By age six to eleven months, the average baby says their first word. By 18 to 23 months, the child will know up to 50 words, and by two to three-years-old, children’s vocabulary becomes more accurate and diverse. How do children learn new words? They listen to their family and other speakers around them, but they must be able to hear to learn a language. Unfortunately, not all children have this benefit; some are born with or quickly develop poor hearing and deafness. This leaves them farther behind in speech-language development than their peers and in search of alternative methods to hearing.


Signs of Speech-Language Development Delay


Every parent hopes for the best for their child, but it is important to speak to a doctor if anything seems amiss in terms of language delays in a child. There are a few signs to look out for, like inconsistent response time or reactions to sounds, unclear or mumbled speech, or high volumes on sound systems. If a child often asks for a sentence to be repeated again or does not respond when asked a question, these could also be signs of hearing loss leading to speech delay. Within days of being born, the hospital conducts a Universal Newborn Hearing Screening, and young infants can be tested later for any signs of hearing loss.


Other Methods of Communication


These methods can be combined or used individually to creatively develop a child’s language skills without hearing.


  • Hearing Aids – If parents catch their child’s hearing loss early on in life, they may be able to prevent further damage by providing hearing aids. With hearing aids in place, sounds are amplified, and children can understand speech patterns.
  • American Sign Language – For those with complete deafness, American Sign Language may be the best option. It is more challenging for children to develop their speech using this method because they often do not try to speak – only sign. Additionally, they can then only converse with other ASL speakers, which hinders their language development.
  • Lip reading – For children with less severe hearing loss, lip reading could be an option. With this process, listeners look at the specific lip movements and mouth formations to get a better idea of the vocabulary used.
  • Reading – Language skills can also be developed through reading. This may sound counterintuitive at first, but reading new words regularly improves speech and vocabulary.

Learning to Speak Despite Hearing Loss


Exposure to vocabulary and regular speech is critical for children with hearing loss. Without the practices of listening and repeating, they may never understand language use. If they wear hearing aids or other cochlear amplification systems, they should use them at all times. Any blockage of sound puts a child at a disadvantage for speech development. The process of speaking with a child with hearing loss may take more time than an average conversation. Lag time allows the child to listen, process the words, formulate a response, and finally speak. These children require patience and understanding, as well as careful explanation of what words mean and why particular vocabulary is used.



By: Diana Michel

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