Getting Ready to Listen and Learn

​​​​All babies and young children take in information through their senses as they learn – they watch, they listen, they feel, they explore with their bodies. Children who are deaf or hard of hearing also rely on their senses to learn. They may not access information as easily as hearing children through their ears; they will need to learn to develop their listening skills. Because things they hear may not always be clear, they will also need to rely on their eyes! There are many strategies parents can use to help little ones depend on their eyes and ears to learn. First, we consider getting ready to listen, and then getting ready to watch.

​Step 1: Make sure the child's hearing technology (hearing aids or cochlear implants) is working!

Before your baby can make the best use of hearing devices (hearing aids or cochlear implants), you need to be sure they are working.

Check the hearing devices and put them on when the baby gets dressed in the morning. It becomes a natural part of the dressing routine.

  • Your baby may enjoy hearing the sing-song of your voice ("I love you…You are SOOO big!") as you turn on the device.
  • Watch to see if your baby appears to listen or makes sounds as the device is turned on.
  • Talk to your family-infant teacher about differences you notice when your baby has the devices turned on.

Step 2: Encourage your child to wear devices consistently!

If your baby uses hearing amplification, he or she will benefit from consistent device use. Ask for assistance from other parents, your baby's audiologist and your family-infant teacher if your baby has trouble keeping device(s) on.

Read our tips for helping babies adjust to wearing hearing aids and frequently asked questions about device use for additional information.

Step 3: Reduce barriers to Listening

Our homes are noisy places. You will want to limit auditory distractions (e.g., TV or music on in the background, blender, noisy fans) when you are spending quality language time with your child.

  • Get close to the baby. Get down on your child's level.
  • Reducing background noise will provide a better listening environment for your baby to hear.

Present information in a way that gives your little one a chance to hear before looking. Begin by using your voice (auditory first; say your child’s name), add visual cues if needed, but try saying your child’s name to get his attention again with auditory cues only. For more information on how to build auditory skills by encouraging your little one to “hear it before they see it” visit Hear It Before They See It. This site has many practical suggestions for building your child’s reliance on listening for language learning.

Step 4: Prepare your baby for a cochlear implant.

If your baby is being considered for a cochlear implant, it is valuable to provide auditory stimulation with hearing aids prior to the surgery.

  • Be sure your baby wears the hearing aids in the months before the implant surgery.
  • Imitate sounds your baby makes.
  • Encourage your baby to listen to sounds you make.

Getting ready to WATCH and learn

Little ones who are deaf or hard of hearing also rely on their eyes to take in information around them. Parents can help babies make use of visual information with a few simple strategies. Whether a child is learning spoken language, sign language, or both, VISUAL cues can make things clearer. The visual channel is important - Information presented visually (e.g., sign language, lipreading cues, gestures, body language) helps children who are DHH access language and communication.

STEP 1. Support what you say with gestures and/or signs.

If you have decided to sign with your child, you want to invest in learning to sign well. You may have a deaf mentor to help you or perhaps you are taking a class or learning online. In the beginning, it can feel like there is so much to learn! You might feel awkward at first. Be patient and sign what you can at first, building up your skills over time. Focus on learning functional phrases that you say to your child repeatedly during daily routines (e.g., night-night, time for bed; you are so big! Mommy loves you; Daddy’s home; Are you Hungry?). Your deaf mentor or sign instructor will help you learn to sign in a way that is called “parentese.” You know how we sound when we talk to young children? That is called motherese or parentese. We want that same expressiveness to be in our face and body. See the movie examples of visual motherese at: Making Sign Interesting to Watch

We also want our face to communicate the same message as our hands and body. For example, if you are commenting to your baby (You are so happy!), you want your face to show happiness. If you are sympathizing with your child (Does your tummy hurt?), then you want a sad face to support the message.

For children learning spoken language, the visual channel is also very important. If a room is noisy, you may notice your child looking more to your face for information. In situations like this, your child will understand more by combining listening and watching. Adding natural gestures (e.g., waving ‘hi’ and ‘bye-bye,’ pointing to a toy; all gone gesture) will help too. All babies benefit from gestures and use gestures to communicate. Your baby who is DHH will benefit in similar ways when you use natural gesture.

STEP 2. Encourage your child to look –

Sometimes parents worry that their child who is deaf or hard of hearing doesn’t look at them enough. Remember that most young children (hearing or deaf) have a lot to look at and explore. They are not always interested in what interests us. It can help to be READY – when your child looks, respond with smiles and comments. Your child will begin to discover the back and forth of communication with you! Deaf parents often sign while sitting side by side (like while sharing a book) and do not insist that the child directly look at them. Children can learn from peripheral vision too! The main point is that there are ways around requiring a child to “look at me.” An approach that responds to the child’s looks with love and information is a great place to start.

STEP 3. Help your child access visual information with Three “L’s.”

  • Light it up – Your child needs to see your face, your hands, and body clearly. A dark room or a glare from a window make this hard. Try to take the child’s perspective. Think about what might make it hard to see in any environment and make changes!
  • Limit ‘visual noise’ – As hearing people, we are aware when a room is noisy. Rooms or places can also be visually noisy. This can create distractions for young learners – they are not sure where to look because there is so much to look at! In this picture you see a playground that is very visually engaging. It may be hard to hold a sign or spoken conversation while the child is facing this interesting (and maybe distracting) play space. You may want to face the child away from the play equipment when communicating. This prevents the need to ‘divide attention’ between you and the playground.
  • Level the playing field - Your child can see you and hear you better if you are up close. It can help to get down on your child’s level for face-to-face communication. You can also move signs or objects into the child’s line of vision. Deaf parents often bring their signs into the child’s line of vision. They also get on the child’s level and produce signs (like BATH) right on the child’s chest. These are very effective strategies for supporting visual communication.

STEP 4. Fill in the gaps

When children are deaf or hard of hearing, they can miss out on information around them. Imagine your child is having a great time playing with blocks. There is a light knock on the door, and you get up to answer it. It can help to anticipate that your child probably did not hear the knock. You can “fill in the gap” by saying or signing, “I hear the door. I wonder who it is. I’ll be right back.” When you return, you can let your child know what happened. “It was the mail carrier. We got a package!” (show child the package). These small efforts to anticipate and fill in the gaps add up over time. Your child will feel included in family communication and it will help the world be more predictable too.

For a great resource on supporting visual access, visit: Maximize Visual Access Tips