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Three common misunderstandings about deaf children

Published Date: 07 Apr 2022
Photo: Three common misunderstanding about deaf children

And what deaf children in low- and middle-income countries really need in order to thrive.

For nearly 20 years, we at Deaf Child Worldwide have worked in low- and middle-income communities across the world with deaf children and their families. We have seen that with the right support deaf children can achieve just as well as their hearing peers.

However, well-meaning programmes, created to support deaf children, often do not really understand what deafness is and the impact it has. Here are three of the most common misunderstandings we have come across, and what support deaf children really need to thrive.

Misunderstanding 1: Deafness is a learning disability

Deafness is not a learning disability. There are many deaf people who are at the top of their fields in industries such as academia, business, and the arts.

But deaf children can fall behind their hearing peers without the right support. Deaf babies born into deaf families grow up surrounded by sign language, a language they can easily understand. This means they have the foundations to go on to learn a spoken language and to read and write. Most deaf children (90%), are born into hearing families and grow up without language they can understand because they can’t hear it. In low- and middle-income countries, where deafness is often diagnosed as late as six years old, deaf children may be thought to have a learning disability because they cannot understand age-appropriate concepts. This is due to lack of language and incidental learning with which to understand concepts. But with intensive language support, a deaf child will catch up.

Misunderstanding 2: Age of diagnosis isn’t crucial

Age of diagnosis is crucial. Ideally, a child will be diagnosed as deaf as early as possible, preferably when still a baby if they are born congenitally deaf, or if an illness has affected their hearing, straight afterwards. This is so their parents and community can get them the support they need immediately. Crucially, this means learning sign language, total communication skills and other ways to communicate with a deaf child. It is vital for families to learn what deafness is and isn’t, and to meet other parents of deaf children and deaf adults.

It is also important that children who become deaf post-lingually are diagnosed quickly too. While these children will likely be able to retain speech, they need support in understanding how to use the hearing they may have retained and training in how to lip-read. It’s crucial that their parents understand how they can support their child going forward.

Misunderstanding 3: Hearing technology will solve everything

Hearing technology may not solve everything. In high-income countries, a significant number of deaf children have cochlear implants or wear hearing aids. However, children in low- and middle-income countries rarely have access to any kind of hearing technology because it is prohibitively expensive. If they do, its effectiveness may be limited depending on the accuracy of the diagnosis, the quality of the hearing aids, how well they are fitted, how frequently the moulds and aids are checked, and how much support a child gets to understand how to use the hearing aids and interpret the sounds they are hearing. In our experience this access to specialists such as audiologists and speech therapists for deaf children is rare.

This is not to say that hearing technology does not have its merits, only to show that it is just one tool – and a more complex one than it first appears – that can be used in enabling a deaf child to connect with those around them.

Train with us

Deaf Child Worldwide will be running its 3-session online training course, Introduction to Deafness, 21 to 23 June 2022. The course will be for charity/NGO staff who work with or are interested in working with deaf children in low- and middle-income countries.

To learn more and apply for your place