Bringing up a deaf child

by Sarah Johns. Raising a child who is deaf may seem a daunting prospect, but there are a host of people and services out there which can offer you and your child support.

Father and daughter

Introduction

Parents of deaf children can feel a huge range of emotions when they discover that their child is deaf - for example, you may experience shock, surprise, grief, anger, guilt or relief. You may feel these emotions strongly and you may jump from one to another through the course of the day. Whatever you are feeling is normal - there is no right or wrong way to react.

Learning to accept your child's deafness is a process that you will go through at your own pace. Many parents talk about this acceptance as a continual process. Having a deaf child may mean that you have some extra things to learn about. If you have never had experience of deafness, this can be a big challenge.

Gathering information and meeting other parents can help to take the mystery and some of the fear out of deafness and having a deaf child. Meeting other families, for example, can give you an opportunity to see how others have coped, and to meet older deaf children.

If your family and friends are not familiar with deafness, you may need to help them get used to the fact that your child is deaf. As you learn new things you will be able to give your family and friends more information so they can support you.

Getting support

There are a range of services, professionals and groups who can offer you and your child support. The professionals you meet may include the following:

  • Your child's audiologist will carry out hearing tests and explain the information they gather. If your child needs hearing aids, the audiologist will work out the best type and arrange for you to get them. The audiologist will also monitor your child's hearing to make sure that the aids are appropriate.
  • Speech and language therapists offer support and advice to parents of children with any type of communication problem, including deaf children. They help children to develop their communication skills.
  • Teachers of the deaf are qualified teachers who have taken further training and are qualified to teach deaf children. They provide support to deaf children, their parents and family, and to other professionals who are involved with a child's education. Some teachers of the deaf are based in schools, while others are known as visiting or 'peripatetic' teachers of the deaf.
  • Social workers are professionals who are normally employed by local authorities. They provide practical help and advice about counselling, transport, home helps and other services. They may also be able to help you claim state benefits or get equipment you need at home. They can put families in touch with other services, such as sign language classes, parents' groups or play schemes.

Also, there are a variety of benefits that you may be able to claim as a parent of a deaf child. The three main benefits are: Disability Living Allowance (DLA), Carer's Allowance and Tax Credits.

As a parent of a deaf child, you may be entitled to claim one or more of these benefits, depending on the needs your child has because they are deaf. Being entitled to certain benefits can make you entitled to others. For example, if your child is entitled to certain rates of DLA you may be able to claim Carer's Allowance.

More information

There are two types of deafness - sensori-neural deafness and conductive deafness.

Sensori-neural deafness is a hearing loss in the inner ear. This usually means that the part of the inner ear called the cochlea is not working effectively. Conductive deafness means that sound cannot pass through the outer and middle ear to the inner ear. In children it is most commonly caused by fluid in the middle ear (known as glue ear). This is very common and the hearing loss is temporary.

It is possible to have a permanent conductive hearing loss, but this is rare. Children with sensori-neural deafness can also have a temporary conductive hearing loss.

Your child may be able to hear some frequencies of sound better than others or their hearing loss may affect all the different frequencies equally. If your baby has difficulty hearing high-frequency sounds, this would be described as a high-frequency hearing loss. There are also different levels of hearing loss. These can be described as mild, moderate, severe and profound.

There are many reasons why a child can have sensori-neural deafness at birth or develop it early in life. Some of the reasons are genetic factors, complications at birth, premature birth, infections caught during pregnancy, and childhood illnesses (such as measles, mumps or meningitis). It is not always possible to identify the reason.

Your audiologist will be able to tell you where you can get more information about tests to find the reasons for your child's deafness. It is important to note that tests will only be able to find the cause of deafness in 40%-50% of children. Your audiologist will give you information about the results of the tests. They will also be able to explain which sounds your baby can hear and which sounds they may find difficult to hear.

Hearing aids

Hearing aids help your child to hear as much as possible with the hearing they have. The type and level of your child's hearing loss will influence any decision to fit a hearing aid. Most hearing aids work by making the sounds going into the ear louder. They come in various shapes and sizes and most have controls that allow the hearing aid to be set to match your child's level of deafness. All will have a microphone to receive sounds.

The most common types will sit behind the ear or on the body and be connected to an earmould, worn in the ear, by a tube. The earmould allows the sound to enter the ear in the most efficient way. There are also hearing aids that work by vibration.

Some hearing aids will be more suitable for babies and young children than others. Your audiologist will also be able to give you more information. If your child will benefit from hearing aids you will be able to get them from the NHS through your local audiology services. They will be replaced as your child grows or if their hearing loss changes.

