Last Friday, my kid’s elementary school held a program called “Experience the Awareness.” The point of the program is to have the kids learn about the struggle behind the different disabilities and learning differences. Kids rotate through 10 stations, spending about five minutes (too short) at each station.
We covered muscular dystrophy, missing limb, injured limb, autism, cerebral palsy, dyslexia, asthma/speech, blindness, hearing loss, and wheelchair. The deaf station required the kids to put cotton balls in their ears, put headphones over them and listen to the music. Then they would take one cotton ball out to see what it’s like to only catch some of what they hear.
This didn’t go as smoothly as we would like. Kids had trouble putting cotton balls in (we did make them smaller), the CD players were set at different volumes since kids would play with them or they needed adjusting, and the CDs weren’t the same for all the kids as some had softer songs and others had a stronger beat. Then some kids could hear perfectly fine with both cotton balls. Could be better than average hearing or it could be poor cotton ball stuffing 🙂
So my friend and I improvised. We quickly went through the cotton ball / headphone thing. My friend followed the activity by talking to the kids about hearing loss. She’d barely whisper and we’d make sure the kids looked at her and struggle to hear her. Then she talked about my hearing loss and how I wear a device to help me hear.
I talked to the kids and told them my speech is different from what they’re used to hearing because of my hearing loss. I explained that there are different types of hearing losses and different levels of speech clarity. “Just because we sound different doesn’t mean we’re dumb or stupid,” I told them.
The kids seemed to get more out of the post-headphone discussion. I only worked with the 1st and 2nd graders (my son’s grade level) and I hope they learned something and will be more respectful. I hate the look kids give me when they hear me talk as some did before we explained the situation. Plus, the first couple of groups — we didn’t have the discussion and we improvised with each group that arrived.
I hope the kids better understand the struggle of those with differences and respect them more. But they eventually become teens like my daughter and forget all about respecting differences. 🙂