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Creating a good communication environment

Photo: Good listening conditions: soft furnishings and facing a person when they talk

By adapting your home to make it a good audio-visual environment, you can give your child more natural access to everyday social information and communication.

By establishing good communication habits in the family, being aware of your surroundings and modifying your communication approach you will be able to make the most of opportunities and build up language skills as part and parcel of normal life.

Below are some general tips that can help you to create an environment for developing communication and language skills with your child.

Good communication
  • Ask people to face your child when speaking to them and to be prepared to repeat and rephrase.
  • Try to be close to your child, and within their vision, as much as possible. This is so the child gets the best possible quality sound through their hearing aids and can also use visual clues from seeing your face and body language.
  • Turn-taking is a vital skill for communication development. When in groups, try to encourage turn-taking so that not everyone is speaking at once. Family mealtimes, play situations and when guests visit for example, can give you an excellent opportunity to practise and ensure your child does not feel left out. Make turn-taking in conversation the norm in your house!
  • Don’t sit/stand with your back to the light or place your child facing the window so that s/he is looking into bright light. Make sure the faces of speakers are in a good light to make lipreading and interpreting facial expressions easier. If you are using sign, or gesturing to support your spoken communication, make sure your child can see you and any others in the conversation.
  • If you are using sign, encourage everyone around your child to use it, not just directly with your child but also with each other. This will give your child the opportunity to experience the communication in the same way as a hearing child might ‘overhear’ conversation in spoken language.
  • If people are signing, discourage them from wearing busily patterned clothing that will make the signed communication more difficult to see.
  • If communication is about unfamiliar things, provide support for understanding by having visual props, such as objects, books, toys, or pictures.
  • Support, respond to and praise your child’s communication attempts. Don’t be tempted to speak or communicate for them as this will undermine their confidence. Make sure your family and friends do the same.
  • Create a ‘language-rich’ environment, where language is used for a variety of purposes and children see the people around them communicating effectively. There are many hearing children with no additional needs or learning difficulties who enter school with limited vocabularies because good adult-child interaction has been lacking in their early years. For all children, but particularly those who are deaf, a language-rich environment is essential.
Your home environment
  • Try not to have competing noise in the background that makes hearing and listening harder. If you and your child are not watching the television, turn it off. Try not to have other sources of sound, such as the radio, on in the background. When you are playing with your child, or reading together, try to keep background noise to a minimum.
  • Try to bring ‘household’ sounds to your child’s conscious attention. For example, actively listen together to identify the sounds made by a vacuum cleaner, the washing machine or other items of equipment in the home. It can help, too, to have some visual indication of sounds like the doorbell or telephone, such as lights which flash when they ring. This will give your child the same opportunity as hearing children to naturally access their surroundings, identify sound and understand their meaning.
  • Try to keep your home ‘acoustically (hearing and listening) friendly’ at least in some areas. The trend for wooden or ceramic flooring and blinds instead of curtains makes for modern and attractive surroundings, but they don’t create the best listening spaces! Hearing and listening are easiest where there are soft furnishings and surfaces which are non-reverberant.
  • Pay attention to the visual surroundings of the house and how you organise them. Be aware of the amount of ‘visual clutter’ which might make good visual attention and focus difficult for children. With babies and young children, having a stimulating but uncluttered environment will help to focus their attention.
  • Have quiet times in the day when your child can rest. Deaf children have to concentrate more to communicate than children with typical hearing levels, and have less energy for other things.
  • Sometimes though, it is just not possible to be in the best auditory and/or visual surroundings. When in places which are not so ‘communication friendly’ perhaps because they are crowded or are maybe outdoors, don’t worry and be prepared to be inventive! In those instances, just try to make sure that you use every means you can to communicate, even if it isn’t strictly within the approach you usually use.
Everyday routines to help to promote language learning and develop communication

Fun activities such as socialising with friends or a trip to the park can provide great opportunities for introducing and reinforcing good communication habits and language development. But ordinary care activities and necessary daily routines can do that too, such as:

  • getting up, washing, nappy changing, dressing, for example
  • mealtimes
  • household ‘jobs’ such as tidying up, washing the pots or stacking the dishwasher, cleaning, cooking, doing the laundry
  • shopping
  • bath time
  • bedtime.

These routine activities provide perfect opportunities for new language and vocabulary to be introduced and reinforced in relaxed and natural ways. The main thing is to seize every opportunity to communicate with your child and above all, to recognise, respond to and encourage their own contributions, so you both enjoy the interaction. In this respect you are doing the same as you would with a hearing child, but with more conscious awareness and closer monitoring. Though, it’s important to remember to enjoy your child and the things you do together and not let the deafness get in the way of that.