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Babies are born with a unique set of characteristics, yet blissfully oblivious to any characteristics that may stand out. They are resilient and adaptable as they experience their environment. Babies who are identified as deaf or hard of hearing (dhh) readily accept what they can hear or cannot hear as their normal experience. Their needs are simply to feel comfortable, be fed, and to be loved. They don’t know what they don’t know.

“My son was born ‘perfect’,” a MNH&V mother quipped about her son who is deaf. “It was our big idea to add sound to his world.”

For many parents it is usually unexpected to learn their child is dhh. Statistically over 90% of children who are dhh have parents with typical hearing. After their initial reaction to the news that their child is dhh parents begin to put together what it means to raise a child who is dhh. It means a higher level of responsibility for parents to make a myriad of decisions on their child’s behalf. How will their child best access language? No matter what form or shape language is administered to your child who is dhh the key is access, access, access.

“Infants’ brains are wired for language that is accessible to them through either visual (signs) or auditory (spoken) modalities,” writes Marilyn Sass-Lehrer, Gallaudet University, in the Oxford University Press Journal. “The achievement of language milestones in either sign language or spoken language is crucial to the overall development of the child.”

Research shows the optimal language learning years are from birth to age 5 years. Communication is made up of two important parts, receptive and expressive. In the first few years children often understand the language they have access to or “received” long before they begin to use language expressively. For children with typical hearing 90% of what they know is overheard, 10% is taught. Overhearing spoken language can be greatly diminished or nonexistent for children who are dhh. Families, along with the Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP) team and dhh educators, are essential partners in providing access to language. For children who are dhh communication can take longer to establish and it is heavily reliant on how much access to language they have experienced. The challenges for the family and the team are to develop a workable plan and, as it is said, “don’t give up before the miracle happens”.

“Input, input, input, my job is to ‘feed’ my littlest students as much language as possible in a language-rich environment; its not until years later sometime in grade school, when the magic happens,” said an early childhood DHH educator referring to a child’s expressive language skills. “I don’t always get to see it happen, but I know it will.”

Do not underestimate what your infant or child who is dhh can see or hear or feel. Language access of any kind can never start too soon or be too much. The question of how much sound access does an infant who is dhh really have cannot easily be answered and it varies from child to child. Understanding your child’s audiogram is important, but nothing can truly simulate for parents the sounds of speech that are available to your child even with amplification. Plus, many other factors can affect language access, from distractions and interest level to overall health and environmental noise. There are a lot of unknowns, but one thing is for sure: your child who is dhh is ready to access language.

Start today! Try the ideas professionals on your IFSP team have suggested and do everything you can to make language accessible at home and wherever your child is. Dance, play, read, explore, work, celebrate, and learn together what will bridge your child’s language learning.

What does social-emotional health mean? The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2004, puts it simply as, “The core features of emotional development include the ability to identify and understand one’s own feelings, to accurately read and comprehend emotional states in others, to manage strong emotions and their expression in a constructive manner, to regulate one’s own behavior, to develop empathy for others, and to establish and sustain relationships.” This content-packed sentence highlights the great affect social-emotional health has on our relationships and overall quality of life.

Families are the first and most important influence on a child’s social-emotional development. For the most part families naturally fulfill this responsibility by simply being responsive to their child’s needs and providing a safe environment to grow and learn. As children grow older, their social-emotional development continues through their experiences and interactions with extended family, teachers, sports, activities, peers, friends, community leaders, media personalities, and many other life experiences. As parents it is important to encourage our children to expand their circle of influence and to find more ways to support their social-emotional growth. The goal is to raise happy children who become positive contributing members of our society.

How is social-emotional health different for children who are deaf or hard of hearing (dhh)? It is NOT different for children who are dhh and families are still the number one influence on their social-emotional development. What is different for a child who is dhh is their access to language. Language access for communication, both expressive and receptive, is key critical to building strong social-emotional skills and reliant on a child’s ability to hear or “listening bubble”.

“Children typically learn social skills with little effort starting at a young age. These skills are shaped by children watching others and having other people react to their behavior. How we learn social skills is based on very subtle cues, such as facial expression, body posture and quiet auditory cues. Because of their smaller “listening bubbles” children who are dhh do not pick up language and the subtle aspects of interactions going on around them as fully as their peers with typical hearing,”

What can families do to better support the social-emotional development of their child who is dhh? Families can take a deliberate approach and contact outside resources. A few ideas to start developing your child’s social-emotional skills:

  • Learn to communicate with your child who is dhh. Figure out what works best for your child and your family and follow through. Commit to a communication plan, language, or modality, give it time and your communication skills will develop and in the process your child’s skills will too. If you find at some point your communication plan is not the right fit for your child, don’t be afraid to commit to a new plan. Do not give up; you will not regret figuring out the best way to communicate with your child.
  • Contact your local school district to find out more about their special education program. They can provide you with resources and information to help guide education decisions. They will evaluate your child’s needs and together with your family they will develop an Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP) or Individual Education Plan (IEP). Ask questions, listen, observe, and get involved in your child’s education.
  • Explore your child’s options to amplify the sound they have access to. Increase the size of their “listening bubble”.

H Find other families who share your unique experience of raising a child who is dhh. Build a community of people who support your family and add to your child’s community of safe people to socialize with.

H Listen to adult role models who are also dhh willing to share their experiences and insight with your family.

In addition to the above list of deliberate ways families can help children who are dhh with social-emotional development, there are other ways families can help their child’s inter-personal communication skills. These skills can make a lasting positive impact in their life.

List of eight activities:

  1. Take turns telling short stories to each other.
  2. Create scenarios with your child in which manners and courtesy should be used and have your child practice being courteous and polite.
  3. Practice decision-making scenarios and strategies.
  4. Take turns with your child giving each other instructions to complete a task.
  5. Create scenarios in which your child has to use her words to communicate her wants and needs.
  6. Encourage your child to share her belongings with others and practice asking others for permission to use their belongings.
  7. Practice teasing scenarios with your child.
  8. H Play board games, card games, or other types of games with your child.

List taken from online, 8 Fun Activities to Practice Social Skills with Your Child, posted May 25, 2016, by Rachel Wise,

There are endless ways a family can support their child’s social-emotional development. As parents, you know your child best and can explore any number of ideas on your own. Just know that your family’s expression of love and affection has been and always will be the universal way to best communicate with each other and the strongest foundation on which to build your child’s social-emotional skills.