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An Early Start lay foundations for every deaf and hard of hearing child to enable their independence and success throughout their life

First Steps is an Early Childhood Development Center for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, ages 0-6 years. Our goal for every child is the development of age-appropriate cognitive, communication, language and social skills that will prepare them for school and lay foundation for later year success.

We work in a team of parents, special educators and specialists in communication and audiology services that provide integrated services to meet the individual learning needs of each child.

The Issue

Background

1 in 1000 children in India are born deaf or hard of hearing. Of the 5 lakh hard of hearing/deaf babies born globally every year, 1 lakh are in India. Of these over 90% to hearing families, who either have no access to resources or knowledge of how to help these children. As a result of this, children miss out on crucial years of gaining language.

Language and communicative competence provide critical tools for learning, engaging in social relationships, and behaviour and emotion regulation from infancy onward.

There are two aspects of Language: 1) Structural language i.e. sounds of language (phonology), vocabulary (semantics), grammar, narrative discourse, and information processing 2) Pragmatic language i.e. conversational or other communicative turn-taking, making good use of gestures and maintaining eye contact.

In addition, children must be able to both express their thoughts (expressive language) and understand those of others (receptive language) in both social and learning situations.

Development of Language in Early Years

In the first five years, the evolution of communication begins at birth when infants communicate through cries, and gestures, to when he is 18 months, at which stage he engages with the adults for intentional communication.

From 18 months onwards, language overtakes action as children’s primary means of learning and communication. For instance, preschoolers can engage in conversations about emotions that take into account another’s affective state, can use language for self-control and have the capacity to negotiate verbally.

AT A GLANCE

1 in every 1000 children is born deaf or hard of hearing. Over 90% of them are born to hearing families, who either have no access to resources or knowledge of how to help these children, who then miss out on language development.

Language and communicative competence provide critical tools for learning, engaging in social relationships, and behaviour and emotion regulation from infancy onward.

Language development occurs in the first five years

AT A GLANCE

Deafness in most children is not identified until two to three years of age when they fail to speak, by the time most children have already set foundation for intentional language and communication skills

Range of psychosocial and emotional disorders has been associated with language impairment, e.g.  problems with emotion and behaviour regulation in infants (e.g. difficulty being soothed, eating and sleeping),  in pre-school children most common diagnosis is Attention Deficit Disorder

Even in vocabulary development, deaf children often fall behind their hearing peers. For example, as one study reported that, during 15 months of intensive speech instruction, a 30 month old deaf child was able to learn one word a month compared with hearing children spontaneously learn from 60-120 words a month between 30 and 48 months of age.

Because language competence is critical for both school readiness and psychosocial and emotional adjustment, as well as literacy development, all factors for success in later years, problems with language and communication can set a child on a maladaptive trajectory throughout life.

Most children are not identified until two to three years of age when they fail to speak- the formative years when most children are setting foundations for intentional language and communication.

Even when a child at this stage is identified with deafness, efforts are made to make the child “hear” and “speak”. For example, in many cases, to “normalise” a deaf person who have little or no auditory inputs, most educators and specialists in India spend all their efforts in making a deaf person speak. As a result of which, deaf children often fall behind their hearing peers. For example, as one study reported that, during 15 months of intensive speech instruction, a 30 month old deaf child was able to learn one word a month compared with hearing children spontaneously learn from 60-120 words a month between 30 and 48 months of age. 

A range of psychosocial and emotional disorders has been associated with language impairment.  In infants, problems with emotion and behaviour regulation (e.g. difficulty being soothed, eating and sleeping) are most common. Physical and expressive vocabulary are associated with spoken vocabulary as early as 19 months of age. From the preschool years, the most common diagnosis among children with language impairment is Attention Deficit Disorder. In addition, children with language impairments had difficulty entering into peer group conversations and were then excluded, giving them less opportunity to learn and practice the social skills they needed for peer interaction.

The ramifications of language and communication impairment which begins at infancy, continue beyond the age of five years.Because language competence is critical for both school readiness and psychosocial and emotional adjustment, as well as literacy, problems with language and communication can set a child on a maladaptive trajectory throughout life.

Deaf children whose language is very delayed may show learning patterns similar to younger hearing children. The basic impoverishment of deafness is not lack of hearing per se, but due to significant delayed rate of language growth. 

There are some children who have access to hearing technologies like hearing aids and cochlear implants and even some of them have the need for intensive support outside of classrooms, or some children who have skipped the language development all together and reached up to high school without really understanding what the written word means.

The Solution

Therefore, identification and assessment of language disorders, and intervention, are important in the early years, setting the stage for later competence in a broad range of areas.

  1. Creating a comprehensive profile of communication, language, cognitive and psychosocial and emotional abilities, in every deaf and hard of hearing child’s early years is crucial.
  2. First Steps is set up as an Early Childhood Development Center for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, ages 0-6 years. In addition to providing one-to-one clinic-based therapy, we focus on functional language in naturalistic environments, and help parents to help child with both expressive and reception language.
  3. Our goal for every child is the development of age-appropriate cognitive, communication, language and social skills that will prepare them for school and lay foundation for later year success.
  4. To help the deaf and hard of hearing children who have missed out out the crucial stages of language development and are lagging behind their peers in school work, we provide individualized support these children. We aim to close the gap in language and school curriculum, whatever the age and need of the deaf and hard of hearing child, through individual education plan.

Objectives and Facilities

Objectives:

1. Give children expressive and receptive language
2. Prepare them with skills to be ready for school
3. Help children that already go to schools, bridge gaps in learning
4. To provide guidance to parents to help them raise happy, independent and confident children
5. Provide guidance and help with any medical, therapy and other assistive listening and language tools

Medium of Instruction:

English, Hindi and Indian Sign Language. We follow Bilingualism (spoken and Sign language) is applied for children who are unable to fully achieve LSL (listening and spoken language). AV (Auditory-Verbal) communication approach to young Cochlear Implant children to develop LSL .

School Infrastructure and Facilities

We maintain a high ratio of teacher to students ranging from 1:1 to 1:8, depending on the needs and ages of the children. We have well-trained and experienced staff of teachers with B.Ed, Diploma in Special Education(Hearing Impaired (DSE-HI), Diploma in Sign Language Interpreter Course (DSLIC) qualifications. In addition we have on board speech therapists and work in partnerships with ENT specialists, audiologists and child specialists. Our teachers and professionals have several years of working with children.