It is never too soon to start cueing to a hearing-impaired baby. Maximum early benefits of natural language development can be achieved by naturally talking and cueing to a deaf baby, just as a parent does to a hearing baby. Each day of delay may be one additional day behind the optimum in language development and mental stimulation. The “cue maxim” is: “Do and say the same things with your hearing-impaired baby that you would say with a hearing baby.
With our hearing babies, we begin communication and the magic process of language input immediately after birth, talking and verbally caressing them even as we do our initial inspection, counting fingers and toes, and conveying our love to our newborn.
Similar results can be achieved with hearing-impaired babies, if the supplementary visual input of Cued Speech (to deliver a clear visual representation of the language) and specific auditory training (to enhance awareness of sound and increased use of residual hearing) are included. Of course those interacting with hearing-impaired babies must learn the techniques of managing to cue and speak when the baby is watching, leading the child to form the habit of looking and listening.
Try to be natural when interacting with your hearing-impaired child. As a beginning cuer, you may lack confidence or worry about your child’s attentiveness. Don’t! As the cued words become meaningful you will see a positive change. Are you wondering what to say, or how to say it? When in doubt, think hearing. Baby talk is natural and cue-able! However, do not linger at the baby-talk level too long. Use varied expressions and vocabulary as receptive vocabulary grows. Talk with your child about anything and everything of interest to him/her.
Early communication in the home with hearing parents
There is not normally a communication problem with very young deaf babies; so much so that parents often don’t realise that their child is deaf. However the pre-verbal communication during the first months of life (made up of looks, smiles, caresses, etc.) do not fulfil the needs of an older baby who needs a real language, rich, precise and full of nuances - adapted to his ever-growing needs. He must be able to make himself understood precisely, to express his desires clearly, his questions, his reasoning and his needs. He needs this, not only to communicate, but also to order his thoughts and to allow his thought patterns to develop normally.
What then should parents do?
If parents want their child to be well integrated in an English-speaking society and to reach their academic potential, then English must be mastered – if only in its written form. Hearing parents of deaf babies need to give access to language in sufficient quantity, quality and variety.
- If a deaf child cannot hear the sounds of speech, it does not make sense to communicate using the hearing route alone. Signing can provide a means of communication but most hearing parents of deaf babies cannot use sign language which is of good quality – because they have not yet learnt it – and signing will never give direct access to complete spoken English.
- When used consistently by hearing parents of deaf babies and young children, Cued Speech will give:
- a means of communication which is adapted to his needs as a deaf person
- easy mastery of the home and communal language without stress or ‘forcing’.
- The use of Cued Speech in the home from an early age will give access to language in good quantity, quality and variety. The addition of aural/oral methods to encourage the maximum use of residual hearing will give the best environment for spoken language to flourish. With Cued Speech hearing parents can cue rhymes, stories, nonsense words, animal noises - anything you say can be cued. All spoken language and its culture is available in an easily accessible form.
The above is based on the introduction to a presentation by Professor France Branchi at Nancy, France in 2002.
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