ALEXANDRIA, La. (AP) — When students come to her classroom, Amy Thompson says they enter “our world.”
Thompson is one of the Rapides Parish School System’s teachers for students who are deaf and hard of hearing. Like her students, she knows what it is to live in a deaf world when everyone else lives in a hearing world.
“I don’t look at myself as special needs, but I am hard of hearing — have been since I was born,” Thompson said. “I know how the kids feel. I’ve been there. I know how it feels for people to not understand or you’re trying to hear people and they get frustrated with you.”
Thompson was born with moderate/severe hearing loss in both ears and an auditory processing disorder. She wears hearing aids, but the symptoms continue to grow worse with age.
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It wasn’t until she was an adult and earning her special education certification that Thompson fully knew how being hard of hearing affected her at school growing up. She still remembers the class and the video that helped her understand.
“I was literally in tears because they were describing me,” she said.
Hearing loss affects the comprehension of students and the pace at which they learn, and Thompson said it is easy for students who may not even be completely deaf to misunderstand words or miss audio cues.
“It was hard growing. I didn’t understand why I learned the way I learned,” she said. “Nobody ever told me.”
There are fewer than 40 students in Rapides Parish served by the school system’s program for the deaf and by school interpreters.
Some days Thompson observes classes; she also pulls students out to work with individually and in groups, mainly on comprehension and phonics. Thompson is available when teachers have questions or run into obstacles with students.
“We have phenomenal teachers who have let me come in, they listen, they ask questions,” she said. “We have phenomenal interpreters we work with.”
Above all, Thompson describes herself as an advocate for students. She said she was blessed by having people in her life including teachers to motivate her, despite setbacks at a young age, and wants to be that person for her students.
“I could have let how I was treated growing up affect me. I could have let not feeling smart affect me and hold me back,” she said. “God just put too many people in my life … who wouldn’t let me give up.”
Thompson’s connection to her students is unique, but she feels fortunate to have someone else in her life who “gets me”: her husband Albert, whose parents were both deaf.
“Sign language is his first language,” she said.
Thompson is open with her students and their parents about her hearing disorder because she wants them to know it doesn’t define what someone is capable of in life.
“Because I’ve been there, the kids see someone like them. They see an adult who’s made it, they see an adult who has a job, who has a life,” she said. “If anything, I hope that I’m able to show them confidence, show them that they can do anything they can do anything they put their mind to and that it’s not a disability. It’s not anything bad, it’s just something apart of who we are.”
Information from: Alexandria Daily Town Talk, http://www.thetowntalk.com