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Communication Considerations for Parents of Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Children

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Deafness or hearing impairment affects not only a child who is deaf or has a hearing loss, but also the child’s family, friends, and teachers. For hundreds of years, people have debated the best ways to develop communication skills and provide education for deaf and hard-of-hearing children.

Here are a few points upon which scientific and health professionals, educators, and experienced parents commonly agree:

Why should my newborn’s hearing be screened?

The earlier that deafness or hearing loss is identified, the better the chances a child will acquire language, whether spoken or signed. A hearing screening can be an important indicator of deafness or hearing loss in a child. For this reason, all infants should be screened while still in the hospital or within the first month of life. But children who do not pass their screening need to go for a follow-up examination. The follow-up examination includes precise audiological testing that confirms the extent and type of hearing loss. It also allows parents, health professionals, and teachers to determine the best intervention strategy for the child. The term intervention refers to the different steps that families can take to overcome communication barriers caused by a hearing loss. When intervention is introduced early, the child can take advantage of the unique window of opportunity during the first few years of life when a person acquires language, whether spoken or signed.

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Each child is unique

Each child is unique. It is important to understand the full nature and extent of a child’s hearing loss or deafness. It is also important to understand how each family member and caregiver will communicate with the child. Get to know the services that are provided in your community for children in preschool and elementary school.

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Should I optimize any residual hearing?

Optimizing residual hearing may be advantageous. Children may benefit from hearing aids or cochlear implants. This is a decision that you should discuss with your child’s healthcare providers and other professionals who work with deaf children and language development.

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Explore your options; work with professionals

Exploring the options and, if possible, working with professionals in teams can be beneficial. Your child may visit a pediatrician, an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor), an audiologist (hearing specialist), and a speech-language pathologist (specialist in speech and language disorders). Some otolaryngologists and audiologists are specially trained to work with infants and children. They are referred to as pediatric otolaryngologists and pediatric audiologists. Ask each professional to inform other professionals who work with your child about your child’s visits. Coordinated care can be a big help to you and your child. Many parents find it useful to include educational and social service professionals on the team.

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Interact with your child often

Parents should interact often with a deaf or hard-of-hearing infant. All of the caregivers in your child’s life should interact with him or her as much as possible. You can do this by holding, facing, smiling at, and responding to your infant from the very beginning. Children need love, encouragement, and care from their families and caregivers.

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Work with your child’s teachers

Teachers who are experienced in working with deaf and hard-of-hearing children can help parents understand how to improve long-term outcomes for a child. Talk to your child’s teachers. Get to know the educational system your child will be entering and the services it provides for children who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.

Organizations and federal agencies can provide helpful information to families of deaf or hard-of-hearing children. Consult the resources below, and see what information they can provide. Several offer differing perspectives on the best way to develop the skills and talents of your deaf or hard-of-hearing child. Many of these Web sites are updated frequently, so you may want to bookmark them on your Web browser.

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Where can I get more information?

NIDCD maintains a directory of organizations that can answer questions and provide printed or electronic information on communication considerations for parents of deaf and hard-of-hearing children. Please see the list of organizations at www.nidcd.nih.gov/directory.

Use the following keywords to help you search for organizations that are relevant to communication considerations for parents of deaf and hard-of-hearing children:

For more information, additional addresses and phone numbers, or a printed list of organizations, contact:

NIDCD Information Clearinghouse
1 Communication Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20892-3456
Toll-free Voice: (800) 241-1044
Toll-free TTY: (800) 241-1055
Fax: (301) 770-8977
E-mail: nidcdinfo@nidcd.nih.gov

NIH Publication No. 00-4393
April 2000
Updated October 2002

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