3 Tips for When it’s Hard to Communicate With a Child with a Hearing Implant
A cochlear implant can help your child to listen and communicate in amazing ways, but like everybody sometimes your child might find it hard to communicate in a conversation. Often this is because your child, or the person he or she is communicating with, just doesn’t understand what’s being said.
So, when you’re talking with your child there are some techniques that you can teach them to keep the conversation on track. They fall into three umbrella categories, and you might use one or more of the techniques depending on the situation.
Below I’ll share some of these techniques that you as a speaker can use, as well as give ideas for questions that you can teach your child to use in that situation. These questions are in italics.
1. Modify the way you’re saying the information
With this technique the main goal is to continue to communicate the same information, but change how you’re communicating it.
Repetition: repeat the word, phrase, or sentence a second time. You could repeat it at the same speed and loudness, repeat it while speaking louder, or repeat it while speaking slower.
Your child could ask: “Could you say that again?”
Revise or rephrase: communicate the same information, but use different words.
“Could you say that differently?”
Explanation or expansion: while communicating the information, add in additional words or sentences to build context around what you’re saying.
“Can you please explain what you mean?”
Simplification: say it in the shortest way possible, perhaps with just one or two key words.
“Can you please say just the keyword?”
Other forms of communication: try something other than speaking. You could spell out the word, write it down on a piece of paper, or use sign language if your child knows some.
“Can you write it down for me?”
2. Modify the Environment
Sometimes the reason why it’s difficult to communicate isn’t because of what you’re saying, but rather where you are saying it. Situations with lots of background noises, or when it’s dark, can make communication more difficult.
Move closer: it might be just that your voice can’t reach the listener, so moving closer to them can help them to understand you.
“Could you move closer?”
Face the person to whom you’re talking: because the listener might consciously or subconsciously use lip reading to support their listening, make sure that they can see your mouth as you speak.
“Could you look at me when you’re speaking?”
Move closer to the implant: sometimes just moving closer to the listener’s audio processor, for example from their right side to their left side (when their implant is on their left) can make it easier to communicate.
“Can you move closer to my audio processor and repeat what you said?”
Go somewhere else: if that doesn’t make it easier to communicate, you could consider moving to a different place. It might be to a different part of the room, or a different room entirely. It will be helpful to find somewhere quiet.
“Can we go somewhere I can hear better?”
3. Add or Correct Information
Here’s what you’ll want to do when you know that your child can hear the information, and want to confirm that they understand it. Since these techniques inherently need more input from your child, it might be a good idea to proactively teach them these questions so that they can easily use them during conversation.
Say similar information: for example, if you’re going out to a restaurant could also say that you’re going to aeat. That way your child can connect eat with restaurant.
“Does ‘going out to a restaurant’ mean that we’re going out to eat?”
Ask a question: get your child to ask you a question about what you just said, so you can recognize what they did or didn’t understand. Depending on the question they asked you can add more information or correct them as appropriate.
“Did you say ‘we are going to the restaurant’?”
Repeat what they understood: sometimes they might have heard all that you said, but you think they only understood some of it. In this case ask them to repeat to you what they understood and be clear about what they didn’t.
“I heard you say that ‘Johnny is going to the XYZ’, what else did you say?”
Repeat what they heard: if you think they heard everything but weren’t sure what they understood, ask them to repeat everything that they understood.
“I understood ‘Johnny going to restaurant’, is that correct?”
Repeat the keywords: if the information is more important than the specific words you use, ask them to repeat the key words to see if they understood the overall idea.
“You said ‘Johnny’ and ‘restaurant’, so did you mean ‘Johnny is going to the restaurant’?”
Different Strategies for Different Situations
These strategies should cover most situations where you could have difficulty communicating with your child, and it’s your choice as to which strategy you use when. Since some will be more or less effective depending on different factors like the environment and your speaking style, or your child’s age, it’s important to not expect one strategy to work everywhere. And, relying too much on one strategy could unintentionally also make communication difficult because it might not work in a given situation and your child might not know what else to do. The best you can do is keep it varied!
As always, talking with your child’s audiologist or speech language pathologist can help you to choose the best strategies for your child. And they might have even more strategies that would work with your child’s specific hearing. Don’t hesitate to talk with them!
This post was written with the help of Shabnam Fathima, a clinical specialist focused on cochlear implant rehabilitation.
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