Dr. Asmita Huddar, Principal at CCYM’s Hashu Advani College of Special Education, brings four decades of expertise in disability management and special education. A Fulbright scholar and influential figure at the University of Mumbai, she is an expert in the education of children with hearing losses. Her impactful contributions span curriculum development, program launches and academic mentorship.

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Transcript

Q. What is deafness?

This is the most difficult question to answer.

Being in the field for so many years, yet there isn't a crisp answer for this.

Technically, or traditionally it can be explained as "inability to hear" but again there are perspectives and there are models of looking at any disability, including hearing disability.

But what I would like to emphasize here is, uh, hearing state being…hearing status being different is just tip of the iceberg.

We know that a person is unable to hear the way other majority people can hear, period.

This is very simple to understand.

But the issue or the condition is much because what we look at hearing loss is just one part of it.

And because of hearing loss there are so many other areas which are at risk of getting impacted.

I'm not even saying they're getting impacted, I'm saying at risk of getting impacted are just too many.

And that actually makes the whole condition quite complex.

And one of the issues linked with this is language deprivation.

Q. How does a deaf child acquire language?

A child is like a machine.

Neurodevelopment, neuromuscular machine, which is ready to take language, language acquisition device as it is technically known as.

So whichever language is given to the child, exposed to the child, majority uh through hearing, that language the child picks up.

So, it is like a machine as I said, so if we put uh, Tamil in the machine, then Tamil language will come out.

If we expose a child to Marathi, the child acquires Marathi.

If we expose a child to Mandarin, the child acquires Mandarin.

Now think of a situation of a child who does not get appropriate, adequate input of any language.

What will be the product of that?

So language deprivation - inadequate, delayed, deviated language is a predominant risk that every child with hearing loss is born with.

Until and unless we work on language, then the later areas like social development, academic development and education, literacy, personality development, everything is at risk, because language plays mediated role and that is the complexity of a case called hearing loss.

Q. What are the communication options available to deaf children?

So there is a child, who is unable to hear adequately and hence we are worried about the language input and exposure to the child.

So logically you can see two options here.

One is work on the hearing loss, amplify, give him or her amplification device so that whatever the child hears, hears near normal and hence his speech and language will not be impacted, try to ensure that.

So this is one way, that is, maybe we could say working on the weakness of the child.

How can…what can we do to empower the hearing, residual hearing, whatever hearing is remaining with the child…how can we facilitate listening through that?

So that is one way and the product will always be speech.

So the child will be able to listen with the help of technology, intervention, training, therapy, parental involvement and all these factors.

The child will be able to listen and hence the child will be able to speak, as simple as that.

Now other way is through visual mode.

There is something, as we all know, is called Sign Language.

So Sign Language is a visual manual language.

So instead of receiving language from ears, we receive language through eyes.

And instead of expressing from speaking, we express through signing.

So that is another option.

I wouldn't like to call that an alternative because that could be predominantly primary option for some of the cases. Okay?

So these are the two broad categories, the ways parents and families want to go ahead.

But one more red flag here is these are considered contradictory factors, but they are not.

I mean one need not choose only one and try to hold onto that.

In very few cases we can clearly, parents and families with the help of professionals, can clearly choose one.

But otherwise it's a big ethical dilemma which one to select, so we should not close doors for any option when we select one option.

So that is something very important we need to know.

And something very important that I keep on telling to my students and everybody, that if I show you a shoe, suppose, and if I ask you, 'will this shoe fit?', what will be your response?

Obviously your response will be, 'for whom?'.

Show me the feet and I'll be able to tell you whether this shoe will fit or not.

So same, similar analogy we can use for this method, battle of methods, oral versus signing.

Let us not advocate any one option.

Let us not think that one option is appropriate for everybody.

See the case and let the families decide.

And it has to be informed consent and informed decision and the families are on the front seat, they are driving the decision making process while professionals support the process and the decision.

Q. What should families of children with deafness focus on?

I feel, if one word answer needs to be given for this question, then it will be literacy.

What happens is, we're so much bothered about speech and because speech is supposed to be normal, which is linked with the majority of the people globally around us.

Most of the families want the child to speak, fair enough, but how far can you stretch the issue is an important point here because in the bargain, many a times I say that speech and signing just doesn't matter, what matters is the ultimate goal and that could be literacy, because literacy will open the doors for, you know, world knowledge, education, employment and everything.

And because hearing loss is linked with language issues, literacy is a high risk area.

Many a times you will bump into deaf adults who are not really…who do not have age appropriate literacy skills and that is the biggest concern.

And why we need to emphasize, one, because literacy is important for anybody in modern world and secondly because this speech and signing and the controversy revolving around it steals the thunder.

Everybody's worried about speech, either speech or signing, but the real issue is language.

And the real manifestation of language for a child with hearing loss is literacy.

So if one word I have to say that what the parents and families or even policies and uh you know teachers need to focus on, it has to be literacy.

Q. What are the schooling options available to parents for their deaf children?

Like we said that speech versus sign is a complex issue, similarly what type of school is also a complex issue and again, a general one statement cannot be advocated that this type of school is better than this type of school.

Particularly two broader categories if we want to take, then mainstream schools, which can be called as inclusive schools if they qualify for this uh label.

So mainstream schools and special schools, if we consider these do…two broad categories and we want to select one out of the two, then I would say, again, the selection has to be case by case.

What is appropriate for the child?

What is, you know, more than appropriate in our country?

What is available for the child?

What is best available option for the child that needs to be seen with the clinical and environmental features of the case, that child.

That is something very important.

So globally, and of course in Indian policies, have moved towards inclusion.

So by default first choice used to be special school for a special child and now we're thinking of mainstream school as the first choice.