A cochlear implant is an electronic device that stimulates hearing in children and adults who are severely or profoundly deaf and who gain little or no benefit from hearing aids. Cochlear implants are fitted during an operation. After fitting, a lot of support is provided to allow a child to use their implant as effectively as possible.

Learning to communicate

Developing good communication skills is vital to all children and their families. Good communication skills allow a child to learn from others and influence the world around them. This is an essential part of their emotional, personal and social development. Deaf children are no different, but the way they communicate can be different. Deaf children can learn to communicate through sign or spoken language, or a combination of both.

If your child is still a baby, communication will involve using your face, voice and body to show love and let your baby know you are there. If your child is older, you will need to think about the ways your family communicates to make sure they are fully involved.

Some parents have said that they felt under a lot of pressure when making choices about communication. It is important to remember that you do not have to make a choice for life. You may want to change your approach as you learn more about your child's needs and preferences.

The right choice is the one that works best for you and your child. If your child has other disabilities or health problems, it is important to check the communication approach that you choose will be fully accessible to them.

There is an ongoing debate about the best communication method for deaf children. Some people you meet may hold very strong views about this and encourage you to choose one particular method. It is important to ask questions and get as much information as you can about all types of communication.

You are entitled to choose the one that will work best for your child and family. Some local authority services may not be able to support all methods of communication. Your teacher of the deaf will be able to tell you about the types of support available in your area. You may also want to ask about the support available in surrounding areas.

Playtime

All children like to play and have fun. Playing with your child helps them to develop a wide range of skills and involves lots of communication. Very young babies play too, but on a more basic level. This can be simple games like peek-a-boo or games played while feeding. Play doesn't have to be different because your child is deaf.

The main point of playtime is to have fun. It can also help your child to get to know more about themselves and the world around them. Activities that use toys, books and other materials may also help your child to express themselves and improve their vocabulary. It can also help them become more confident with language, whether they speak or use sign language.

If your child has some hearing, some activities may help them to become familiar with different sounds and their range of hearing. If your child uses sign language, playtime can be a good opportunity to introduce new signs or concepts.

There is a wide range of equipment that can be useful to deaf children. Some of this equipment is available from social services. Equipment that your child needs for their education may be provided by your local education authority. Children's needs change as they grow and most children will only use some of the items available.

Educational options

You should meet a pre-school teacher of the deaf soon after your child has been identified as deaf. They will stay in contact with you through the early years of your child's life. Their role is to help you make sure your child reaches their educational potential and to help you and your child communicate effectively together.

They will work with the audiology clinic to help you choose and get hearing aids for your child, and to monitor your child's progress. The pre-school teacher of the deaf will also be able to support you by giving you information about choosing a pre-school place with a childminder or in a nursery, or playgroup. They will also be able to support you later when you have to choose a school for your child.

When it is time for your child to go to nursery or school, the teacher of the deaf will help prepare your child. They will also help prepare the nursery or school by offering training to staff and supporting you and your child. The teacher will also be able to give you information about the range of educational options that are available for deaf children.

Deaf children can go to a variety of nurseries or schools. There are some that are specifically for deaf children. Some are for all children and provide special support for deaf children. Some will take deaf children but offer no special support. The specialist support for deaf children can include a visiting specialist teacher who will work with school staff and your child to offer support.

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Top tips

  • When your child has been identified as being
  • deaf, ask for an appointment with a pre-school teacher of the deaf. These
  • specialist teachers will stay in contact with you through the early years of
  • your child's life. Their role is to help you make sure your child reaches their
  • educational potential and to help you and your child communicate effectively
  • together. Playing with your child helps them to develop
  • a wide range of skills and involves lots of communication. For a young baby
  • this can be as simple as a game of peek-a-boo. Play doesn't have to be
  • different because your child is deaf. If your child uses sign language,
  • playtime can be a good opportunity to introduce new signs or concepts. Get advice from your local authority – they
  • can put you in touch with other services such as sign language classes, play
  • schemes and parents’ groups. They may also be able to help you claim state
  • benefits or get equipment you need at home. Meeting other families with deaf children can really
  • help. It can give you the opportunity to share experiences and see how others
  • are coping. Just chatting to other parents can make you feel less isolated and
  • more positive about the future.

Expert opinion

Deaf children often need more support to be able to take full advantage of their education. The support can be provided from a young age. There will also be some decisions that you have to make at different stages as your child grows. Knowing about the educational system for deaf children can help you make those decisions.

Sarah Johns, Helpline and Publications Manager at the National Deaf Children's Society

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