You can help your child to develop their communication skills even before they receive a cochlear implant.
If you’ve chosen for your child to receive an implant, and are in the months or weeks before the implantation or activation, this can be a time filled with different emotions: excitement, anticipation, maybe worry. If you’re not sure what you should be doing with your child, know: you can help foster and develop their communication skills starting today.
Start Bonding Today
Communication with children begins in their infancy: you smile, hold them, and interact with them throughout the day. All of this communication is important for your baby because it helps them to feel secure, develop a positive bond with you, and learn how to interact with people around them.
Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication
You know the old saying that 90% of communication is non-verbal? Well, that might not be entirely accurate—but there is a lot to be said for communicating through gestures, facial expressions, and body language. Each of these different aspects helps to express a message, and we often use them without even being conscious of it.
Before your child is able to hear with their cochlear implant, they’ll be paying attention to some of these other aspects of communication: when you’re happy, you smile; when you say yes, you also nod; when you’re upset, you might frown; when you want to calm your child down, you might rock them in your arms.
Sound is a crucial part of learning and developing spoken language skills, but until your child can hear, using these ways to communicate naturally and non-verbally is a great way to foster interaction with your child.
Reinforce Your Child’s Communication
Communication is a two-way street: you communicate with your child, and they also communicate with you. They might show excitement when you’re in the room; or, they might look at a toy they’re interested in, then at you, then back at the toy. (This second one is called “joint attention” and it’s one of the important communication skills that babies develop early in their life.)
Whenever they try to communicate, it’s important that you respond. Smile and nod your head, talk to them—even if they can’t understand what you are saying, they’ll see that you’re responding—, or give them the toy that they’re showing interest in.
By looking out for how they’re communicating, and in turn responding, you let them be a part of successful communication interactions. This can help to motivate them to keep developing and finding the best ways to communicate with those around them.
Start Exploring the World
Your child doesn’t need to hear everything in the world to start engaging with it. Before then, you can introduce them to the people, places, activities, and more which they’ll be around once they receive their cochlear implant.
For example, walk around your house with your child, pointing out and interacting with different objects:
- Touch some cold water and shake, to show your child that it’s cold and wet to the touch.
- Touch a soft blanket against your face and then close your eyes, to show your child that it’s soft and relaxing.
Pair your actions with words. Even though your child might not be hearing the words clearly, by speaking you can show that part of the way we communicate is through words. Use your natural speaking voice, without over-exaggerating your articulation, because this will help your child to understand how it looks when people interact with spoken communication. speakingAt the same time, go ahead and use lots of natural facial expressions and gesture to match your talk: wide eyes, big smiles, waving and so on.
Read Books, and Sing
Books and singing are both fantastic ways to interact with your child and build their communication skills.
To start, hold your child close to your body as you’re reading or singing. This way they’ll feel the vibrations of your voice through their body.
Point out pictures in the books, or act along with the words of the songs. For example if you’re singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” rock your body back and forth, or hold up your fingers as you sing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”
Because you’ll use a variety of different sounds, both long and short, your child will have the chance to recognize these differences. You can use different actions to reinforce how different sounds have different lengths: run your finger along their arm for a long sound, or use a tap-tap motion for short sounds.
Doing all of this before your child receives their cochlear implant means that they’ll build up a familiarity with books and songs. Then after receiving their implant, keep reading and singing the same books and songs. As they start learning how integrate sound and spoken language into their world they’ll be able to remember these activities that you have done together, and can match them to the new sounds they’ve begun to hear through their cochlear implant.
And once your child has received their cochlear implant, here are some other tips and activities to get you started with rehabilitation:
- Help your child develop listening skills
- Teach language with fingerplay, rhymes, and songs
- 8 tips for playing games with your child
- Books to develop theory of mind skills
This post was written by Ingrid Steyns, a speech-language pathologist and Rehabilitation Manager at MED-EL.
- Bell, R. Q. (1968). A reinterpretation of the direction of effects in studies of socialization. Psychological review, 75(2), 81.
- Desjardin, J. L. (2005). Maternal perceptions of self-efficacy and involvement in the auditory development of young children with prelingual deafness. Journal of Early Intervention, 27(3), 193-209
- DesJardin, J. L., & Eisenberg, L. S. (2007). Maternal contributions: Supporting language development in young children with cochlear implants. Ear and hearing, 28(4), 456-469.
- Lederberg & Prezbindowski, 2000