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  • Writer's pictureStacy Crouse

Navigating Language Complexity When Working with Children with Hearing Loss

I am thrilled to welcome our guest blogger Sydney Bassard, an ASHA-certified speech-language pathologist (SLP) specializing in children with hearing loss and literacy challenges.

Effective communication is a fundamental aspect of a child's development. For children with hearing loss, acquiring and learning how to use spoken language can be a unique and challenging experience. Speech-language pathologists play a crucial role in helping these children navigate the complexities of language.

It's important to shed light on the importance of monitoring our use of complex language when engaging in conversation with and providing directions to deaf and hard-of-hearing children. We will also outline actionable steps for SLPs to make the process easier and more effective.

Why Monitoring Language Complexity Matters

Language complexity refers to the different intricate ways that language is used. Children with hearing loss face specific challenges that make it important for SLPs to be mindful of language complexity when providing directions.

Children with Hearing Loss Have Limited Auditory Access.

Deaf and hard-of-hearing children may have limited or no access to auditory cues, making it difficult for them to grasp spoken language nuances. Complex language, especially morphosyntactic structures (i.e. plurals, possessives, regular past tense -ed), can impede their understanding.

DHH Children May Achieve Developmental Milestones at a Different Rate.

Children with hearing loss may achieve spoken language milestones later when compared to their typical hearing peers. As SLPs, we want to be mindful of the complexity of the language we use to ensure that instructions and communication are tailored to where the child is developmentally.

A Higher Cognitive Load Can Decrease Comprehension.

Complex language can impose a higher cognitive load, making it harder for children to process information. The goal is for children to develop an understanding of more abstract concepts and ways to use language.

Reducing complexity allows them to allocate more cognitive resources to comprehension of the message and learning.

Complex Language Could Effect Motivation and Engagement.

Language that is too complex can frustrate children. This can lead to a child disengaging from what is being said.

A mother and her child with a cochlear implant interacting outside in a grassy field

Actionable Steps for SLPs Working with DHH Children

Know Your Audience.

Understanding the individual needs and capabilities of the child is the first step in tailoring language complexity. This involves considering factors such as their age, degree of hearing loss, communication mode (e.g., sign language, spoken language, total communication), and cognitive abilities.

Use Visual Support.

Visual support can be a game-changer for deaf and hard of hearing children. Incorporating visual aids such as pictures, diagrams, and gestures can complement spoken or signed language. Visual cues provide a context that enhances comprehension.

Simplify Vocabulary.

Choose age-appropriate, simple vocabulary. Avoid jargon and complex words that may be unfamiliar to the child. Use concrete and clear language to ensure understanding. When using humor or idioms, make sure that the child has an understanding of what you are talking about.

Use Short Sentences.

Break down information into shorter, concise sentences. Long, complex sentences can be overwhelming. By keeping sentences brief, you allow the child to process information more effectively.

Repeat and Rephrase.

Repetition and rephrasing can be valuable tools. If a child doesn't understand the first time, repeat the instruction and rephrase it using different words. This increases the chances of comprehension.

Be Patient.

Deaf and hard of hearing children may require more time to process information. Be patient and allow for pauses to give them time to digest what you're saying.

Provide Context.

Contextual information can significantly aid comprehension. Explain the purpose or background of the task or instruction, so the child can connect the dots more easily. Pre-teaching information that will be covered in class gives the child additional opportunities to become familiar with the material before being taught in the classroom.

Encourage Questions.

Create an environment where children feel comfortable asking questions if they don't understand. Encouraging them to seek clarification promotes children with hearing loss to self-advocate and be engaged and active learners.

Use Visual Schedules.

Visual schedules can help deaf and hard-of-hearing children anticipate what's coming next. By seeing a visual representation of their daily activities, they can prepare mentally for transitions and tasks.

Involve Caregivers.

Collaboration with caregivers is essential. SLPs can educate parents and guardians on effective communication strategies to ensure consistency between home and therapy sessions.

Monitor Progress.

Regularly assess the child's language development and adapt your approach as they progress. What worked at one stage may need modification as they mature and gain more language skills.

Stay Informed.

Language and communication strategies evolve. Stay informed about the latest research, technologies, and resources that can benefit deaf and hard of hearing children. This will help you provide the most up-to-date support.

Supporting the language development of children with hearing loss is a vital task for speech-language pathologists. By monitoring language complexity and employing effective communication strategies, SLPs can help these children build a strong foundation for future success.

It's a collaborative effort that involves understanding the unique needs of each child, using visual support, simplifying vocabulary, and being patient. Through a combination of these actionable steps, SLPs can make a profound impact on the lives of the children they work with, ensuring that they have the tools they need to communicate effectively and thrive in a hearing world.

Sydney Bassard SLP, Speech-Language Pathologist for DHH Children

In addition to providing in-person and teletherapy services and evaluations, Sydney performs speaking engagements, writes children's books, and shares free information on her blog and social media channels. Learn more from Sydney on her website, Instagram page, and Facebook page.

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