This article first appeared in CICS Magazine.

A present from my sister

I looked for my copy of Listen to Your Child: A Parent’s Guide to Children’s Language and eventually found it hidden beneath Daniel Ling’s book on speech. Wiping off the dust, I opened it at the front, intending to check the publication date, but found instead my sister’s name, written in her own hand: Auriol Drew, 1988. What a joy!

Dimly, I recalled her giving me this book, saying she couldn’t use it, but it would be good for ‘my’ parents. She was right. It’s a great little book, written by Professor Crystal to appeal to the general reader. He writes in plain English and illustrates his text with examples that every parent will recognise from their experience of family life.

Listen to Your Child: A Parent’s Guide to Children’s Language

The book starts with some introductory chapters about language and progresses to the main body of the text, in which Crystal looks at language development chronologically. He discusses typical language development at one-year- old, two years old and so on. I think it would be very useful for parents of deaf children.

If time is short (and mostly it is) I’d suggest looking at the chapter which describes your child’s current level of language development, AND the following chapter. This is so you know where your child is, you can spot any gaps that need filling in their current level of language and know where your child needs to go next.

Our deaf children need their parents and teachers to know what the next linguistic stage is so that we are able to build in room for their linguistic growth into daily life, at home and at school. We need to be constantly ‘on it’ as far as language development goes.

Your child’s language age?

Suppose you don’t know the current language age of your child? In this case I suggest two things:

  • Firstly, you might start with your child’s hearing age, their age calculated from the time at which they first had good access to the sounds of spoken language. For many children with cochlear implants this might be the date of their CI tuning (switch on).If your child is very young then their language age and their hearing age maybe quite close, or even the same. If they are a bit older, hopefully their language age has moved up to match their chronological age (or their ‘real age’).If you find the chapter you choose isn’t describing your child’s language as it is now, then move up or down as appropriate. Of course, this is a rule of thumb method. It probably won’t work if your child has significant extra needs. In this case you may wish to start, as Julie Andrews sang, at the very beginning.
  • Secondly, if you don’t know your child’s current language age then I suggest that you need to politely but firmly request that your local services provide you with this information.Expect them to measure your child’s receptive and expressive language using a standardised test which gives scaled score, like CELF (Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals) or the PLS (Pre-School Language Scale). Our deaf children should usually develop age appropriate language skills (or language skills that reflect their general development, which could be below or above what is normal for their age).They should have their language progress measured annually on standardised tests, so that you know how much progress they are making, and how their language levels compare to their previous rate of progress, and the progress their peers with typical hearing. If your deaf child’s language levels are lower than average for their age, in many cases, you would be well advised to expect your child to make more than 12 months linguistic progress in every calendar year, so they can catch up with their typically hearing peers. If this is an appropriate expectation for your child it should be reflected in their EHC plan, in their targets, and in their review of targets.

Making progress

We have wonderful access to powerful modern hearing technology so we should see this reflected in very good language progress. If the children are not making progress, or maintaining their progress at a rate that will allow them to catch up with their peers, there must be a reason for it.

There might be a previously undiagnosed additional problem, perhaps a language problem (separate from, and not caused by hearing difficulties) or dyspraxia. There could be a problem with the acoustic environment at school, a difficulty with effective inclusion – whatever it is, it needs pinning down, and sorting out.

We do need to remember that all children are different. If your child’s ability is above average, then of course, his or her language levels should also be above average. By the same token, if your child’s ability is below average then it is appropriate to accept similar, lower than average, levels of language development and celebrate this as the big success it is.

But without annually measured language assessments you don’t have an accurate idea of your child’s progress. I have known children who were fortunate enough to start school with good language, but their language progress slowed during their early education, and no one realised they were beginning to fall behind. So you need good annual language assessments for your child.

Get your copy

Information is power, so I strongly recommend the Parent’s Handbook. Unfortunately David Crystal’s Parent’s Guide is £10.68 (in paperback) but you can pick it up for 1p plus postage and packing. My sister gave it as a present to me. I suggest you give it as a present to yourself. For £2.81 it is a bargain. It is the season for presents, or if you are reading this in January, it’s the season for bargains!