Communicating with a deaf child
If you’ve never communicated with a deaf child before you may feel nervous about how to do it. But don't worry – it’s not as hard as you think!
It’s important to understand that every deaf child is different – with different levels of deafness, hearing aids or implants, technology and communication preferences but the tips below are useful for communicating with all deaf children.
1. Find out how they communicate
Not all deaf children use British Sign Language (BSL). Every deaf child will have a preferred way of communicating, so find out if they use speech, BSL or a mixture of both. If they do use BSL ask their parents if they will need an interpreter.
2. Get their attention
To get a deaf child’s attention you can wave, knock a table, or tap their shoulder lightly.
3. Face them when you’re talking
Try to get down to their level so that they can see your face clearly. Don’t move around while you’re talking as this will make it impossible for the child to hear your voice and lip-read.
4. Speak clearly and naturally
Deaf children will try to lip-read, so they need you to say words as you normally would. Speaking slowly or too loudly makes lip-reading much more difficult.
5. Watch your mouth
Covering your mouth with your hands, eating, chewing gum or smoking can make lip-reading very difficult. It will also muffle any sound you’re making.
6. Use visual cues, where possible
Point to what you’re talking about, and don’t be shy about using gestures to support your communication. For example, if you’re telling a group of children dinner is ready, you can do a knife and fork action and point to the dinner table.
7. Make it clear what the topic of conversation is
The child will find it easier to guess your words if they know what you’re talking about. Make sure the deaf child knows when the topic changes.
8. Stand with your face to the light
Standing by a window or in poor lighting makes lip-reading very difficult.
9. Speak one at a time
Group conversations can be difficult for a deaf child to follow. Make it easier by asking everyone to take their turn talking and to make a sign if they want to speak next.
10. Reduce background noise
Hearing aids and cochlear implants amplify a child’s hearing, which means they have to concentrate very hard on your voice to hear it over everything else. Background noises such as traffic or the radio can make it difficult for a child to listen. Block out unnecessary noise by closing windows, doors and turning machines off.
11. Never give up or say “I’ll tell you later”
Deaf children have told us someone saying “I’ll tell you later” is their absolute pet hate. They want to be involved just like their friends, so if one method doesn’t work, don’t be scared to improvise. You can try texting on your phone, emailing, or good old fashioned pen and paper.
Our website is full of free information and resources for parents of deaf children and the professionals who work with them. So please do have a look at what we've got and share information with your friends and family.
If you are a deaf teenager we have a separate website just for you – have a look at the Buzz website.