How to Speak To a Deaf Child
Does your kid go to school with a child that can’t hear? In the past a deaf child would go to a school for the deaf, where they were taught to lip read and speak. Nowadays, cochlear implants and digital hearing aids have made it possible for most deaf kids to go to local schools. This has been such a positive step towards promoting inclusiviness, integration, awareness and the added benefit for hearing kids to learn from an early age how to speak to a deaf child. Looking back I don't think I was ever exposed to kids with a disability and I have found this to be of great disadvantage.
Deaf kids are just like their hearing counterparts, they come in all shapes and sizes, they can be shy, boisterous, confident; they just can’t hear! As a hearing parent of a deaf child, I have experienced first hand how challenging it can be at home. The fact is, it hasn't been an easy journey.
I would like to share a few facts you can share with your kids, so that if they ever meet another child/person who is deaf, they can communicate with them.
Hearing aids and cochlear implants do not replace hearing loss
A lot of people think that hearing technology is a fix for a deaf child. This is far from the truth. No matter the degree of loss, hearing aids only amplify the sounds, so when they ask you to repeat it is not that they haven't heard you, they’ve heard a distorted version of what you have said and they are trying to pick up cues to make sense of it.
Look at them when you speak, lip reading is common among deaf kids.
A lot of kids learn to lip read. When speaking to a deaf child, speak naturally as you would to yours, perhaps sometimes slower but never shout, it won't make a difference! Trust me they can hear you, but they are trying to make up what you are saying! Imagine going to a different country and asking someone speaking in a foreign language to repeat what they said - it's not that you haven't heard them, it is that you are trying to make up what has been said.
Tap them on the shoulder to get their attention
If you call a deaf child and they don’t turn, they are not ignoring you. Chances are you are too far away and they haven't heard you. A deaf kid often needs to be tapped on the shoulder if they don’t turn when called. Ask your kids not to give up if the deaf child hasn't heard them, encourage them to tap them on the shoulder to get their attention.
Hearing has great impact on a child’s development and has benefits we all take for granted. Missing out on background conversations, television, and group talk has great impact on language and making sense of the world around you. If you don’t have access to this, you will be what they call “emotionally delayed”. This means that an 8 year old might behave and play like a 6 year old. Please note, intellectually they are as clever as any other child if hearing is the only issue.
Make an effort to learn sign language or makaton
There are two deaf kids in my son’s school and they have made great efforts to integrate them by hiring signing instructors to teach the whole school some of the basic signs. This is a win-win situation as it has great benefits for both hearing and deaf kids.
Encourage your kids to include them in their play
The playground can be a fantastic or dreadful place for kids that are deaf. It is very hard for them to hear from a distance and when children are talking at the same time or on top of each other it is impossible for them to follow. Encourage your kids to be patient, have empathy and to make an effort to explain things over.
Next time you see a deaf kid you will know what to do! Don’t be shy, ask questions, we would rather you ask than don’t know what to do around us! Your kids will follow your example. Encouraging your kids to integrate with people from all walks of life and disabilities is a great lesson to be learned, especially at a young age.