Laying the foundations

Finding out our baby has a hearing loss can be a difficult time for families. Most children with a hearing loss are born to hearing parents who have no idea about hearing loss in children. There is usually no family history of deafness. It is hard to get things into perspective.

It is fortunate that the thing your baby needs most at the moment is loving and responsive care. We know a lot about the development of a baby's brain and it is clear that what a baby experiences in the early years will profoundly affect how his or her brain will develop. You will play an important part in providing the nurturing and stimulation your baby needs for healthy cognitive and emotional development.

The simple things are important from the beginning:

  • Loving attention - healthy early development needs nurturing and dependable relationships
  • Meeting your baby's needs for food and comfort. Responding lovingly to your baby's cries gives them safety and security they need to start exploring the world
  • Talking and singing
  • Reading from an early age
  • Playing simple games

All these activities and interactions with people are "vital nutrients for the growing and developing brain." 1 Even though you are in the process of making decisions about the management of your baby's hearing loss, you can be laying down the foundation for future success and learning.

Start communicating today

Babies start communicating right from birth. They communicate their feelings and needs to us very efficiently by crying. Babies understand our communication too. They calm when they hear a familiar voice. They listen intently and watch our faces when we talk and sing to them. They are developing the skills they need to understand language.

Communicating with your baby with UHL is no different to any other baby and there are plenty of opportunities throughout the day to chat to your baby and enjoy the interaction you share.

  • Talk to your baby throughout the day. Let him or her know what you are doing. "Mummy needs a cup of tea. Should we put the kettle on?"  "I can hear Daddy's car!"  "Let's go for a walk and get Sophie from preschool."
     
  • Babies love that high-pitched sing-song voice that adults use when talking to them. Parents across many cultures use "motherese." We speak in a higher pitch and accentuate the words. There is abundant evidence that this attracts a baby's attention and helps the baby to understand speech. 2
     
  • Sing songs and rhymes. Rhymes can play an important part in language development. Babies love the high pitch, slow pace and rhythm. Rhymes spoken in this way help babies to isolate individual sounds and trains babies to hear individual sounds in words clearly. "Rhymes continue to promote language and communication skills. They provide repetition of familiar words and actions, and opportunities for imitation, turn taking, making requests and having requests understood." 3
     
  • Read to your baby. Your baby will enjoy being close to you and listening to your voice. From the beginning, your baby will look forward to these shared times together and you will be building the foundations for a love of language and reading.
     
  • Read the same books over and over again. Children love to hear a story again and again.  "Before long they begin to understand the look of print, the way words work in sentences, and how the world works - why this happens, and that happens - and how it all come together to mean something. In other words they learn to read." 4 

When you are sharing these special moments, be close to your baby.  Nappy changing is a great time for chatting and singing. This can be gentle soothing songs or more boisterous action rhymes.

If you are sitting with your baby in your lap, have him or her facing you, so he or she can see your facial expressions and hear you clearly. When reading to your baby, make sure the better ear is closer to you and remember to whisper I love you in that ear too!

Age-appropriate language

The impetus for newborn hearing screening was the research that showed that babies who were diagnosed with a bilateral hearing loss early and received good early intervention, were likely to have age-appropriate language when they started school. So the goal for your baby with a unilateral hearing loss is the same, i.e., age-appropriate language.

Your baby may or  may not receive early intervention but by surrounding her with language at home and keeping an eye on her language development, you are keeping an eye on your goal of age-appropriate language.  

There are many speech and language milestone charts available, including on the Aussie Deaf Kids website. Children develop speech and language at different rates and these are a guideline only. If you are ever concerned about any aspects of your baby's development consult your GP for advice. 

"Watch your child's milestones but remember that children develop at different rates. Have their speech and development monitored by a professional for a 2nd opinion." (Parent)

 

Further reading

15-Nov-2015 8:23 PM (AEST)