For Parents of Newly Identified Deaf or Hard of Hearing Children:
If you are reading this you probably recently have found out your child is deaf or hard of hearing. The news may have come as a shock – maybe you never met a deaf person before. Or maybe it came as a relief – perhaps noticed your child wasn’t responding to your voice but were not sure why. In any case, you are looking for answers and support. Here are some tips to consider as you gather information and make decisions for your child and family.
Language and communication. The ability to express and understand language and to be able to communicate is essential to our lives. It is what makes us human and allows us to learn and grow. Your child can develop language and communication and reach his/ her potential. Some families choose to use sign language with their child as well as speak, others choose spoken language only. Regardless of how you communicate, your child should have as much access to the language as possible. Pay attention to how s/he responds and whether s/he reaches her language milestones on time.
Speech and language. Language is a linguistic system of symbols that can be expressed several different ways, including through speech. Speech is not the same thing as language. Many deaf and hard of hearing children and adults have a complete language foundation although they may not have the ability to speak. The ability to speak has nothing to do with a person’s intelligence. Further, the ability to speak does not interfere with the learning of sign language, and the ability to sign does not interfere with the learning of speech. Communicate with your child as richly as possible, to the best of your ability.
Early intervention. Ensure your child is enrolled in an early intervention program in your area. For most children, early intervention is necessary to develop age appropriate language skills. (See Early Intervention Services.)
Assistive technology. Most deaf and hard of hearing children benefit from hearing aids, so try to have your child fitted with hearing aids soon. Try to work with an audiologist with experience with young children to find the most appropriate hearing aid for your child. Some families also use additional assistive listening systems. Families also use visual alerting systems in the home, such as a flashing light connected to the doorbell, to give their child information about what is happening in their environment.
Learn from other parents. Meeting other parents of deaf or hard of hearing children will provide support and information that only another parent can provide. Ask your early intervention program to connect you with parent groups or individual parents within your community.
Learn from deaf and hard of hearing adults. Many deaf and hard of hearing individuals are happy to answer your questions about raising a child with hearing loss and give you practical suggestions for communication at home. Ask your early intervention program about a Deaf Mentor program, groups, and events in your area.
No decision needs to be forever. There will be many twists and turns throughout the life of your child and family. Be flexible enough to stay with approaches that work and to modify those that don’t. Take your cues from your child. Observing your child’s development will help guide you on this sometimes difficult, yet rewarding path.