The Natural Aural Approach – Let’s talk about it!
This article first appeared in BATOD (British Association of Teachers of the Deaf) Magazine in March 2020.
Hearing children in their early years undergo natural language development through the parent/child interactions witnessed all over the world. The bonding, the play, the face to face interactions and the songs and games of parenting allow the child’s language to develop naturally. This is the foundation of the Natural Aural Approach – by building on this natural interaction and ensuring an intensive and high quality experience, language development in deaf children is equally facilitated.
The natural response of all babies’ brains – deaf or hearing – is to key in and to respond to oral language and the voices of their caregivers. With effective early interaction, normally hearing children derive their knowledge of vocabulary and their understanding of the syntax and semantics of language. By the age of four, most will have achieved this remarkable feat in a relaxed and comfortable manner out of their communication experiences within the routines of their daily lives. The creation of similar, relaxed communication experiences from which hearing impaired children can also absorb language is one of the central tenets of the Natural Aural Approach.
Author: Liz Rothwell (Trustee and Retired Teacher of the Deaf)
As children say what they hear, the Natural Aural Approach prioritises the use of residual hearing as the basis for effective communication, language and later achievement. It highlights the need for effective hearing aid and cochlear implant fitting, management and ongoing support following as soon as possible after the diagnosis of a hearing loss. Practitioners of the Natural Aural Approach think about hearing rather than deafness, explore what can be heard and develop the innate potential of the child. With optimal auditory and audiological management from the point of diagnosis the deaf baby, infant and child has every opportunity to learn to listen. However the Natural Aural approach is more than just developing listening awareness. It is a way of living – learning to listen and listening to learn.
Natural Auralism is NOT:
- Just putting hearing aids on children and doing nothing
- Just for children with moderate losses
- Teaching language or speech
- Ignoring emotional wellbeing
Natural Auralism IS:
- Recognising that deaf children are, first and foremost, children – unique individuals not defined by their deafness
- For all families no matter what their socio-economic status, racial origins or culture
- For all levels of deafness including profound
- Using the established adult/child interactions as seen with hearing babies and young children to enhance emotional development
- Enabling deaf children to be part of their family, culture and community, to attend their local mainstream schools with appropriate support and to eventually lead fulfilling and independent lives
For Professionals Natural Auralism means:
- Giving confidence to families in their innate ability to nurture their children and interact with them
- Helping families to see all the language opportunities in everyday life
- Being alert consistently to audiological needs and changes – attending to the details and seeking to get this right e.g. batteries, earmoulds and Radio Aid systems
- Using in depth knowledge of early stages of language development to show families the small steps in their children’s progress e.g. with the Monitoring Protocol
- Excellent preparation of pre-school placements and schools to enable them to really understand what support is needed
- Diligent application of awareness of the acoustic environment and ways to mitigate difficulties
For families it means:
- Seeing their children as children first
- Focussing on what their children can do not what they can’t
- Overcoming the barriers to normal verbal interaction which the diagnosis of deafness may have created
- Taking on board the critical daily management of their children’s hearing aids for every waking hour, right from the start – not waiting until they have “grown a bit”
- Providing their children with “intensive normal” interactive experiences
- Capitalising on what their families have got naturally – their own family culture and spoken language (whatever language that is) in which they are fluent
What makes Natural Auralism a viable choice for families of deaf children?
The Natural Aural approach produced talking deaf children with good literacy and educational achievements several decades ago when diagnosis (and therefore amplification) often did not occur until children were two or three years old, hearing aids were analogue not digital, Radio aid systems were in their infancy and not widely available and cochlear implants were not an option. Research was carried out more than 20 years ago (Hostler, M., and Lewis, S. 1999) which demonstrated the success rate of this approach. All the severe and profound pre-lingually deaf young people from five authorities with whom Natural Auralism had been used exclusively since diagnosis, who did not have additional moderate learning difficulties and who had attended mainstream schools were shown to have reading levels and speech intelligibility better than those previously reported in the UK for any groups of deaf pupils (median RA 14 years 6 months) and GCSE attainments better than national averages.
In 2020, New Born Hearing Screening and subsequent prompt diagnosis mean that deaf babies can be months rather than years behind their hearing peers in terms of listening experience, providing that appropriate amplification or cochlear implants are provided as soon as possible. There has never been a better time for deaf children to learn to listen and talk without pressure or stress but as part of a fun-filled childhood. Many children who are accessing a consistent natural aural approach are entering mainstream school with excellent voice quality and speech intelligibility in addition to language levels equal to, or exceeding, those of their hearing peers.
Unfortunately, there is no uniform understanding throughout the UK of Natural Auralism and how it differs from the historical, formal or structured oral approaches, which have left negative memories and emotions in some of the deaf community. Unfortunately, this misconception has lead to a “postcode lottery” in the choices many families are presented with once they have a deaf child. It is important to remember that more than 90% of deaf babies are born into hearing families often with out-dated, if any, prior knowledge of deafness. All families in the UK with a deaf child, as part of their right to informed choice, must have access to accurate information about the different communication options including Natural Auralism.
DELTA (Deaf Education Through Listening and Talking) is a small national charity which advocates Natural Auralism and the right of families to learn about this before making life choices for their deaf children.
DELTA provides the following:
- Printed and online information about Natural Auralism
- Information Days, Transition Weekends and Summer Schools for families
- The opportunity for oral deaf children and their families to meet each other and adult role models from the aural/oral deaf community
- CPD workshops on Natural Auralism for professionals working with deaf children
More information can be gained from the DELTA website or by email or telephone enquiries:
Tel – 0300 365 7200
We are entirely reliant on voluntary fundraising support to support families of deaf children.
Read more articles
For more articles, research and information, you can find them in our research page:
Let’s work together to help deaf children listen & talk through training, volunteering & more