Support for deaf children aged 0 to 5 years: Guide

Hitchins, A. Lewis, S. Holmans, A. Grover, A. Wakefield, T. Cormier, K. Rowley, K. Macsweeney, M. | View as single page | Feedback/Impact

Early Intervention

By age three and a half, the human brain has completed 85% of its growth, making the first three years of life critical for optimal development (Suskind and Suskind, 2015). Early intervention is essential if we are to benefit from the investment into the Universal Newborn Hearing Screening and advances in hearing technology. Deafness is not a learning disability.  The majority of children with hearing loss have the potential to reach the same educational outcomes as hearing children, if they have appropriate support. Early access to language is also the decisive factor that drives development forward and provides good social-emotional functioning (Hintermair, 2015).  The consequences of early failure to develop communication and language are long term, wide-ranging and well-documented. Cognitive development, social development and later educational progress including literacy are all affected. Early identification of deafness, combined with effective early intervention, offers the best chance of the language and communication of deaf children developing in line with the developmental pattern and time frame for hearing children. Effective support for families empowers parents to make informed decisions and take positive action on behalf of their child before language and communication deficits become established.

A number of different agencies support families following early identification of deafness. All of the following may be involved to varying degrees, in addition to the standard support provided by general practitioners and health visitors to families in the first year of a child’s life:

  • Paediatric Audiologists
  • Teachers of the Deaf working for LA advisory/support services for deaf children (sometimes called Advisory Teachers of Hearing Impairment - ATOHI)
  • Educational Audiologists
  • Speech and Language Therapists
  • social workers
  • community paediatricians
  • voluntary organisations

Early intervention seeks to support families and to monitor with them, those areas of development that we know are at risk because of early childhood deafness and to ensure that they do not become problematic for the child or their families. The right of families to support once their child is diagnosed is enshrined in legislation and guidance in all UK countries.

The National Deaf Children’s Society’s (NDCS) Quality Standards for Outreach Services necessitate that, following diagnosis, the service for deaf children is notified and contact is made by the Teacher of the Deaf within two working days.  Peripatetic Teachers of the Deaf will be notified of all children who have a hearing loss by audiology services immediately after diagnosis or when they move into a local area. Every deaf child, no matter their level of hearing, should be known to the specialist service for deaf children within the local authority and this is a legal requirement. The majority of deaf children (78%) are in mainstream education, with specialist support from Teachers of the Deaf. For children who require a greater level of specialist intervention there are schools with hearing resource bases or schools for the deaf. The pivotal role of Teachers of the Deaf in supporting children and families is confirmed in both the competencies linked to the mandatory qualification in these countries, and the establishing of European wide competencies   (This work was carried out by FEADPA)

Teachers of the Deaf help families make an informed choice about communication options (see the Communication section of the Early Support professional handbook by NDCS).

The Early Support Programme in England and Wales, (2002-2015) was set up to improve the way that services work with parents and carers of disabled children and young people from birth to adulthood across health, education and social care.  Materials and courses were written to ensure that early intervention takes account of best practice early support principles.  An example of these are the Monitoring Protocol and materials.  See section on Monitoring Protocol in this MESHGuide. (Hyperlink blue to MP section) Following government funding decisions, the Early Support programme ceased on 31st March 2015, ending the support role delivered by the Early Support Regional Facilitators.  However, the Council for Disabled Children have retained all the resources developed through the programme which you can access here.  These provide useful guidance for how teachers and others should work together and with families.

As outlined in the Special Educational Needs and Disability Code of Practice: 0 to 25 Years (2015) all local authorities must publish their Local Offer which sets out the support that they provide in their area for children and young people who have a disability or special educational needs. ( hyperlink blue to

The NDCS has produced a resource for supporting the achievement of hearing-impaired children in early years settings.  The resource offers advice for professionals working with deaf children aged 0 to 4 on effective support, deaf friendly teaching and improving outcomes.

    This resource aims to help professionals:

  • understand the needs of a deaf child.
  • make sure the environment and activities in your early years setting are accessible for deaf children.
  • enable the deaf child to make progress towards achieving early learning goals, particularly in the area of language development.
  • make sure any hearing technology used is working to its maximum potential.