So for some reasons if there are no decisions involved or some reasons both are available or for some reasons both are not available and we need to make one choice, then it has to be mainstream or inclusive setup is the pol…

That is what the policy says.

But again it is not that simple because the mainstream schools, even if they would like to call themselves inclusive schools, are not yet really ready for children with hearing disability.

Q. How can mainstream schools equip themselves to teach deaf children?

It's a process.

It's a journey and not a destination and there are many ways mainstream schools can equip themselves to open the doors for the children with hearing disability.

Two three major issues will be first training of human resources.

All those are involved in academics and non-academic issues in the schools have to be trained or rather oriented towards the learning needs of all disabilities but also hearing disabilities.

That is one and secondly most important, and the cheapest thing that we can offer is positive attitude, proactive attitude.

That needs to be there.

Understanding the exemptions, concessions, reservations and facilities that are provided to them by law that needs to be understood and of course implemented to know what exemptions are due for a child with hearing Impairment, if the family wants.

So to know what accommodations and adaptations can be done in the curriculum, uh, that also one needs to know about it and one needs to implement, the schools need to implement.

This is again very important point.

So the whole environment needs to be built up.

And of course taking care of the communicative needs of a child with hearing loss because that's the predominant area.

So, priority sitting, buddy system, a quieter room, prioritize sitting arrangement, all these could lead to a better educational environment for a child with hearing Impairment.

Q. What kind of accomodation and adaptations can teachers utilize in classrooms for deaf children?

I always say that accomodation, adjustment and adaptations are more important because they may not wait for the disability certificate.

For other exemptions and reservations you may need a disability certificate for the families to produce, but for positive attitude and tuning the environment and curriculum to suit the needs of the child, you don't need any certificate, you don't need any circular GRs and you know, policies.

If as a teacher you feel like reaching out to each and every child in the class, if that is the accountability the teacher feels in a special school or in a mainstream inclusive school, then you will figure out what things work.

Coming to curriculum, see, curriculum is a very broad term.

It includes assessment, teaching-learning material, setting objectives, a style of teaching, everything, pedagogy, everything will be part of that.

So as per the need of child, all these could be adjusted and accommodated.

And again there will be not one thumb rule that 'do this and not do this'.

The teachers will have to figure this out, know little bit about the communicative and learning needs of the child and everything will fall in place.

I always say that it is not a rocket science.

And when it comes to implementing inclusive policies, uh, I often say that use the parachute technology.

Which means what, suppose if you are in a flight and an air-hostess announces now this is the time you need the parachutes and you'll have to jump because there's an emergency, you wouldn't say that 'where is the circular?'

'Nobody taught us, nobody gave us the training, we are not ready for it, let's wait for sometime, somebody will come and give us training.'

No.

You just jump.

So with inclusive policies, this is what we need.

We all need to just jump into it and figure out things.

Things will happen.

Only what is missing here is, lot of discussion with no action.

Q. What are some of the myths surrounding deafness and Sign Language?

Yeah, the biggest and, we all have been fighting against it for years and decades is uh "deaf are dumb."

That association that is very uh clear in our mind somehow we're trying to undo that.

That it is about deafness and not about dumbness.

Uh because you know the term dumb also means somebody lower intellectually.

Uh so that is really impacting the society, the way they look at persons with hearing disability.

So definitely deaf are not dumb.

One because they can speak and secondly and most importantly that there is no intellectual disability involved here.

So their IQ is not compromised when we say child or a person with hearing loss.

That's something very important.

So our habitual term 'deaf and dumb', we must undo that.

And we can address a person with deafness as a deaf person or a person with hearing disability, hearing loss, hearing Impairment, the way you want to express.

That's something very important.

And that is important because we…we have to delink speech from deafness.

Uh that is uh the issue.

And then there are several misconcepts about what these children will not be able to do, you know, because whenever we hear the word disability, we as, lay persons I'm saying, there is a long list in our mind about what a person will not be able to do or at least a doubts and a question mark whether that child will be able to do this and that as against what the child will be able to do.

Uh there are many misconcepts related to other issues like hearing aids or even Sign Language for that matter.

So about hearing aid people think that, um, you put on the hearing aid the way you put on the spectacles and the issue is resolved.

I couldn't see, I went to the shop, I bought a spectacle, I started wearing it, a day I needed to adjust, and then everything is sorted out.

So that doesn't happen with a hearing aid or any kind of assistive device.

It needs lot of rigorous training.

And most importantly, when did the child get it is an extremely important point.

So we often talk about early identity, early amplification, early intervention.

That is absolutely important.

So, um, in many ways hearing aids are like spectacles but many ways they are not and that we need to understand.

So there are lot of misconcepts about hearing aids.

Even parents and families many times think that 'oh yes we got the hearing aid'

Yes, we got the hearing aid or we got the cochlear implant done, great, but that is step one.

Not end of the road but beginning of the journey, uh, that we need to understand.

About Sign Language there are so many misconcepts, misconcepts about it.

To begin with, many people think it's not a language,

Uh, it needs to follow some grammar of English, Hindi, Marathi or it is not standardized.

I hate this misconcept the most because then I feel who has standardized Marathi or who has standardized English or who has standardized Mandarin or Swedish…Sweden…Swedish?

Yeah…

So there isn't anything called standardization.

Languages, natural languages evolve.

They are not made by human beings.

So, Sign Languages are naturally evolved and they are as much a langauge as any other verbal languages.

It is just that we aren't aware of Sign Languages.

We look at it as something strange, inferior or we have doubts about can there be poems in Sign Language?

Can there be jokes cracked in Sign Language?

Will there be babbling in Sign Language?

The answer to all and so many more questions is yes, because these are naturally evolved languages.

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