When a child receives a hearing implant they gain access to sound, and their listening skills begin to develop in stages. The very first step is building your child’s auditory awareness, which is being able to recognize the presence and absence of sound.
Of all the sounds in a child’s environment, the human voice is the most commonly heard. Building your child’s awareness of human voices should be the first goal for you and your hearing professional.
Here are some tips to help build your child’s awareness of human voices during this early listening stage:
- Use every opportunity to expose or engage your child in verbal interactions so that they have lots of opportunities to hear different human voices.
- Alert your child to people talking and help them to focus on it. Use cue phrases to direct their attention such as “Listen”, “Did I hear Dad say something?”, “I heard something, did you hear it too?”, “Let’s listen together”. Also use visual cues such as pointing to your ears to indicate listening to the child.
- Draw attention to both the presence and absence of human voices—speaking and silence. This can be done by pausing the conversation at breaks where suitable, and then encourage your child to react to it.
- Use an interesting voice during interactions. As your child is still new to listening, it might be uninteresting and difficult to pay continuous attention to a monotonous or flat voice. You can try out singing your sentences to keep their attention.
- Be aware of your child’s reactions to a sound. Babies and toddlers can have different and spontaneous reactions. To indicate that they heard the voice, they may smile, startle, pause an ongoing activity, turn around towards the speaker, vocalize, or look at the speaker with anticipation. Recognise your child’s reactions and reward them with a smile. Point to your ear and tell them that you heard that noise too!
- Reduce background and environmental noises to highlight speech and help your child hear clearly.
Here are some specific activities you can do to build your child’s awareness of the human voice:
- Read a book to your child every day, one that includes continuous and flowing sentences. Watch your child to see if they pay attention or listen to your voice for longer periods of time. Pause between phrases to see if your child recognizes when you stop talking—an absence of your voice.
- Line up 10 toy cars or stringed balloons. Using pretend play, encourage your child to interact with the toy, such as a car or a balloon. Say “Go” or “Push the car” or “Bye-bye balloon” or “Fly away balloon”. Remember to say the phrase and then do the activity. With repetition and modelling of words and actions, your child will begin to link the spoken message to what you are doing with the toy.
- Hold hands with your child and swing them round in circles singing a song, for example “Ring Around the Roses”. Observe whether your child starts moving when they hear the song begin, and if they stop when it ends. Pause in the middle of the song to see if your child recognizes the silence. Encourage them to stop moving when they hear silence.
- Play “wake up” games. Get your child to pretend a doll is sleeping and say “wake up!” Shake the dolls awake on hearing the phrase. You could also do this with a sibling or family member and ask them to react when they hear the phrase.
- Pull out toys from a mystery box. Encourage your child to pull out a toy on hearing a phrase such as “Please let me out of the bag” or “Help! Help!” If your child tries to pull the toy out before something is heard, stop them and indicate that there was no sound by saying, “Let’s listen again”. Always try to cue them into listening during these activities.
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