By Bridgid M. Whitford Au.D, CCC-A,
Cleveland Hearing & Speech Center
Communicating with your deaf or hard of hearing child is extremely important. The key to your child’s language development and learning success is using two-way communication: that is, interacting with your child and encouraging your child to interact with you.
There are different ways to communicate with children with hearing loss and different philosophies about communication methods. You will find that some people have very strong feelings about these communication methodologies. Keep in mind that there are successful children and adults using each of the communication options. There is no one type of communication that is right for every child. As parents, you are responsible for gathering information and determining the best communication option for your family. Be open about all of the choices. Ask questions. Talk to other families with children who have hearing loss. Also, speak with adults who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. Discuss, read, and obtain as much information as you can about the various options.
Factors to consider when deciding how to communicate with your child:
- Is the communication option chosen in the best interest of your child and family?
- Does it allow your child to have influence over his/her environment, discuss his/her feelings and concerns and participate in the world of abstract thought?
- Does the communication enable all of your family to communicate with your child? If not, where can you get support for teaching family members how to communicate with your child?
- Does the communication enhance your child’s relationship with other family members? It should promote enjoyable, meaningful communication among all family members and enable your child to feel part of your family and know what is going on.
- How is your child going to be able to communicate with peers and the community?
- Do you and your family understand the commitment this choice will require?
- Will your child arrive at school with language skills for thinking and learning to read?
Listed here are five communication choices. The availability of options, and the providers to support them, varies from community to community.
American Sign Language (ASL) Bilingual/Bicultural
American Sign Language is a fully developed, natural language widely used in deaf communities in the United States and Canada. Like any language, ASL has its own grammar and syntax. Unlike English, which is a spoken and written language, ASL is a visual-gestural language. In order to be successful with this mode of communication, education and training is needed for the family to become proficient in the language. Since ASL does not follow English word order, one cannot speak English and sign ASL at the same time. (ASL: Food store I go will. English: I will go to the grocery store.)
This method of teaching spoken language requires children to use their residual hearing (remaining hearing) with the use of hearing aids, cochlear implant/s or an FM system in combination with lip reading to encourage speech. Tactile methods also may be used to encourage the child to feel the sounds of speech. Although a portion of learning may be presented using listening alone, this approach permits supplemental visual cues to promote optimal understanding of spoken language. Sign language is not encouraged with this approach.
The primary emphasis of the Auditory-Verbal approach is on teaching children to learn to listen and speak through the use of their hearing aids, cochlear implant/s and/or FM unit. Sign language is not used and speech reading is not directly emphasized. During individual therapy sessions, an Auditory-Verbal therapist guides the parents in teaching their child to understand sound, spoken language and to develop speech. A high degree of parent involvement is necessary as parents learn methods to use listening and language throughout daily routines.
This visual system is designed to help speech reading by using eight simple hand movements (cues) around the face to indicate the pronunciation of any spoken word. Since many spoken words look exactly the same on the mouth (e.g., pan, man), cues allow the child to see the difference between them. Cued Speech can be learned through classes taught by trained teachers or therapists. A significant amount of time must be spent using and practicing cues to become proficient.
Total Communication (TC):
The term Total Communication was first defined as a philosophy that included the use of all modes of communication (i.e., speech, sign language, auditory training, speech reading and finger spelling). Today, the term Total Communication is commonly referred to as Simultaneous Communication (signing while talking). This philosophy led to the formation of manual systems (i.e., Signing Exact English, Signed English) that attempt to represent spoken English and are used simultaneously with oral speech. The focus of this approach is to communicate with the deaf child any way that works.