How integration can succeed

by Peter Aebersold

The school for hearing-impaired children founded in 1973 in Meggen, Lucerne (LU) was probably the first integrated school in Switzerland. It was founded by the “Stiftung Schule für hörgeschädigte Kinder Meggen“ (Foundation for hearing-impaired Children Meggen) and Susann Schmid-Giovannini and run by her.
The small class of the hearing-impaired children had its own classroom, which was integrated in the primary school of Meggen and worked with the same syllabi and teaching materials.
 For the first time, this allowed to compare the performance of these severely hearing-impaired children with those of hearing children. Due to the support of Susann Schmid in her kindergarten the hearing-impaired children were already to read when entering class1.
All parents who were willing to cooperate could send their hearing-impaired children to this school. The cooperation consisted of frequent attendance of classes and individual therapy, the willingness to continue the auditory-verbal education at home as well as the participation in training courses. In 1975, an early childhood counselling centre for parents opened in Meggen, which later was extended into an international counselling centre.
The development of hearing aids was only beginning, and there were no behind-the-ear devices yet. To be able to hear their own voice, the children had to speak into a microphone that was passed on. But because the  first graders could already read, more time could be spent on verbal expression, new vocabulary, sentence forms and idioms and the conversation on a topic.
The integration had to be worked out first. The teachers and pupils of the regular classes were curious at first, but they did not seek contact with the hearing-impaired children. Susann With her children, Schmid-Giovannini practiced the common games of the school playground and taught them the vocabulary used there including swearwords. One day, hearing girls came to the schoolyard and asked, if it was possible to talk to the “deaf”, too. Shortly afterwards, hearing and hearing-impaired girls were engrossed together in a popular game of movement. And the boys playing soccer realised that the “deaf” were excellent soccer players.
Mrs Schmid-Giovannini made sure that her class was always on the same level as the parallel class of the primary school, which then enabled their children to participate in their German lessons. The astonishment was great that even the “deaf” could write error-free dictations. With the new, individually adapted behind-the-ear devices the hearing at a distance also improved and with it the verbal expression.
From the third year of school onwards, the hearing-impaired took part in handicrafts, crafts, swimming, physical education and religion together with the hearing children. German was added, and gradually individual pupils were able to study alltogether in the regular school. For this, they stayed in Meggen, where they did their homework and had individual therapy.
Later on, also hearing-impaired students were included who were not registered at an early age of one or two and had not received corresponding early therapy. They had to be supported by individual therapy and additional private lessons until they could follow the normal school curriculum, without hindering the other pupils achieving the teaching goal.
For children between the ages of two to five years the centre for early counselling offered weekly group therapy, since there were no pre school groups aiming at enabling them to join a regular kindergarten at their place of residence. The experiences of the specialised kindergartens and in Meggen had shown that children acommodated suggestions from hearing peers faster than from the teachers. However, that doesn’t mean that the latter could be dispensed with.
Susann Schmid-Giovannini sent the children in the regular school only when they had sufficient language skills, made good use of their hearing and were able to follow the lessons without additional support. Today, hearing-impaired children fitted with hearing aids or a cochlear-implant in the first months of their life, can learn language normally in everyday life by their ears and increase their knowledge quite normally.
The Austrian-Swiss educator Susann Schmid-Giovannini is an internationally recognised pioneer of the auditory verbal therapy and the cochlear-implant-hearing training. With her unique initiative and her outstanding empathy she set new standards in the early treatment of hearing-impaired infants and toddlers. In Meggen she created that concept of early language acquisition of deaf and hearing-impaired infants and toddlers that leads with the help of the parents to an integration into the world of the speaking. Through the foundation of the International Centre of Counselling for parents of hearing-impaired children and with international advanced training activities, she has established these early language acquisition programmes, partly against considerable resistance, thus opening up a new chance for deaf children to be integrated into the world of the healthy through a normal language. She lives in Meggen LU.

Sources:  Schmid-Giovannini, Susann. Vom Stethoskop zum Cochlea-Implantat. Geschichte und Geschichten aus einem sechzigjährigen Berufsleben (From the stethoscope to the cochlea-implant. History and stories from sixty years professional experience). Edition S. Schmid-Giovannini, Meggen 2007
Schmid-Giovannini, Susann. Hören und Sprechen. Anleitung zur auditiv-verbalen Erziehung hörgeschädigter Kinder (Listening and speaking. Instructions to audio-verbal education of hearing-impared children). Replica as e-book and print edition, Edition Edizio, Meggen 2014, ISBN 978-3- 9524315-0-4 de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susann_Schmid-Giovannini

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