Making the Natural Aural Approach work
High quality testing and fitting of hearing aids, backed by research, ensures that each child can hear to his/her best ability. It is no longer a matter of ‘put a hearing aid in the ear and hope’.
If your child cannot hear with the hearing aids he has got, something is wrong. It should be investigated. It is almost certainly not because he is too deaf to hear.
Children often show their awareness of sound by the way they use their voice. Some young children need time to learn to listen for their hearing to become apparent. They may not seem to hear anything straight away.
Audiological Research also helps us to make good conditions for listening, and has shown us how to use other equipment to make listening easier
We now know that there is much we can do at home to make listening easier, for example, taking care about noise and understanding the problems with microphones. We can also do a great deal to make sound at home interesting.
There is also a variety of ancillary equipment now available which can help hearing aids to be more effective. That equipment may be suitable for you and your child.
Research into Acoustic Phonetics has told us how to talk to deaf children.
We used to think we had to speak slowly and carefully to deaf children. Research has shown that this stops children making sense of what they hear.
Speech spoken at a normal speed is full of rhythm and intonation. We now know that it is the rhythm and intonation that children find easiest to hear and learn. So, groups of words, e.g. ‘look at that’, are easier to hear than single words, e.g ‘look’, and long words e.g. ‘elephant’ are easier to hear than short words, e.g. cat.
The deaf children of hearing parents live and learn in homes where they are expected to hear and where speech is the normal means of communication. Sign Language in any form is not recommended within the practice of the Natural Aural Approach in hearing families.
It is important that listening is the main area of the child’s attention. Any formalised sign system, because it is visual, takes the child’s attention away from the sounds he needs to understand. Children who have learnt to talk can learn to sign later if they want to. Children who learn to sign first find it difficult to develop good spoken language.
But natural gesture is an important part of getting to know what talk is about.
The facial expressions and gestures that people use every day play an important part in children learning to make sense of the sounds they hear. They help children to know what sounds mean and give important clues about how people think. It is important that children benefit from their use.
We used to think that deaf children could not hear, and had to use their eyes to learn to lip-read.
We now know that deaf children can learn well through listening with good quality aids.
To help children develop good listening, we need to make listening a part of everyday life.
Many children with the right hearing aids do not need to use their eyes to know what is being said – we can even talk to them when they are not looking.
Once children know something about sound and language, lip-reading can be a very useful extra aid when things are difficult. The children themselves will tell you when they need to see you.
Research into how children learn to talk has shown us that teaching children words and sentences is not the best way – it leaves children confused about how to use words and muddles their sentences.
Children learn words and language themselves, as they listen to and talk to the people in their lives. They find they need words and sentences to say what is in their minds. It is as natural as learning to walk, once you can hear, even if you do not hear exactly the same as other people.
It takes a normally hearing child about a year to produce his/her first word – a year of listening.
We should expect a deaf child to need at least a year of listening through the aids before s/he starts to talk. During that year of listening, children play with their voices, learn to get attention and learn to recognise a few regularly used sayings, ‘Daddy’s coming’, ‘Where’s teddy?’
Children learn first the words that are most important to them, not the ones that we think are easy, or the ones they hear most often. Their first words are likely to be words like ‘more’, ‘no’, ‘gone’, ‘down’, because these words make something happen in their lives.
Developing speech naturally
The Natural Aural Approach allows children to develop speech themselves in a natural spontaneous way. Because children can hear themselves, they can match their speech to what they hear others say. Their speech develops natural rhythms and intonation patterns, is usually quite easy to understand, and becomes clearer as they develop – the more they talk, the better they become.
Children do not need to be taught to speak. Expecting correct pronunciation before they are speaking fluently can interfere with the natural sound of their speech. It can also make them feel self-conscious about talking. Children need to enjoy talking without worrying about how it is said. If you do not understand them, be patient, they will try again.