One of my earliest, most vivid memories is playing in the lounge while listening to my Mum, who was in the kitchen talking about the dinner she was making/burning. She was only able to do this because she was wearing a microphone and the sound of her speech was coming through clearly and direct to my radio aid, cutting out all background noise.
I used to insist that she wear the microphone all the time – in the car, outdoors, everywhere – and would throw petulant tantrums when she turned it off, even just for a second.
I’ve no doubt that because of all this, I was able to develop good language and communication skills and get a good head start once I arrived at primary school.
So when I joined the National Deaf Children’s Society, many years later, I was amazed to find out that my experience was relatively unusual. A survey by the Consortium for Research into Deaf Education (CRIDE) in 2016 found that 46% of local authorities do not make radio aids available to pre-school deaf children.
This is why I’m really excited by the latest research being published by the National Deaf Children’s Society today. It shows that radio aid technology can have a big impact on hearing and communication for deaf children. In particular, it finds that being able to hear their parents’ voice clearly and directly by using radio aids promotes markedly better parent-child communication.
To me, the research confirms something that many people have known for years. It’s pretty well established by now that the early years are critical in developing language and communication skills, and that the interaction between parents and children is an essential part of this. But we also know that everyday situations like being in a buggy or car can be a noisy minefield for deaf children, making it impossible for them to hear their parents in those critical early years.
Radio aids aren’t for everyone and we still need to look at the individual needs of each deaf child. But it is important that parents have the information they need to make informed choices about whether / when they’d like to try a radio aid for their child. But for these kind of informed choices to mean anything, the other 54% of local authorities need to take action to make sure that they can provide radio aids if parents feel it would benefit them.
Last year, we launched our Right from the Start campaign to make sure that every deaf child got the right support from the earliest possible age. The research published today suggests that one way of meeting this goal for many will be to make sure that there is much wider access to radio aids in the early years. I hope that local authorities will take action to ensure that more deaf children get the chance to benefit from this, like I did.