My baby has a hearing impairment – what do I do next?
Finding out your child is deaf or has hearing loss (often referred to as a hearing impairment by medical professionals) can be an overwhelming experience. Your child may be the first person with hearing loss that you have encountered, or you may have had an older relative such as a grandparent who lost their hearing. Whatever the circumstances, experiencing it with your child can be a daunting and even frightening experience but it doesn’t have to be.
The most important point to note is that hearing loss is not life-threatening or life-limiting. There are many adults who have some level of hearing loss or deafness who live happy fulfilling lives, working, enjoying friendships and relationships the same as individuals with no hearing loss or deafness.
What support is available for my child?
Once the level of hearing loss has been confirmed, the hospital will advise you on whether hearing aids or cochlear implants are possible. Other departments such as audiology and speech therapy will also be involved in supporting your child.
Your child will need time to get used to hearing aids or implants. They will need to understand and be guided by the sound vibrations they experience.
A good way to put meaning to vibrations or visual cues is to use some form of sign language. British Sign Language (BSL) is used by profoundly deaf people who cannot hear a full range of sounds and so cannot make sense of the sounds around them. Making sense of spoken sounds is particularly difficult as a number of sounds are not visible on the lips.
What support is available for families like mine?
There are groups such as the Parents and Carers Alliance (PACA) that can give families information and support to navigate the information you need to support your child.
Membership is free and they provide a number of events to bring children and families together.
How can I support my child’s communication needs?
There are a number of actions you can take as a parent at home to support and develop your child’s communication skills:
- Join your local NDCS group. You will meet other families (and your child will meet other deaf children) on the same learning journey who can provide emotional support, information and friendship.
- Understand some of the difficulties that people with hearing loss experience. For example, lip reading is an inexact science. Children are learning language and trying to understand what you are saying from your mouth patterns. It is a lot harder than you think!
- Learn sign language. Most children with hearing loss are born to hearing parents who have no knowledge of the value of sign language. British Sign language (BSL) is a recognised language and is used by around 150,000 people across the UK. BSL can support language acquisition for children – deaf or hearing. There are many studies that show children’s ability to understand and use language is enhanced by using sign language.
Will using sign language delay my baby’s ability to speak?
This is a common myth that has no basis in fact. There is no evidence (scientific or anecdotal) to indicate that learning sign language harms speech development. As indicated above, evidence suggests that sign language enhances language learning rather than hinders it.
- Find out what your rights are. If your child has care needs over and above what a hearing child needs then you are entitled to claim Disability Living Allowance (DLA). Your child is also entitled to an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan. If you need help with completing a DLA form or you need help with getting an EHC plan, then please contact us for support.
Useful organisations and resources for families and deaf children:
Below is a list of resources and organisations that can support you and your child along your journey. The information has been categorised according to age milestones of your child:
Children aged 0 – 5 years:
- NDCS is a national organisation that has a website and youtube channel full of useful information to support you and your child. NDCS also run a basic sign language course for parents of children between the age of 0 – 5 years. Courses are run as group sessions for parents of children aged between 0 – 5 years old.
- The British Deaf Association (BDA) also run sign language training for parents within the home.
- There are a number of pre-school companies such as The Signing Company and Tiny Talk for parents and toddlers to learn signs to nursery rhymes and stories.
- Cbeebies has an information page for parents that explains how signing can help your child communicate.
- ITV has an app and Facebook page dedicated to signed stories.
- There are also a number of baby signing books.
Children aged 5 – 11 years:
- BSL Sign Zone features content specifically for deaf children. The programmes feature deaf children getting involved in a range of activities.
- BBC has a fantastic programme with Deaf presenters called Magic Hands.
- Schools are a difficult topic. Hearing-impaired children are usually sent to their local mainstream school. There is an expectation that schools are able to accommodate children and their hearing needs. However, this is not always the best option for your child, particularly if they are the only child with hearing loss. Some schools specialise in supporting children who are deaf or have hearing loss. For example, in Milton Keynes, the specialist primary school is Chestnuts Primary School.
Children aged 11 – 15 years:
The same rules apply to secondary schools. The assumption is that your child’s EHC plan will explain what your child needs for academic success. Unfortunately, not all mainstream schools have the knowledge or understanding needed to accommodate your child’s needs. Sometimes, it is better for your child to attend a school with a specialist department such as St Paul’s School in Milton Keynes or Heathlands School in St Albans.
Young people aged 16 – 25 years:
The transition from secondary school to adulthood is challenging for most young people, without the added concerns around the impact of hearing loss. Additional challenges may include attitudinal, environmental and psychological barriers to overcome as a young person transitions into the hearing world.
College, apprenticeship or work:
The EHC plan should outline the support to enable a young person to transition from school into adulthood. This will include support to continue education at 6th form, college, or finding an apprenticeship. The EHC plan should also include details of any communication support needed to access further education. It is important to note that you have a right to appeal the Local Authority decision if they refuse to give you an EHC plan for your child.
If you claim DLA, the benefit stops at the age of 16 but you can switch and claim Personal Independent Payment (PIP) instead. Rules for PIP are different and the young person claiming may need to attend a DWP face to face assessment to discuss their ongoing support needs. If you need support with claiming PIP or have been refused PIP, you can contact our office for further advice and information.
If you have a low income, you might be able to apply to the Family Fund for a grant. The clip below explains how to apply and who is eligible:
Most young deaf adults form friendships with their peers at school and college. Sometimes young adults will form friendships with members of the deaf community at the local deaf club. Unfortunately, many deaf clubs across the UK have closed. However, some organisations run projects specifically aimed at connecting young people together. There are also Facebook groups such as HearMeOut who aim to get young adults together to socialise.
At Access Ambassadors, we aim to give you information about local services and activities in and around Milton Keynes that support deaf children and their families. We work in collaboration with other groups and are always happy to recommend or refer to other groups or services who may better support your needs. We also welcome comments and if there is information you feel should be added, then let us know!