When 11-year-old Khush stepped out onto the stage at the House of Commons for the “Power of Speech – Stepping Stones to Literacy” event and read his own story to the captive audience, his parents were full of pride. When Khush was diagnosed as profoundly deaf as a baby his parents didn’t know if he would be able to speak, let alone deliver a speech in front of a room full of Members of Parliament.

For families, like Khush’s, who want their deaf child to learn to listen and speak, their child needs access to all the sounds of speech through hearing technology, including hearing aids or cochlear implants. One of the ways that we can ensure that they have this access is by checking the ‘LING Sounds’ - these are 6 sounds: m oo ah ee sh and s, which were named after Daniel Ling, a Canadian Audiologist who developed the Auditory Verbal approach which supports deaf children to learn to listen and develop spoken language. They are like six keys across a piano and if a child can hear all of them, then we can assume that they can hear the other sounds in the speech spectrum too. For Khush, who had his cochlear implants as a baby, and whom we worked with at the charity Auditory Verbal UK, our team would regularly check that he could hear the ‘LING Sounds’ by  asking  him  to repeat them. Listening, and having access to all the sounds of speech, can be a fundamental foundation for literacy outcomes, and for families who choose an Auditory Verbal approach to communication for their deaf child, promoting learning through listening is crucial for their developing literacy skills.  

 Here are four top tips for developing literacy to support deaf children who are learning to listen and speak achieve their full potential:

  1. Start early: early intervention is critical for children with hearing loss, there is window for developing listening and speech which focuses on the period from birth to the age of 3 and a half. Parents can start by reading to their children from a young age and exposing them to a variety of books, stories and texts. Carol Flexer, an expert in Auditory Verbal Therapy and literacy, recommends that parents expose their children to 20 texts a day. Texts include books, newspapers, signs, instructions – anything that exposes their child to an adult reading.
  2. Develop vocabulary and word meanings: parents and caregivers provide their children with knowledge of the world by using many words that describe things, feelings, places and people. When parents use spoken language their child already understands and insert new words, they are expanding this knowledge and building a foundation for comprehension in literacy.
  3. Develop Phonological Awareness: this is a critical component of literacy development and requires access to all the speech sounds. It refers to the ability to recognise and manipulate the sounds of language through listening. The stages of phonological awareness are typically developed in this order:
    1. rhythm and rhyme,
    2. parts of a word (putting syllables together or breaking words into syllables),
    3. recognising initial sounds in words,
    4. recognising final sounds in words,
    5. blending sounds in words
    6. manipulation of sounds in words (adding, deleting or substituting sounds).

Children who are deaf may have difficulty developing phonological awareness skills owing to less exposure to spoken language. Early intervention is again key in developing these skills and using nursery rhymes, playing rhyming games and clapping out syllables are some of the ways this can be developed.

  1. Make an Experience book: To help children understand the relationship between reading and writing, make a book about their own experiences including photos and mementos. Write a sentence or story about each picture with the child and then read it back together. This can be a great bonding experience, a keepsake and a way to help children look forward to reading and writing activities.

Early and effective support is vital to ensure all deaf children, whether they use sign language, spoken language, or both to attain educational outcomes like Khush and like their hearing peers. For more information about supporting deaf children to learn to listen and speak see Auditory Verbal UK’s specialist family-centred programme here. The charity also provides a range of training packages, including free online short courses, for professionals working with deaf children Find out more here.

This article by Frances Clark first appeared in the July/August edition of SEN Magazine and can be read here.