Compiled by Sonia Azzopardi Axiak B. Sc. (Hons) M.A. (Ling)
Communication is an essential aspect of normal development for all humans. Knowing a language enables us to communicate our needs, feelings and ideas to others. All hearing impaired individuals have different communication needs and different communication options are available to meet these needs. For some, they benefit enough from hearing aids to be able to sufficiently access spoken language. For others, this may be difficult so sign language may be more appropriate for them.
What do hearing impaired children need to accomplish with language?
- Communicate effectively with family members for bonding to occur
- Develop cognitive abilities important for their personal development
- Acquire knowledge about the world around them
- Communicate fully with the world, especially using modern technological equipment
- Communicate with both hearing and hearing impaired individuals
- Be independent
How is a suitable communication approach chosen?
This usually depends on:
- Degree of hearing loss: children with a profound hearing loss are less likely to fully perceive conversational speech without amplification than children with a mild hearing loss
- The family’s hearing status
- Home language(s)
- The child’s functional use of spoken language or sign language, i.e., the child’s preferred mode of communication.
In many hearing families, communication with a hearing impaired child is usually a combination of sign language and spoken language. In deaf families, it cannot be assumed that sign language will be preferred by families. Besides, different communication modes may be used at different times, for different purposes, with different people and in different contexts.
The individual’s needs in different situations have to be considered when selecting a communication option. The child’s family makes the choice, based on unbiased information given by the professionals involved with the child (e.g., ENT consultant, speech-language pathologist, teacher of the deaf, audiologist, etc.). Family choices are respected and parents are allowed to make an informed final decision.
Which communication approaches are commonly used in Malta?
Currently, most young Maltese children use an auditory-oral approach, where they access spoken language using hearing aids or a cochlear implant. Some children and teenagers have been educated through a sign bilingual approach. In recent years, a number of hearing impaired teenagers and adults have chosen sign language as their preferred communication mode.
Different children excel in and prefer different communication modes. To date, no single approach is available for all hearing impaired children so individual approaches need to be developed. Despite debates on the best ways to provide communication skills, health professionals and educators usually agree that:
- All hearing impaired children can learn to communicate using either one or a variety of these different approaches, depending on which is most suited to their needs and abilities
- The earlier the hearing loss is identified, the better is a child’s chances of acquiring language (spoken or signed)
- Each child is unique and has different needs and abilities which need to be catered for
- Consistently optimising residual hearing using amplification (hearing aids or cochlear implants) may be advantageous
- Frequent interaction with the child forms the basis for effective communication.