Children who are born deaf have the ability to phonate and speak. The reason they are unable to speak is because they do not get inputs into the speaking part of the brain from the hearing part of the brain. This means that a deaf child need not necessarily be mute. With appropriate help and guidance, they can overcome their disability of being mute. Not all children perform equally well. How well a deaf child develops speech depends upon several factors. Here, we look at some factors which improve speech outcomes in deaf children and can help them tide over a significant part of their disability.
- Augmenting residual hearing: This is a very important factor. Whatever hearing is present needs to be amplified using hearing aids or cochlear implants. These ensure that there is maximal stimulation of the hearing part of the brain which then sends signals to the speaking part of the brain. Studies show that these improve speech outcome. Also if one uses the devices for longer hours during the day or if they use amplification devices in both ears, speech outcome are better.
- Auditory/oral instruction: This is delivered by a speech therapist with special skills in A/O instruction. This combines audition (hearing) with speech reading. This essentially stimulates the child to use hearing and speech as a means of communication instead of resorting to pantomimes and sign language.
- Integration of the child: If the deaf child is integrated into normal school which encourages speech as the primary means of communication, they develop better speech outcomes that going to schools for the deaf where sign language is given a lot of importance.
- Education levels of the mother: Studies show that mothers with higher education levels generally have children with better speech outcomes.
- Instruction by parents: Speech therapy is to be augmented with instructions by the parents at home. Where the parents are deeply motivated and involved, speech outcomes tend to be better.
- Using speech alone as the means of communication at home: When parents use speech as the only means of communication without resorting to sign language, the child develops better speech. This also includes encouraging the deaf child to use verbal language as the mode of communication.
- Parental Involvement: The more involved the parents, the better are the speech outcomes. Families tend to get emotionally distressed when the diagnosis of deafness if made. Families which resolve this emotional difficulty and just get on with doing the best for the child tend to have children with better speech. A deaf child in the family means a huge drain on the financial and human capital resources of the family. Often one or both parents need to spend more time with the deaf child. Families which increase allocation of resources towards the deaf child tend to have children with better speech. If the attitude of the family is such that they view deafness as a challenge to be overcome instead of viewing it as a difference which needs to be accommodated tend to have children with better speech outcomes.
These were some of the factors which affect speech outcomes in deaf children. Newer tools are being researched which use visual feedback to improve speech outcomes. It is anticipated that they will help the deaf children develop speech and greatly reduce their disability which would help them integrate more completely in society.
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