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Simple Strategies to Help Children With Hearing Loss Learn to Listen

Simple Early Intervention Strategies to Help Children With Hearing Loss Learn to Listen

Many children who have been diagnosed as deaf or hard of hearing have some residual hearing that they can access with technology, such as hearing aids or cochlear implants. If parents choose to go this route, children must be taught to listen. Below are five common strategies used in early intervention to help them learn this important skill.

Auditory First

Did you know that we hear with our brain, not our ears? That’s where we process and make sense of sounds. While a child starts using hearing aids or cochlear implants, we want to present spoken language to the brain first without using visual clues such as looking at the object.

For example:

If you say, “Go get your cup,” you shouldn’t point to, gesture at, or look at the cup.

Auditory Sandwich

This strategy goes hand in hand with Auditory First. It is often used when a child is not understanding auditory input. A child might look at you or look around, indicating that they’ve heard you but don’t know what you want. A visual cue is then given, and then the words are repeated to help connect the two.

For example:

You say, “Go get your cup,” without pointing to, gesturing at, or looking at the cup.

Child looks around but doesn’t understand.

You then point to and look at the cup.

Once child looks at the cup, you repeat, “Go get your cup,” without pointing to it.

Acoustic Highlighting

Acoustic Highlighting is a broad category of techniques that can be used to help make speech more audible. When children are learning to speak, they may leave out certain words or sounds which they find harder to hear. A simple Acoustic Highlighting technique is to emphasize those missing words or sounds. One way to do this is when modeling phrases you want your child to say, pay attention to any words they delete or don't say properly. You should then repeat the entire phrase, placing special emphasis on the word they missed or mispronounced so it stands out to them. You may speak the word louder and with more intensity. In some cases, it’s better to whisper the word (see next strategy).

For example:

You say, “I want juice please,” and encourage your child to say it back.

If they say, “I juice please,” you should repeat, “I WANT juice please,” emphasizing “want” and saying it more loudly.


Some words are actually easier to hear when they are whispered rather than spoken loudly. That’s because speaking loudly emphasizes the vowels in the word. The child will likely hear the vowels but may have a hard time picking up on the consonants and understanding what they are supposed to repeat. Whispering words makes the consonants stand out more as you use your breath to speak without your vocal cords.

For example:

If you ask your child to repeat, “hat” and they say, “at” you should whisper the word back to them to make the /h/ sound more audible.  

What Do You Hear?

Many kids with hearing loss get into the habit of saying “What?” or “Huh?” when asked a question. Even if they do actually hear and understand, they automatically answer this way instead of processing what was said. In response, you can ask, “What did you hear?” This will help them form a new habit of listening and responding.

For example:

You ask your child to bring you a toy and they say, “What?”

Instead of repeating yourself, respond, “What did you hear?”

Hopefully the child will repeat what you said when you allow them time to process the information.

In Summary

These strategies are meant for children whose hearing is aided by technology who are now learning to listen and speak. Before using these strategies it’s important to ensure that their technology is working properly and they are able to hear sounds. This article isn’t meant to replace early intervention, but to provide insight into the types of strategies to expect. Once a child receives a hearing loss diagnosis, they should start early intervention no later than six months of age to help them achieve your family’s communication goals. Early intervention services are free in Pennsylvania and help children develop the skills they need to thrive.

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