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

The importance of Early Communication and language

There is a plethora of literature which details the ways in which any deficit or delay in children's language can be detrimental to their later achievements and their emotional wellbeing.  Research concerning deaf children emphasises this and the importance of being sure that the child is provided with sufficiently high quality input and interaction.

The development of meaningful communication stimulates the language centre of the brain to support the infrastructure for reading and writing29.  In addition, as children’s language abilities develop, they are able to take part in increasingly long conversations, giving them further insight into the mental states of others and to understand more about how others think and feel; feeding into the development of Theory of Mind30.

Language is more than sounds, grammar and words/signs.  Research by Yoshinago Itano et al. (2012)31 has identified that some deaf children may make good progress in relation to sounds, words and grammar but may not express a similar range of intentions or meanings as their hearing peers.  The Yoshinago Itano research indicates the potential risks for deaf children in this area and the importance of helping parents to support meaning and communication rather than teach individual words.


Play is a very important factor in the learning of language.  Young children do not learn language through being taught.  They learn it through interaction with others, largely their primary carers, as more fluent communicators.  It is a social process that happens together with others and not in isolation.  One of the best ways that parents can support their child’s language development is through playing together, whilst ensuring the technology is on and working well!  Parents need to sing nursery rhymes, share books, play with and interact with their child.

Many Sensory Support Services offer a pre-school group/music group which is a fabulous way for parents to gain confidence in using strategies, rhymes, games, chanting etc to support their child’s language development.  These groups also provide an opportunity for parents to meet and support each other and for the professionals to observe children’s play and language development in a setting other than the home.

Speech Therapy

Speech and Language Therapists may be part of the team around the child.  They do not usually get involved unless there is a proven delay.  The Teacher of the Deaf understands the potential risks and is therefore involved from birth to help prevent the need for later repair.

BSL users can develop language at a similar rate to spoken language development provided they are exposed to sufficiently high-quality input and interaction.  Therefore, if parents are choosing this route they must be able to sign fluently and confidently with their babies.  There are BSL classes available locally for parents wishing to learn.

The document Monitoring Protocol and speech and language development gives more information about the development of language and communication and breaks language down into different components for example: Speech sounds and frequency; pragmatics; early words and early grammar development.