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An introduction to using CS

Using Cued Speech never excludes other options; it can be used to support listening and it can be used bilingually with BSL. 

CS will enable a deaf baby or child to fully understand English even if they hear nothing and will support what hearing they have. 

Making ‘choices’ for deaf children

Parents of deaf children are expected to be able to make an ‘informed choice’ about communication and education – but these choices are not the same as: ‘to which school do we send our hearing child?’; one school might give a more rounded education, another might give the tools to apply to a better university, but pupils will probably do just fine in both and leave literate and employable.  A choice for a deaf child, however, can be life-changing, and some choices, although right for some children, may not result in your child – or your family - doing ‘just fine’. 

Also the ‘choices’ on offer are often linked to a particular educational philosophy or belief system and parents can invest such emotional energy in a ‘choice’ that it may hard to let it go if it is unsuccessful.  When Cued Speech was developed in the 1960’s, the conflict between oralists (who believed that listening was the key to language access and the use of signs could be detrimental to the child) and signers (who believed that it is a deaf child’s right to use signs, and noted that oralism could be damaging) was at its height.  The creation of Cued Speech – which gives complete, easy access to English – should take all the power out of the argument because deaf children CAN have access to both BSL and to English.

One thing which should never be a ‘choice’ is giving your child full access to language.  Babies’ brains are hard-wired to learn language in the first three years of life and if they don’t get access to language this ability to learn will fade.  Also their poor understanding will cause them problems with literacy and accessing education.  All children, deaf or hearing, should be able to understand language without delay or ambiguity and should be able to use language age-appropriately and effectively. The questions then are: which languages? how? and does access need to be visual?

Rather than ‘choosing’ from a variety of options for your deaf child as you might choose a school for a hearing child, a better way to think about the decisions you have to make on behalf of your deaf child might be to look at ‘access to language’ and ‘communicating in full language’ and ask yourself, and the professionals around you, questions such as:

  • How likely is it that my deaf child will access all of the English language, almost all of the time, through listening alone?
  • How can I give my deaf child as much access to language as a hearing child gets?
  • If your family uses spoken language how will your child understand (access) the language of your home?
  • How important do you think it is for your child that they access and use the language of the deaf community in early years?  And if you want to use BSL as your baby’s first language how will you learn it fast enough?
  • How will your baby access enough English to be ready to learn to read at the normal age?

The answers to these questions will help guide your decisions.  For example if your child:

  • already has early, bilateral implants and no other problems, seems to be using the implants well, and has age-appropriate language, you might decide to concentrate on maximising their listening for the moment (but keeping a close eye on their progress). 
  • can’t be implanted (or not yet) or you are undecided, and/or has little or no hearing, you might decide to use both Cued Speech at home and find some BSL input as well.. 
  • is not yet implanted, or is and doesn’t seem to be benefiting as much as you hoped, or has aids which do not fully restore hearing, then you might decide to learn and use Cued Speech to give visual as well as aural access to English.

Cued Speech is a simple way to give easy, stress-free, visual access to English, or other spoken languages, and many (some people would say ‘all’) deaf children would benefit from its use.  It is not a philosophy or an educational system.  It’s not normally used alone and the choice to use it should never rule out other choices.  It can be used with BSL, it perfectly supports the use of hearing aids or implants and it still gives access to English even if children hear nothing.

Anne Worsfold, parent of two deaf children (now adults) and Director of the Cued Speech Association UK writes about points to consider when you are making choices.  

Accessing and acquiring language should not be hard for your deaf child – it should be easy and ‘natural’.  If children are struggling to understand something they partially hear, the effort is all theirs, and the ‘failure’ to understand is often –unfairly - seen to be theirs too.  For example even the most saintly parent may get irritated if they are hurrying and say something many times but their deaf child just doesn’t understand – and that’s damaging to both parent and child!  If their parents and the professionals around them use Cued Speech all of language is clear and the only effort the child needs to make is to look!  

Don’t ever accept delayed language as ‘normal for a deaf child’ – with CS your deaf child can make the same progress in understanding English as a hearing child.  If he’s not making the same progress or he’s so young you’re not sure what he hears then use CS!

Using CS will never to any harm; there is no evidence that it is ever confusing even when used with a sign language and it will help him make sense of the sounds he hears.

No decision is for life – if you don’t choose to use CS now, review your decision at least every year and be ready to change if your child is not making the same progress in language that you would expect him to make if he was hearing.  Also if you DO choose CS now you may find, as your child develops their understanding of language, that you need to use it less as they grow older. 

Respect your child: don’t ‘dumb down’ what you say, include him or her from family conversations, give him enough access to full language that he learns to have real, age-appropriate discussions with you. 

CS will give easy, every-day, natural, visual access to English – with all the benefits (inclusion with hearing family members, literacy, access to education, etc.) that brings.  

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