University of Edinburgh

Early Years Focus in Deaf Education

Presented on Friday 9 November, 2012

Report of review of the NDCS project: Your Child, Your Choices

James Bowell, Head of Projects NDCS
Joanne O'Donnell Early Years Development Worker

What the literature told us ...

  • Deaf children and young people in Scotland are not achieving their full potential.
  • Deaf children more likely to have less well developed social emotional skills.
  • Deaf children more likely to have delayed language and communication skills.
  • The family is the most important influence on a deaf child

Notes: Deafness is not a learning disability and there is no reason why, with the right support, the majority of deaf children should not do as well at school as their hearing peers. (NDCS, 2008)

  • Limited development of social skills is associated with poor performance at school (Aviles et all, 2006).
  • Link between social emotional development and learning stronger amongst deaf children as studies show an increased prevalence of mental health problems in deaf children (Du Feu & Fergusson, 2003; Hindley et al, 1994).
  • Research has shown even a mild hearing loss can result in significant communication difficulties (Hearing Industries Association, 1998). The work of Yoshinago-Itano (2003) showed that with early identification and intervention deaf children achieve language development and personal social development proportionate to their age. Those with strong language development also had strong personal social development.
  • UK study by Young et al (1998) highlighted the issue of underemployment, the low occupational status on the majority of deaf staff. High personal cost to the individual young deaf person and high social and financial costs to society.
  • All families are the prime first educators of their children. Following diagnosis families are often overwhelmed, confused and desperately in need of support and access to impartial information and advice about many aspects of deafness.
  • Deafness can put a barrier between deaf children, their hearing families and the world around them, especially as it is estimated that 81% of parents of profoundly or severely deaf children never learn how to communicate effectively with their children (Ratna, 1996).
  • Recognition that the family are the most important influence on the child. Therefore the working with the family in the early years will have the greatest impact on the child, their development, life chances, aspirations and achievements.

What parents told us ...

  • Parents of deaf children face many of the same challenges as parents of hearing children, but there are also different aspects.
  • Parents want comprehensive, impartial and good quality information delivered 'in a flexible variety of ways to suit difference in preferred styles of information use'.
  • Parents of deaf children perceived themselves as having a significant contribution to make to other parents of deaf children.

Notes: NDCS commissioned Manchester University to conduct a needs assessment and development study into parenting and deaf children (2003). 1300 parents in the UK contributed to the needs assessment. Followed up by a further survey conducted by NDCS in 2007/8.


To develop a comprehensive model of support for families with a deaf child to assist all deaf children in Scotland to reach their full potential.

Notes: Model of support focussing on key areas of development for children in the early years:

  • Confidence and self esteem
  • Communication
  • Social skills
  • Behaviour management

Desired outcomes

  • Deaf children will have better life chances as a result of their parents having access to clear, unbiased information and support.
  • Deaf children, including those with additional needs and from BME backgrounds, will be better supported.
  • Deaf children will have improved communication and social emotional skills.
  • Deaf children will have peer support and be part of a stronger community.

Achieving our aim

  • Continue to provide Family Weekends for families with young children.
  • Deliver the courses Family Sign Language, Being the Parent of a Deaf Child and Communication is Fun to families in three areas of Scotland.
  • Recruit and train tutors and facilitators.
  • Link with key stakeholders and strengthen relations.

Notes: Currently NDCS host 3 family weekends in Scotland for families with young children: 2 x Newly Identified Weekends and 1 x Pre-school Weekend.

  • More information on each course on next slide as these are new to Scotland. Three delivery areas: Highland, Edinburgh and the Lothians, and Greater Glasgow.
  • Develop a base of trained tutors and facilitators to deliver the courses in line with NDCS policy of informed choice.
  • Strengthen relationships to avoid duplication of services, identify priorities and support families together.

Family Sign Language

Supports families to develop visual language and communication skills including BSL appropriate for everyday family life.

Notes: Developing a visual language in the home to aid communication. Does not necessarily mean family will go on to use BSL. If they do, this course can provide a nice introduction.

