Yesterday’s Irish Examiner report, ‘Deaf children held back by fund gap‘, raises pertinent points about service provision, particularly when eligible children aged under 18 in Ireland are to receive bilateral cochlear implants from July 2014.
Ireland’s Historic Lack Of Services
Firstly, the historic lack of public hearing and speech services for deaf children in Ireland, impacts families who discover their child’s hearing issues between birth to age five – when a critical window for spoken language acquisition exists.
As the Examiner article notes, the former teacher-training course at UCD for deaf education, was cut due to lack of funding. Blended distance-courses at Birmingham and Manchester Universities however open training to mainstream teachers in the Republic and beyond.
To cross-train specialist teachers for oral deaf education, proactive colleges in the US and Middle East are connecting their teacher-training, speech and audiology faculties to deliver modular courses in these core disciplines. We can expect to see more campuses globally forming similar collaborations, over time to upskill early interventionists for their work.
Progress In Ireland Since UNHS Rollout
Major progress is seen in Ireland since 2011 when newborn hearing tests began rolling out, and reached all regions in 2013. Some concern exists around care pathways for families referred onward after a suspect hearing test result – but new telepractice models can be emulated here in Ireland.
Hearing and speech are intricately related. A small gap in an infant’s hearing levels, can adversely impact their early language acquisition with correlated vital building blocks for their self-expression and articulation in later years.
Soaking Preschoolers In Spoken Language
This is where specialist verbal preschools for infants with hearing difficulties add value, as seen in the US and in New Zealand. Parents, families and siblings shape a child’s spoken language progress before preschool stage, but a formal early-years education from six months to age three can structure a child’s latent knowledge for their lifetime.
Early intervention for infants with hearing issues should ideally happen in the family home, to prepare a child to attend a specialist verbal or mainstream preschool for focused language development amid their hearing peers.
Raising Educational Standards
Skilled staff at quality daycare centres will also create spoken language-learning plans to accompany specific toys as a guide for colleagues, parents and trainees to learn from – and to use with all the children in their care.
Ongoing investment is needed to reach this standard of education to equip families, early-years educators, creche and preschool providers to work with children who are considered typical, who receive directed teaching for language intervention, or who have statemented additional needs.
Again, this is where collaboration by audiologists, occupational therapists, speech teachers and educators genuinely optimises education systems.