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Gallaudet Univeristy
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Early Beginnings for Children Who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

By Marilyn Sass-Lehrer, PhD

Section 1: What is the Purpose of Early Intervention?

Full paper in PDF format (19 pages)

Families who have just learned that their child is deaf or hard of hearing typically have no prior experience or information about what this means for their child and family. Since more than 90 percent of families with a child who is deaf or hard of hearing are themselves hearing, the news often comes as a complete surprise. Although parents react to the identification of their child's limited hearing ability in many different ways, they often need support as they adjust to this new and unexpected information. Parents want to know what they can do to help their child. Early intervention services are designed to provide families with the support and information they need to promote their child's growth and development (Sass-Lehrer, 2011).

Soon after their infant or toddler has been identified as being deaf or hard of hearing, most families desire comprehensive information about what this means. They want to know the impact of their child's hearing levels on communication and language. They have questions about the educational opportunities available, how their child will learn, and how their child will get along with others. Families recognize the need for support as they adjust to this unexpected reality and often find that professionals and other families with deaf or hard of hearing children are more understanding of their situation than their own family members (Meadow-Orlans, Mertens, & Sass-Lehrer, 2003).

Professionals providing early intervention services have a variety of academic backgrounds and experiences. Early interventionists may be teachers, counselors, or social workers who specialize in working with deaf and hard of hearing children and youths. They may be early intervention or early childhood specialists, audiologists, speech-language pathologists, parent educators, or sign language specialists. These professionals work closely with families to build their competence, restore their confidence, and support them as they learn how to communicate with their child.

Early intervention services may be provided through visits with the family in their home, an early intervention program center, or another community setting. During these sessions, families-with the guidance of professionals-determine the goals and services that are most appropriate for their child and family. A range of services may be provided, such as emotional support for the family, information sharing, and family communication skill development. Family sign language lessons, deaf mentoring, shared reading activities, and listening and spoken language activities may be provided by early intervention services or via collaboration with other agencies. Quality intervention programs employ professionals who have training and experience working with families and their infants and toddlers who are deaf or hard of hearing. Effective programs provide a range of services to families that are family-centered, culturally responsive, and promote partnerships that are based on positive relationships between professionals and family members. Early intervention services are most effective when they are designed to strengthen the families' resources and resolve to provide the best learning opportunities available for their children.