As you are already aware, parents are the first and the most important teachers of their child. The unique needs of your child require that you work on many skills simultaneously at home. Facilitating listening and understanding can be integrated into everyday routines, activities and interactions.
Developing listening skills requires commitment by caregivers and the professionals who guide them. Auditory skill development is highly dependent on a child’s use of personal hearing devices. Conduct daily checks of your child’s devices to assure that they are providing the expected output. Your child requires consistent access to sound in order to develop listening skills and spoken language to the degree that s/he is capable. The over-riding goal is consistent use of hearing aids or cochlear implants so that the auditory-brain connections are firmly established and can grow.
The goal of early stages of listening skills is to help the child associate meaning with what s/he hears: to learn what the sounds/words/phrases represent and to attach them to people, objects, feelings, ideas. Your child will benefit from specialized therapy to learn those skills but also needs to develop and apply them in the natural environment of the home. Your service provider(s), i.e., Teacher of the Deaf and/or Speech-Language Pathologist, are likely using the SPICE Curriculum as a reference for determining where your child is in the sequence of auditory skills, and it would be helpful for you to know what objectives s/he has established. Once the most basic skill of detecting sounds is established, a child can learn to discriminate between stimuli based on pattern perception, which refers to hearing differences between sounds, words, phrases and sentences based on duration (length of production), stress (volume) and intonation (variations in pitch). When you are presenting objects it is generally best to start with two items and then expand the number of choices to three, four and more.
I sometimes suggest that people in the home – as well as in school – use greetings that are specific to themselves and which differ in duration, stress and intonation: The child can learn to associate the voice and pattern with the individual. For example, someone’s greeting might be “Hello Mary!” and another might use “Mary, I am so happy to see you!” or “I want to say Hi to you, Mary”.
When playing with your child, consider sounds that differ in the duration and pitch of your voice, for example prolonged “mee-oww” vs staccato “quack-quack”, “ahhhh-ahhhh” for airplane vs “choo-choo-choo” for train. The attached reference Learning to Listen Sounds* offers many suggestions and can be very helpful as you think about what choices work best for you in your play activities. As you develop routines, think about phrases that differ in patterns:
- Bedtime: “Time for bed!” is distinctly different than “up, up, up the stairs”.
- Dressing/undressing: “Pull (presented with prolongation) it off” vs. “Hands up!”.
- Snack or mealtime: “Cut, cut, cut the banana” vs. “Mmmmmm, good!”
Songs, fingerplays and nursery rhymes differ in patterns of prosody (intonation and pitch variations): Itsy Bitsy Spider vs Old Macdonald Had a Farm; Happy Birthday vs The Wheels on the Bus. You can use representational objects, pictures and/or movement to associate the speech pattern with the song or nursery rhyme.
You can also work on pattern perception by presenting words that differ in the number of syllables, starting with one vs three syllables (car vs banana; hat vs ice cream cone) and moving to one vs two syllables (cheese vs hot dog). The SPICE Curriculum has many examples, breaks down goals and identifies next steps, so you might ask your specialist for additional information and suggestions.
Do not underestimate the benefit of your efforts in exploiting opportunities to facilitate your child’s development of listening skills. Listening helps children to connect with people and activities, improves their ability to predict and act on their environment, and supports communication development.