When thinking about children, communication and hearing loss, most people’s minds go straight to ideas about speech and listening, but there’s so much more than that to communication, and deaf children can turn out to be fantastic communicators, just as much so as their hearing peers. This section is all about communication, why it’s important and how we can nurture and help grow and develop good communication skills for deaf children. So for this introduction, let’s start with the basics.
The word ‘communication’ is derived from the Latin word for share, and sharing is all it’s really about. Communication is a two way street. It’s about understanding the thoughts, feelings and ideas of others by interpreting not just their language, but their tone, actions, gestures and even their facial expressions. It’s also about how we express our own ideas, thoughts and feelings to others in response to that.
Human beings are pack animals, and it’s in our nature to have interpersonal relationships with others. Good communication skills allow us to develop good relationships because they help us to empathise with and understand others and in turn, put across our own feelings. The mutual understanding that communication brings about helps us to better understand our own place within the world. Without good communication skills and the ability to empathise with others, children can start to lose confidence or become anxious as to how they should behave in certain situations. Communication also helps us to problem solve, helping us to feel supported and not alone in our problems. Asking for and accepting help from others is a major part of any child’s learning and whether using sign, speech or a combination of both, deaf children can be brilliant little communicators.
When it comes to language, professionals in child development will talk about receptive and expressive language. Receptive language refers to what we understand from others, whereas expressive language is what we use ourselves. Good communication is crucial in order to develop good relationships, to learn, to share experiences and to appreciate and understand the thoughts and feelings of others. Far from just being about little ones, for children and adults alike, the need for good communication skills will grow, just as we do.
Before there was hearing screening at birth, hearing loss was detected much later than it often is today. Deafness was often only investigated at all once there was a significant delay in speech or understanding of language. The quicker a deafness is identified and treated, the less chance there is in developmental delays occurring. Recent research shows that with effective professional and parental intervention, along with early diagnosis, language outcomes for children with hearing loss can be similar to those for hearing children.
No doubt, whether we use sign, speech or a combination of both, communicating effectively with our deaf child is crucial both for their learning now and for preparing them for good relationships with others in the future. This section of My Little Ears was made to try to give tips to parents to help start and maintain good communication habits for little ones with hearing loss.