choice for our family at the time. The transition wasn’t always easy, but knowing—as a family—that we were open to changing direction and adapting to our daughter’s needs as we moved forward helped us all feel better in the end. We’re happy to say that our daughter now loves school. We hope your little one(s) will too!