Infants learn communication skills through early interactions with their parents. But psychologists at the University of Sheffield have found that deafness in infants can affect their non-verbal communication as well as their verbal communication.

Looking at communication indicators that predict language development, the researchers found that deaf infants engaged less in communication behaviours than their peers. Published in the journal Pediatrics, the study showed that deaf infants experienced fewer learning opportunities, later affecting language development.

Dr Danielle Matthews, from the University of Sheffield said: “On average deaf infants produced five fewer communicative behaviours in 25 minutes of play than their peers. While this may not seem like a big difference, each communicative act is a chance to learn something further and these chances add up over the weeks and months as a child develops. So it’s important to find ways to support interaction.”

For parents of infants with varying levels of infancy, an early question may be how their child will communicate – through spoken language, sign language, or both. Following their research, the team at the University of Sheffield produced supportive and informative videos for parents and caregivers about how to support their child. 

These videos explain how infants communicate, how deafness impacts this, and how to support children with any level of hearing loss. They explain that responding to children’s communication is important to show they can communicate through babbles and gestures before moving onto using words and sound. However, children with hearing loss may find it more difficult to recognise responses to their communication attempts.

In the videos, Dr Ciara Kelly highlights the need to ‘tune-in’ on what a baby is focusing on and watch out for chances to respond, encouraging them to communicate more with you. For deaf infants it’s important to encourage them to look at you when you are responding to them so they can easily access your spoken or signed response. The videos also talk about checking hearing devices are working and optimising the listening environment for a child.

Dr Kelly said: “Videos with parents in real interactions, demonstrating communication strategies, can really help to make information and advice tangible. This is something parents and practitioners have raised the need for. So we aimed to create videos that can be used by parents and by professionals as a tool in their practice.”



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