This week is Deaf Awareness Week 2018, with many organisations working together to raise awareness of deafness and hearing loss. Between one and two babies in every thousand are born with permanent loss of hearing in one or both ears. This week is a good time to talk about the challenges of finding out that your baby is hearing impaired and the implications it can have for the way you raise them.
Most deaf children are born into families with parents that can hear. Without prior experience of hearing loss, the news can come as an enormous shock. Many parents are overwhelmed with mixed emotions. Anger, fear, sadness and anxiety are all common responses. It’s natural to worry about your baby’s future. Although bringing up a deaf child will have its challenges, you are not alone. There are organisations and people that can help your child live well and reach their full potential.
How Will I Know That My Baby is Deaf?
Hearing problems are often picked up on routine screening. Every baby is offered a new-born hearing test. If you have your baby in hospital, it should happen before you’re discharged. If not, a health visitor or doctor should offer the test in the first few weeks.
It’s painless and you’ll get the results immediately. Don’t panic if the tests show a problem. If you’re baby’s unsettled and distracted, or the room’s noisy it can affect the results. Fluid in the ears after the birth can also temporarily impair hearing. If there are any abnormalities, you’ll be referred to a specialist clinic for more checks.
No test is perfect, so always talk to your GP or health visitor if you think your little one can’t hear properly:
- Young babies may not have a startle reflex in response to loud noises.
- Older babies may not turn their head to sounds.
- Toddlers and children may sit very close to the television.
- Babies and children can miss normal developmental milestones, especially those linked to speech and language, from early babbling to not saying words or sentences the right way.
- Not being able to hear can be frustrating and isolating. If their difficulties are not diagnosed, some children may have behavioural disturbances.
If you have any worries, it’s important to get advice. Hearing loss can affect your child’s development, especially their language and communication. Early diagnosis and support can make all the difference.
Supporting Your Baby’s Communication
Communication is about more than speech and language. Eye contact and cuddles are an essential part of connecting with your new baby, and the ways they learn that you love and care for them.
All children instinctively learn ways of interacting. It can be more of a challenge for deaf children but gesture, touch, movement and signing can all be great ways of getting their message across. Technology can be an assistance too; hearing aids, implants and other special devices can help deaf people listen and communicate. You can help your baby by:
- Using lots of visual communication. Pictures, puppets and toys can help illustrate a story or a song.
- Looking straight at them when you talk, so they can see your expression and gestures and watch the movement of your mouth.
- Reaching out. Touch is very powerful method of communication. Cuddle, rock and soothe your little one.
- Learning sign language. Your child may learn to both talk and sign in the future-it’ll help you interact together.
- Joining a group for hearing impaired children in your area. You can meet and share experiences with other families in your area. They can be a great source of friendship and information.
The National Deaf Children’s Societycan offer access to services and will support you from birth and beyond. Their website is invaluable. At a time when you may be frightened, they can provide facts and friendly advice. One quote from a parent, offers some reassurance:
“My little boy, Preston, was born prematurely and was diagnosed as deaf at six weeks old and had his aids fitted by eight weeks old. He is now six years old, his vocabulary is better than mine, he is loved by all the kids in his class, and he has always exceeded [expectations] in school. He is my perfect Preston and I wouldn’t change him for the world.”