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The Importance Of Early Intervention For Deaf Children

Approximately 2 in every 1,000 babies born in Ireland, are born with a hearing loss in one or both ears. Most babies that experience this are from families with no history of hearing loss, so it is important to screen all babies as early as possible.

This is why the HSE Universal Newborn Hearing-Screening Programme is available nationwide: It is usually carried out while the baby is settled or sleeping at the mother's bedside. Any baby who does not have a clear response from the screen, will be referred for full audiological assessment at an Audiology Clinic (hearing clinic).

A baby who doesn't pass a hearing screening doesn't necessarily have a hearing loss. Likewise.even if your newborn passes the initial hearing screening, watch for signs that he or she is hearing well. Hearing milestones that should be reached in the first year of life include:

  • Most newborns are startled by sudden loud noises.
  • By 3 months, a baby usually recognizes a parent's voice.
  • By 6 months, an infant can usually look, or turn her head toward a sound.
  • By 12 months, a child can usually imitate sounds and produce basic words, such as 'Mama' or 'Bye'.

If your child has been identified as being deaf, or partially deaf; the news may have come as a shock to you. You may have concerns that your child won’t be able to hear, and have worries that you may not be able to communicate with them. You may never have met a deaf person before and have no idea what to expect.

Early Intervention

When you have discovered your child is deaf, you may hear the words ‘early intervention’ and wonder what this means: Researching the options, and finding the best support early on; ensures that your child can reach their maximum potential. Early intervention will:

  • Enhance the child’s development
  • Increase language and literacy skills
  • Help to enhance general academic achievement
  • Help ensure parents and children understand each other

Effective early intervention can enhance learning; especially during the child’s early years.

People Who Can Help Advise You

  • A Deaf Person – They can tell you of their experience with early intervention services and what it was like for them.
  • Irish Sign Language Teacher – They can teach you and your child Irish Sign Language (ISL), so that you can communicate with each other. This will also enrich your child’s development.
  • Audiologist – They will keep track of your child’s hearing levels, fit your child’s hearing aid and can answer questions you may have with regard to their hearing loss.
  • Speech & Language Therapist – They will give speech therapy classes if they are needed.
  • Special Educational Needs Organisers – The role of the SENO ensures that a child with special educational needs receives the supports they are entitled to.
  • Parents Support Organisations – There are organisations who offer parent-to-parent support.
  • Visiting Teacher Service – They will work with pre-school children to provide guidance for parents of deaf or hard-of-hearing children.

Bilingual Education is the method of teaching a child through two languages: In this case, Irish Sign Language and English. This is the approach preferred by the Irish Deaf Society, as it means that a deaf child is taught in their natural language. The main benefits of bilingual education are:

  • Receiving education in a language which is accessible to them
  • Increased cognitive development, which has a positive effect on intellectual growth
  • Increased literacy skills; leading to greater chance of good results for examinations

Improving your child’s personal development

There are many things you can do as a parent to maximise the chances of your child fulfilling their potential.

Reading with Your Child

You’re encouraged to read as much as you can with your deaf child, to help improve their language development. This can be particularly effective if you sit opposite (rather than beside) each other; making eye contact, and keeping the book in view of your child. While reading, point to a picture, and the word that describes it (e.g ‘pig’ or ‘hat’) and sign that word; so your little one can begin to understand the link between the sign, image, and written word. Engage your child’s participation as much as possible, and though it is useful for their education; remember that reading should be a fun activity, not just ‘work’.

The same tips can be applied to everything in your child’s environment. While you’re feeding your baby, show them signs of the food they’re eating. You can also do this for getting dressed, and bathtime etc: Sign the words that relate to each activity as much as possible.

Pictures & DVDs

Many deaf children love bright colours and visuals props: Buy flash cards with pictures of different objects or animals; or even make your own flashcards that are related to your family life at home. You can have pictures of siblings, parents, grandparents, close friends and neighbours with their names or relation underneath it. This increases your child’s vocabulary and memory!

When your child is watching cartoons or television programmes, you could put on the subtitles: This exposes your child to the English language and helps to increase their literacy skills; as they can become familiar with frequently used words.

It is vital to maintain this kind of development; and it is recommended that you start reading and signing with your child as early as possible so that they can have the best head start in life.

Meeting Up

It is a good idea to encourage your child to mix with other deaf children. This can have a positive effect on their social skills, and self-esteem; and will give you a chance to talk to other parents of deaf and hard of hearing children as you are both going through the same experience.

Can my child’s hearing be improved?

The loss of any hearing cannot be ‘cured’, regardless of what the media or medical professionals say. However, with the use of hearing aids and cochlear implants, your child’s hearing may be improved. Each child is individual, and results may vary.

How will my child communicate with me?

If you wish to improve communications with your child, the Irish Deaf Society recommend that using a bilingual approach at home; with ISL and English. A lot of families also create their own signs (home-sign) which aid communication in the home environment.

Will my child grow up to be normal?

Yes! There is nothing wrong with being deaf, it merely affects your child’s hearing; not their social skills or academic development. With the support of family and friends; your child can lead a full and happy life.

It is strongly recommended that you and your family learn ISL, so that your deaf child can be better understood and feel part of the whole family. It also improves communication and strengthens the family bond.

How do I find an ISL course in my area?

The ISL Academy offers ISL classes. They use fully qualified ISL teachers who have graduated from Trinity College Dublin. There may be other teachers around the country; but it is recommended to only go to a class accredited by the Irish Deaf Society. Contact the ISL Academy for more information on classes in your area where you can undertake classes with a FETAC Level 3 or 4 qualifications in ISL.

Learning ISL?

ISL Everywhere was designed specifically to support families of deaf and hard of hearing children learning ISL. It is a free, easy to use and accessible mobile app invaluable to anyone wanting to learn ISL. Download on itunes; or go to the website.

For plenty more information, presented in both written and ISL signed form; go to www.irishdeafsociety.ie. You'll find information on options on Educational Options, and where to go for Further Support; plus much more.

This article is part of a series looking at some of the challenges that affect children and their families. Read next: Dyslexia, and How To Recognise The Signs

 


About the Author

Emily is a writer, editor, blogger, and our Digital Content Assistant. She has three awesome nieces, and has accidentally worn the same outfit as them on at least one occasion. Emily likes making things, including hand-drawn cards, and a darn good chocolate cake. She still sounds very English, despite living in Dublin for the last nine years. More insight into the workings of her brain can be found on dancingcakesandsilence.blogspot.com.

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