Developing Language Naturally Takes A Team: Families and Professionals working together

This article was featured in BATOD (British Association of Teachers of the Deaf) Magazine in October 2017

How do hearing children learn to talk?

By listening, they listen to their native tongue spoken by adults skilled in their language. They learn from their parents, their family, their friends and their wider community, in real-life situations. This works for hearing-impaired children too and is the Natural Aural Approach (NAA). This is promoted, researched and developed by the charity, Deaf Education through Listening and Talking (DELTA) and is an option provided by many Teachers of the Deaf. It builds on the natural need for parents to communicate with their baby, and advocates believe it is the best way for deaf children to learn language, by using their natural listening skills, augmented by hearing technology.

Cate Statham 

Professional

BATOD

Laura Hunter

Parent

We are the Hunters – a loud, slightly chaotic, very talkative family of five – Mum, Dad and 3 kids – and we use the Natural Aural Approach for our son, Freddie. For us – it is the right fit for our family and it works brilliantly. Freddie, was diagnosed through the New-born Hearing Screening Program. Following referral to the Audiology Department and subsequent Paediatric doctors, we learnt that Freddie’s hearing loss was both progressive and in the grey area where hearing aids may not help and cochlear implants may be considered. After much waiting, watching and monitoring Freddie was implanted with one cochlear implant and switched on at 18 months. Unfortunately, his hearing in his “good” ear deteriorated and he received a second implant at 31 months.

I am not going to lie. The months and years of watching and waiting, building evidence that hearing aids weren’t enough for Freddie and that he needed a cochlear implant were hard. But we had 2 other young children and by living together as a family, and using our family’s natural language to help develop each child, we came through it. The information given by our Teacher of the Deaf meant we chose the Natural Aural Approach and felt it was right for us. The support, advice and monitoring by the Teacher of the Deaf throughout Freddie’s life enabled us to understand that what we did with our daughters was what Freddie needed too.

Our girls were already using so much language, and we were immersed in the everyday minutiae of talking, playing and reading with them so we included Freddie by talking to him about our lives. It is natural language, but we work at it. We started with normal everyday family activities like playing, emptying the dishwasher, going shopping, feeding the ducks. We are zealous in ensuring he is wearing his cochlear implants and they are working. We recognise some situations are difficult for him but as challenges arise we work within and without our family to ensure he is included. Freddie’s deafness was caused by cCMV, so as well as having 2 other young children, we also had a deaf little boy, who needed to be monitored developmentally for any further issues. The Monitoring protocol enabled us to trust that Freddie was developing as he should in other areas and to pick up any concerns. We then shared this knowledge with the other professionals involved with Freddie’s care.

Hunters

We were introduced to DELTA and attended events including two DELTA Summer Schools (primary and pre-school), to learn more about the approach. The Summer Schools were life-changing – we came away inspired and empowered with the knowledge to support our son. Meeting the brilliant, deaf, young adults who volunteer at DELTA made us realise Freddie could do this – he could learn to listen and talk.

We’re not at the end of the journey – we support Freddie in his education by being interested and talking, and more talking about subjects. We are led by his interests and it works – after a holiday when I can honestly say my 6-year-old deaf son only stopped talking when asleep, I now know more than I ever really wanted to know about the Tudors and the Normans.

The Teacher of the Deaf, and other professionals are key to empowering families and to giving them the confidence to bring up their deaf child using the Natural Aural approach. Professionals promoting the Natural Aural Approach work with families to celebrate their diversity and recognise that every family wants to bring up their child their way with their own traditions and values. The approach is underpinned with a rigorous understanding of typical language development and tracked using the Monitoring Protocol. This is not a checklist but enables families to understand how their child’s language is developing and to track their progress. A partnership needs to develop between families and professionals and there are essential elements that need to be present for the Natural Aural Approach to succeed.

  • The child is an individual, with likes and dislikes, who happens to have a hearing loss. The hearing loss must not define the child or prevent or restrict access, or potential.
  • Recognition that families instinctively know how to support listening and learning in everyday situations for hearing children. Consequently, professionals need to help the family to recognise these skills and realise they work with their deaf child.
  • Professionals must help and encourage families and other carers to understand their child’s hearing loss and the importance and limitations of the technology so that they can manage it and ensure their child has consistently good access to sound:
    • Understand their audiogram
    • The hearing aids or cochlear implants should be worn when the child is awake
    • The hearing aids or cochlear implants should be checked and working optimally
    • The Radio Aid should be appropriately set up, checked and working
    • The earmoulds must be a good fit
    • Know what to do if the equipment isn’t working properly
    • The effect of distance and background noise on the child’s ability to listen
    • Identifying difficult listening environments.
  • Professionals must enable the family to understand the different stages of language development and how to monitor and promote them by tracking and supporting progress using the Monitoring Protocol for Deaf Babies with their families:

Hunters

– Share the child’s interest and play

– Enjoy music, songs and nursery rhymes together

– Use every day routines and activities as language opportunities

– Know that children understand speech better in the context of running speech and not in isolation

– Using the Early Support Materials including: Fridge cards and Family Plans to identify strategies and support the next steps in development.

We’ve been supported by wonderful Teachers of the Deaf, who listened to what we hoped for our son and family and guided us so Freddie could develop his language skills naturally in the same way as his sisters have developed theirs.

DELTA works with families and professionals to support the development of a team around each deaf child so that every family can have the same opportunities as the Hunters to develop the natural language skills of their child within their unique family and community.

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