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That’s What Helmets Are For! – Your Child and Sports

By Lindsay Hutton

That’s What Helmets Are For! – Your Child and Sports

In some of my articles, I have discussed my experiences growing up with significant hearing and eyesight loss. I have no hearing in my left ear, and significantly reduced vision in my left eye. Growing up in a family whose members played high-level sports throughout their lives, my parents were somewhat flummoxed about getting me involved in sports. Due to my not-quite-“normal” abilities, playing sports presented a few concerns.

“We knew when you were little that you had some fears about taking part in something because you couldn’t see or hear as well as the other kids,” says David Hutton, my father and a retired special education consultant and teacher in Hamilton. “The thing with ability issues is to first acknowledge the difference in ability, but then you’ve got to foster opportunities for kids to work with them.”

Growing up today, most kids enter into some kind of sport, be it T-ball, soccer, gymnastics, or swimming. Many parents of children who are deaf/hard-of-hearing face a heavy load when considering the nature of their kids’ activities. On one hand, you struggle with entirely natural fears about the safety, both physical and emotional, of your children. On the other hand, you want to ensure your kids have easier access to many of the activities taken on by kids with “normal” hearing capabilities.

“The first time my daughter went to a T-ball practice when she was five, I was terrified,” says Scott from Victoria, the father of Kate, a 7-year-old born with profound hearing loss. “I was having visions of her getting hit with a ball in the face, or the other kids making fun of her because her language skills weren’t as developed.”

Speaking to several parents about their kids’ first foray into sports, most express similar feelings of dread. Notwithstanding, it’s worth noting that several studies show the enormous benefit group physical activity can present to kids with hearing loss to foster their communication skills. Furthermore, one study from the University of Louisiana found that while children who are deaf/HH may present some initial challenges in activities that require balance, their visual motor control and hand-eye coordination is usually as good or better than that of their hearing counterparts.

Scholarly research aside, several parents have a story or two about their children woefully getting hit in the face with a ball, or another about a mean-spirited teammate making fun of their children’s speech. “We did have a bit of a problem with one little girl who would giggle when Sophie spoke,” says Geetha, the mother of an eight-year old soccer star in Scarborough, ON. “But it literally took one conversation with her mother for this to stop.”

Accordingly, here’s a few tips on loan from several parents whose deaf/HH kids are healthfully and happily engaged in “mainstreamed” sports in playing fields and arenas across the country:

On talking to your coach:

Before your child begins play or practice, have a talk with the coach. Talk a little to them about some of the rudiments of good communication with children with hearing loss. Ask them to try to speak clearly and succinctly to your child. Promote the concept that while your child doesn’t need special treatment or coddling, a little patience and special instruction may be required. “Our coach was terrific,” says Scott. “He was a bit gruff, as many coaches were, but he was always okay with reiterating very clear instruction.”

On the buddy system:

It’s likely that some of your child’s friends are looking to get involved in sports as well. Growing up, a neighbourhood playmate both took dance lessons with me as well as played on the same t-ball team. She would help me along now and then occasionally repeating instruction on the quiet to me, even when we were as young as six. “Kids can be really wonderful about helping each other out,” says Andre, whose 14-year-old son Alex plays hockey and uses hearing aids. “The noise in a hockey arena can make it hard for him to use his aids sometimes, but if he has trouble hearing the coach call out drills, another kid will always pat him on the shoulder and let him know what [the coach] is looking for.”

On who you know:

Another strategy is to use the many networks available to you to find out the leagues and coaches favoured by other parents with children who are deaf/HH. Some good avenues to check out here are message boards, local support groups, your itinerant teacher and your speech and language pathologist – all of which offer a wealth of information about the best avenues for your kid to succeed in sports.

On organized sport specifically for children who are deaf/HH:

There are several organizations nationally for high-level sports specifically organized for children and youth who are deaf/HH. Talk to your child; many might feel more comfortable playing with children who communicate in the same way, especially if your child communicates via ASL. Though these organizations are often centred in larger municipalities, you can look here for ideas.

On keeping your cool:

“Hearing” or not, every kid involved in sports is going to miss a catch or deal with a crotchety teammate. Whether I could hear or see as well as other kids, it’s likely that I too would have taken a baseball in the face at least once, or started a different combination in the dance studio because I could have swore my instructor said something else. Despite shedding a few tears, my parents’ acknowledgment of my disability, and supporting opportunities to work with it, made me learn a lot about being okay with, and pushing my capabilities as far as they would go, and literally picking myself up, dusting myself off (or removing a splinter from a dance studio floor) and starting again.