Raising a deaf or hard of hearing child
Learning that your child is deaf or hard of hearing can feel overwhelming and scary. However, there is much support available for both your child and your family and much hope to be had for a happy, healthy life. Making sure you get the right care as soon as possible will help your child's development so they can reach their full potential.
Understanding the diagnosis
- deaf (with a small d) is the term used to describe the physical condition of not hearing
- Deaf (with a capitalised D) is used to describe those who use Auslan (Australian Sign Language) to communicate, and who identify as members of the signing Deaf community.
- hard of hearing is the term that Deaf Australia now uses to describe those who have acquired a hearing loss in late childhood or adulthood or who have a mild or moderate hearing loss. It is generally preferred over “hearing impaired.”
Hearing loss in infants and children can be caused by a range of problems from genetic conditions to complications in pregnancy to recurrent ear infections to injury.
Whatever the cause, if your child is diagnosed deaf or hard of hearing, you will work with a comprehensive team of specialists who will advise you on the best care options for your child’s circumstances throughout their lifetime.
Diagnosing deafness and hard of hearing
Newborn hearing screening is available free-of-charge to all babies born in Australia. It is one of the routine health checks performed after a baby is born and is a quick and painless way to check the hearing of a baby.
When your baby has a hearing screening, an audiologist uses special equipment to play sounds into your baby's ears and records how your baby responds.
Hearing screening aims to:
- check the hearing of all babies by the time they are 1 month old
- refer any babies with suspected hearing problems for repeat testing with an audiologist
- start early intervention for babies with hearing loss by 6 months
Some hearing problems aren’t picked up at infant screening. If your child exhibits several of the following behaviours, please bring them to their GP to arrange a hearing test:
- speech delays or falling back in speech development
- difficulties in school or sudden changes in academic performance
- communication difficulties
- behavioural problems
- difficulty following direction
- listening to the television or radio louder than others
Early identification, effective treatments and the development of new skills to address hearing loss can improve your child’s language, communication and social skills. This will allow your child to participate more effectively at home, school, work and in their communities. There are so many ways you and your child’s health care team can contribute, including:
- assessing to see if your child could benefit from a listening device such as a hearing aid or cochlear implant
- teaching you how to use facial expressions and gestures to communicate with your baby
- helping you recognise your baby’s cues
- helping to make your home a good listening environment
- introducing and developing sign language (Auslan) to the whole family
- helping you feel confident in your very important role
- monitoring your child’s progress and adapting tools as they grow
Auslan is the language used by the Australian deaf community. It has its own grammar and language rules which differ from those of spoken English. Auslan is recognised as an official language by the Australian Government.
There is a range of listening devices available, depending on your child's level of hearing loss. These include cochlear implants (for severe to profound hearing loss) and hearing aids.
Your child might use a combination of listening devices in one or both ears.
Planning for school
There are several schooling options for families of deaf and hard of hearing children. You will benefit from visiting some, talking to the staff, discussing with other families of deaf and hard of hearing children and even watching some classes. Your choices include:
- mainstream school
- mainstream school with a specialist unit
- specialist schools for children who are deaf or hard of hearing
The right school for your child is the one where you feel included and safe – where you and your child feel most supported. Remember, you know your child better than anyone else. By helping your child to embrace their deafness, you can help your child to feel more confident at school.
Support and the deaf community
Whether your child has a hearing aid, cochlear implant or uses sign language, it's important for them to see that they are part of a large and vibrant community of deaf and hard of hearing people that spans the globe and participates fully in all aspects of life.
The internet and the growth of supportive local and online communities has enabled families to connect with one another for support, information, introductions, referrals and more. Through sharing of stories and experiences with others and learning about living with hearing loss, it can be easier to find hope and confidence for the future.
Deaf Children Australia can provide mentors, support groups and information to help both you and your family.
Aussie Deaf Kids has comprehensive information and support
You can also contact Pregnancy Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436 for more information and support.
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: January 2022