Thoughtful Parenting: Communication with and without hearing loss
Horizons provides early intervention services for children birth to 3. If a child qualifies, she may receive a range of services at no cost to the family.
Early intervention improves outcomes by providing early, appropriate and intensive interventions. Children with physical, cognitive, adaptive, communicative or social/emotional delays may be eligible.
The timing of intervention becomes important when a child runs the risk of missing an opportunity to learn. The vast majority of a child’s overall development takes place within the first five years of life. Eighty-five percent of brain development occurs before the child turns 3.
Two to three in 1,000 children are born with detectable hearing loss in one or both ears. Sometimes, mild hearing loss at birth may progress to more severe hearing loss once the child gets home from the hospital.
Babies begin to develop speech and language in the earliest months of life. Speech and language acquisition is one way we measure a child’s development. For children and families who experience hearing loss, learning to communicate can be difficult.
Teri Kite, teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing, offers practical tips to encourage positive communication.
• Talk! It sounds obvious, but the truth is we talk less than we did 10 years ago. Electronic devices have taken our attention away from just plain talking. Talk about your day, what you saw and how you feel about it.
• Narrate what you’re doing, especially the everyday, ordinary tasks. Lost your keys? “Now where did I put those keys? Are they on the table? No. Where do I remember having them last? I came home from work and unlocked the door. Oh, I had a bag of groceries, too. Maybe they’re in the kitchen. Yep! Here they are… right beside the bananas!” Internal dialogue or “self-talk” is very beneficial.
• Whether a child has started talking or not, create communication opportunities. Instead of putting food where the child can reach it, put it where she needs to ask (or gesture, or sign) for what she wants. Barriers create a reason to communicate.
• If a child uses a word or two to talk to you, add an extra word or two in your response. When he says “puppy,” respond with “soft, brown puppy.” When he says “drink,” respond with “drink water.”
• Communicate on the same level. Get down so you’re face to face. And don’t be afraid to be animated. Expressions and body language are powerful. Pretend you’re separated by sound-proof glass. How will you get your message across?
• Give “wait time.” After you ask a question, count to 10 before you ask again or ask another question. It may seem like forever, but kids need time to hear, understand, process and respond.
• If a child has a hearing impairment, a noisy environment makes it difficult to listen well. Reduce background noise or actively engage in it with the child. When other people are around, encourage them to talk one at a time. Make sure the child can see the face of the person talking.
• Encourage others to talk directly to a child with hearing loss. People tend to ask the caregiver questions instead of the child. Remind them that it’s okay to ask the child by using encouraging phrases like, “She loves to be talked to.”
• Be aware of “selective hearing,” where children process only certain parts of the auditory information. Children will typically pay less attention to words or noises that aren’t associated with some kind of reward. While talking a lot is important, so is what you’re saying.
• Be willing and patient. If your child wears a hearing device, put it on her… again, and again, and again. It’s a battle worth fighting.
Deirdre Pepin works in resource development and public relations at Horizons Specialized Services. Teri Kite is a teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing at Horizons and Northwest Colorado BOCES.
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