Hesperian Health Guides

Deciding What to Do for a Deaf Child

Not all children with hearing loss are the same. All need love, understanding, and help learning to communicate. But different children need different kinds of help, to communicate in whatever way works best for them. We must adapt our methods to the needs of the particular child and to the realities of the community where he lives.

  • If a child is only partly deaf, sometimes we can help her to hear more clearly, to understand more speech, and perhaps learn to speak.
  • A child who has no hearing at all usually cannot be helped to hear. But if he became deaf after he began to speak, perhaps he can be helped to ‘read’ people’s lips and to improve his speech.
  • If the child was born deaf and has never heard speech, learning to lip read and speak is slow, difficult, and usually not successful. It is better to help the child learn to communicate in whatever ways work best for her: first with her face, body, arms and hands, then a sign language, possibly adding pictures, reading and writing, finger spelling, and perhaps lip reading and speech.
  • If the child comes from an area where there are deaf people who communicate with each other in a national sign language, it is probably best to have people in the deaf community teach the child and her family sign language. That way, she can learn to communicate with deaf people as fully and well as hearing people communicate with each other.
  • But if the child lives in a small village where there are few deaf people, none of whom know the national sign language, learning that language may not help the child much. Probably it makes more sense for her to learn ways to communicate as best she can with those who can hear. Again, this probably means a combination of methods, based on the signs and gestures people already use in the village. With these, the child can also use pictures, and later perhaps, reading and writing.
  • Most children with hearing loss can learn quickly. But some may have brain damage or disabilities that affect their ability to learn or to control their hands, lips, or voices. Figure out ways to help these children communicate in whatever way they can: with sets of pictures, head movements, or eye movements.


Don’t shout. Speak in a normal, clear voice.

  • Look directly at the child when you speak to him.
  • Don’t repeat yourself. If the child does’t understand what you said, find another way to say it.
  • Don’t give up. Keep trying until the child understands you. Otherwise, he will feel like he has failed, not you.
  • Try to find a quiet place to talk without distractions. Get the child’s full attention.

Note: Some children who hear perfectly well do not develop the ability to speak. Some children with cerebral palsy do not control their mouth or tongue movement well enough to speak. Other children are mentally slow and may be very late in learning to speak, or never learn. Other children are intelligent in many ways, but for some reason cannot speak. For all of these children, we need to look for ways to help them communicate as best they can

This page was updated:21 Nov 2019