Deaf Aware

This Deaf Awareness Week (2nd - 8th May), our Audiology team bring you this guest blog on listening skills for d/Deaf children and young adults. To mark the week, they have also offered a number of additional screenings in our onsite clinic adapted for students with complex needs, and our Family Services department are working with PIPS, Stockport's parent-carer forum, and Seashell's own BSL instructor to hold a workshop on Deaf Awareness this Friday.

We (Jane Douglas and Lucy Owen) are both Audiologists who are based at Seashell Trust. We work exclusively with children and young people with low incidence syndromes, conditions and autism, which makes diagnosing and managing hearing loss very challenging. As it's Deaf Awareness Week, we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to share some tips and insights into the world of the students we support.

So how do we help deaf students with complex additional needs to really listen? Most deaf people will be able to perceive some sound (Action on Hearing Loss discusses different types of deafness in more detail here) but before our students can learn to use their hearing, they first need to understand that sound means something. Children with additional needs will often find that difficult because sound is a transient stimulus - it will come and go, unlike their vision or something tangible like an Object of Reference. 

Parents and professionals working with a child to develop their listening skills should start by making sure sound has meaning. Try proto-conversations where you mirror the sounds that the child makes, following the pitch and rhythm of their sounds through engaging in what we call intensive listening interaction. Children who might babble or hum or otherwise make noises to themselves learn that you hear those sounds and will respond to them, so sound-making becomes a shared activity. Allow for silence and bursts of sound - some parents might find silence discouraging but it's actually a basis of early communication, as the child learns that vocalisations can cause people to respond to them.

This strategy can also be repeated using simple percussion instruments, both leading and following the child with simple sounds or beats. For example, a parent might tap out a short pattern on a drum and then invite their child to copy them. If you're using an instrument which comes with a beater or stick then this can be passed to show that parent and child are taking turns in a shared activity.

Make sure that the child can hear the sounds and can access the ‘game’ - this might mean talking through your options with the audiologist or other professionals supporting your child if you have any concerns about how best to start.

And above all else, enjoy yourselves. Children with complex needs might need some help to learn the value of communicating with other people - making sure these interactions are fun for both you and your son or daughter will help them start to understand not just how communication works but what it can do for them, and what they can do with their new skill!