Majority of UK adults do not realise deaf children can learn to speak as well as hearing children

Eleven years ago Chris and Lauren Pearson were told that their baby daughter Ava, who was born deaf, would never be able to learn to speak or attend mainstream school, and that she would have to rely on sign language.

Ava went on to achieve the same spoken language skills as her peers by the age of three and is now learning Mandarin, plays the piano and saxophone and is excelling at mainstream school.

Auditory Verbal UK helped Ava learn to listen and speak, and this week we’re calling for greater awareness of what children born deaf can achieve with effective support.

A YouGov survey has revealed that 58% of adults do not believe a child born profoundly deaf today could learn to speak as well as a hearing child[i].

Anita Grover, Chief Executive of Auditory Verbal UK, said that awareness of realistic outcomes for deaf children is vital so that parents can make informed choices and maximise the vital development stage of a child’s first few years.

Far too many deaf children are underachieving academically at school and are at higher risk of bullying and social exclusion. This should not be the case. Deafness is not a learning disability. We need much greater understanding of what deaf children can achieve when they have access to support in the early years of their lives.

Over 90% of children who are born deaf, or lose their hearing early in life, have parents with no prior experience of deafness.  Parents need to understand how they can develop their child’s language, whether that be through spoken language, sign supported spoken language, British Sign Language or both and have access to the services that they need.

With technological advances in the form of cochlear implants and digital hearing aids, and access to family centred early intervention programmes, more and more deaf children are able to speak as well as hearing children. 80% of children who spend at least two years on Auditory Verbal UK’s auditory verbal programme achieve spoken language skills equivalent or better than a typical child their age, and most go on to attend mainstream school.

Auditory Verbal therapy concentrates on developing spoken language through listening. By getting sound to the brain through cochlear implants or hearing aids, the approach helps the child’s brain to develop listening rather than relying solely or partly on visual cues. 

85% of the brains’s pathways needed for spoken language are connected in the first three-and-a-half years of life, meaning therapy is most effective during this stage.

Auditory Verbal therapy is a mainstream approach in the North America and Australasia, but in the UK only 5% of deaf children currently have access to it.  We provide a programme for families across the UK from our two centres in London and Oxfordshire and we’re working to increase the number of specialist therapists in the NHS and local services so that families have an opportunity to access a programme close to where they live.

Anita added:

Parents of deaf children have the right to choose the communication method that they feel is best for their child, whether this be spoken language, sign supported spoken language, British Sign Language or both. We should have much higher expectations for what deaf children can achieve and know that it is possible when they have access to the support that they, and their families, need.

[i] All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 2,130 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 4th - 7th May 2018.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).