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  • Rena Levi, MA, LSLS AVT

Start Listening and Language with your Deaf or Hard of Hearing Child, from Birth!

For families who choose #spokenlanguage, there are many pre-lingual skills and #auditoryverbal principles that can be worked on during the first year, even while going through the process of a hearing aid trial and/or determining cochlear implant candidacy. Pre-lingual skills include ways that we communicate without using words, such as eye contact, turn taking, facial expressions, imitation and gestures, and joint attention. Additionally, sound awareness can be worked on with many children once they are fitted with hearing aids.

Here are some building blocks for developing your child’s pre-lingual skills:

1. Eye contact - As soon as a baby is born they watch their mother’s face. A child learns to discriminate human faces and recognize which ones are most important. The ability to sustain eye contact will help your baby gain information about language from the mouth and face.

2. Turn taking – Turn taking develops from the first weeks when the parent interprets the baby’s smiles and movements and then waits for responses. This is a fundamental skill for later turn taking with sounds, words, and eventually conversation. Have fun taking turns with your baby! Play Peek-A-Boo and take turns! Once your baby can sit up, roll a ball back and forth or take turns putting blocks on a tower!

3. Facial expressions – Facial expressions foster social communication.

4. Imitation and Gestures – Copying others fosters cooperation as well as social interaction. By 9 months, a child is able to copy hand clapping and playful vocal sounds (e.g. smacking lips, coughing, brrr). Give your baby opportunities to imitate you! Show him or her how to wave ‘bye bye’! Point to things you notice outside, like a bird flying overhead. By developing copying skills a child is more likely to have success at imitating words and sentences as their language develops.

5. Joint Attention – The ability to follow another person’s focus of attention and also to direct someone else’s attention to what you are interested (i.e. so that you both attend to the same thing at the same time) is a vital communication skill. Make sure you are focusing on toys together with your baby, such as books, puzzles, or building blocks. Believe it or not this skill will help your child have conversations later on!

6. Sound Awareness – Even with very little residual hearing or minimal hearing aid benefit, you can point out environmental sounds to your baby, which will begin the process of auditory brain development.


*Please note that if your baby is in the process of a hearing aid trial, make sure the hearing aids are well fitted!! A study funded by the NIDCD and the National Institute of Health found that 35 percent of the participants’ hearing aids had been improperly fitted, which reduced the amount of speech information they received through the hearing aids!!

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