The sooner the better! Just think about cueing as being exactly the same as speaking to a hearing baby, you are simply adding the cues to what you would say anyway. A deaf baby who is cued to will watch your face and hands while you are speaking and learn English just as hearing babies do by watching your face and listening.
You don’t need to ‘teach’ your child cueing, you just do it as you speak and they will take it all in. If you use it consistently, you will soon start to see how they are making sense of what you’re saying.
It is possible to start to cue with a child of any age but the older ones will probably want a bit of explanation and direct teaching at first.
Nearly all children can understand far more than they can say – particularly in the early years, and for some it is a long time before anyone else can understand what they are trying to tell them! Usually it is the family who understand what they mean before others can and cued-to children are no different.
Parents of deaf children hopefully learn to read their child’s signals even more carefully than most because they may not be hearing them make the same sounds as hearing children do. They need to be more sensitive to things like eye contact, facial expression, body language and touch to begin with and if they are adding the cues when they speak then they can trust that their deaf baby is getting access to their words as well.
The important thing to grasp is that all children must be exposed to language – a LOT of language every day – in order to learn to use it themselves, you could say language has to be taken in before it can come out and over time families will discover how each child expresses themselves.
As most language is learned in the first months of life, choosing to cue means this can also happen for the deaf child, their language development is supported from the moment you begin to cue. And if they get hearing aids or implants later on, cueing will help them pick out your voice in this new world of sound.
Lots of parents these days choose to go to Baby Signing classes in order to give their hearing child a way to communicate before they can verbalise (many babies can make a sign before they can say the word). Parents say it is like giving their baby subtitles so they can understand what their baby is trying to tell them! Obviously, these parents keep on speaking English alongside teaching their baby the sign for some of the relevant words. We think this would be a great way to help deaf babies too, they are no different to hearing babies in this regard: understanding the English language because they can see it cued and helping others understand them by using signs.
Some families choose to take it further and learn increasing numbers of signs and some even become bilingual by using full British Sign Language as well as English. Our experience shows that a deaf baby has no limit to how much language they can understand if it is made accessible to them, it is perfectly possible for them to take-in English through cueing and sign language if the people in their lives are able and willing to make such efforts for them.
Most cued-to children develop speech that is clearly understandable although often this takes a little longer than for hearing children – the significant thing is that they have a fluent understanding of English and accurate lip-patterns. And some will be more easily understood if they add cues or signs as they speak.
You won’t necessarily need to cue forever, each family will decide for themselves how much they use cueing and when to stop, it depends on their child’s needs. Ideally you cue as much as possible in the early years until it is clear that your child fully understands the English language.
It is often the family that can cut down first on cueing because their deaf child has learned to lip read them so well. Then it becomes like a safety-net that is there for you to support your child when needed. Deaf children often become exhausted by having to work so hard to lip read or listen and using hearing aids or implants can be particularly hard if there is any background noise. Families can help take the strain away at these times by cueing and of course, there are times in the day such as bath time, bed time, sports or swimming lessons or if the child is unwell when choosing to cue will keep the flow of communication going more easily. Some families just use cueing to teach new words or to help a someone pronounce a word correctly.
Cueing puts you in control right now. It may be that in time, your child will be able to make good use of whatever amplification technology can give them, cueing is a way that you can pro-actively help them on this journey. If you find after a while that they don’t need you to cue, then stop!
Enormous amounts of research have been done on how children acquire language and it is certainly a complex process, but everyone agrees that for a child to develop language normally they all need:
- Access to lots of language
- As soon as possible
Cueing gives you a way to make this happen for your deaf child regardless of how much they can or can’t hear. When it comes to language, every day counts.