  • Course delivered by a trained tutor. Tutor required to be a native BSL user or to have BSL Level 3; a good knowledge of linguistics; and they will complete the FSL training for trainers course.
  • Aimed at families with a deaf child aged 0-5 years.
  • Currently 6 tutors recruited to the project: 4 deaf, 2 hearing; 3 Tots graduates; 1 parent of a deaf child.

Being the Parent of a Deaf Child

Provides intensive support for parents in areas they identified as most significant in the early years: behaviour management; communication and family relationships.

Notes: Similar to other parenting courses but with a greater emphasis on communication and the needs of deaf children.

  • Has considerable emphasis on peer support, learning from each other.
  • Aimed at families with a deaf child aged 2-8 years Facilitators trained by NDCS.
  • 8 facilitators recruited. 3 deaf, 5 hearing; 3 parents of deaf children; 2 existing members of NDCS staff.

Communication is Fun

Sessions exploring different communication methods and activities to support parents to develop positive communication with babies and young children and providing information as needed.

Notes: Parents receive an input from a guest speaker on various topics such as using everyday activities to develop communication, the importance of storybooks in developing language. The children then join their parents and participate in an activity. This provides the parents with the opportunity to put into practise some of the tips received in a safe and supportive environment. Activities can include arts and crafts, baby sensory and storytelling etc. Provides opportunity for parents to find out information but also an opportunity for parents to interact with their child and have fun. Aimed at families with a deaf child aged 0-5 years.

Year 1: Delivery

  • 1 Newly Identified Weekend
  • 1 Pre-school Weekend
  • 3 Family Sign Language courses
  • 2 Being the Parent of a Deaf Child courses
  • 1 Communication is Fun course
  • Total beneficiaries: 101 parents and 98 children

Notes: 2 NI weekends delivered but only 1 funded by YCYC, Ayr March 2012.

  • Pre-school, Edinburgh November 2011
  • 3 FSL courses: Glasgow, Inverness and Linlithgow
  • 2 FSL courses: Glasgow and Edinburgh
  • 1 CiF course: Edinburgh

Year 1: Evaluation

  • Parents developed peer support links and networks with other parents.
    '... it was clear to me that they [parents] were sharing experiences and fostering peer support.' (Tutor, FSL course)

  • The opportunity to meet with D/deaf adults and learn about deaf culture helped parents to develop more positive attitudes to deaf culture.
    'The family sign course has made us all feel more confident about accessing the deaf community... He will be able to be part of the hearing and the deaf community and hopefully always feel happy and included in both.' (Parent, FSL course)

Notes: By end of course all parents wanted to meet other parents regularly. The importance of peer support has been researched by Wates (2003) who found that 'Parents value peer support and community based networks extremely highly because they provide personal support, facilitate access to other resources and give parents opportunities to support other parents in similar situations'. By 3 months all those responding had met other parents at least once since finishing the course.

Limited knowledge of deaf culture can lead to a lack of shared experience between parent and child leading to isolation in childhood which continues into adolescence and adult life (NDCS, 2012).

Year 1: Evaluation

  • By the end of the Family Sign course the number of parents that were very confident in communicating with their child had trebled.
    ' Learning family sign language has been a great experience and has given us confidence in communicating ...' (Parent, FSL course)

  • Parents felt more confident in managing their child's behaviour as a result of attending the Parenting a Deaf Child course.
    ' ... the kids get on a lot better now and it is easy to deal with conflict with the girls; which makes me feel a lot more confident ...' (Parent, BPoaDC course)

Notes: Increasing confidence is a critical first step to developing communication skills. The number of parents who said they were quite confident or very confident in managing their child's behaviour increased from 60% to 100%.

Year 1: Evaluation

  • The aspirations parents had for their child's future increased.
    ' Meeting the deaf role model and facilitator, some parents did comment that they felt their deaf child could achieve anything they wanted.' (Tutor, BPoaDC course)

  • To date we have measured short and medium term impacts. We hope to continue to evaluate impact to establish the longer benefits of the project.

Notes: Increased aspirations was particularly so in the FSL course. At the start of the courses only 11% of parents had very positive aspirations for their children, by the end this had grown to 56%. Research by Joseph Rowntree Foundation (2010) shows that there is a strong link between parental aspirations for their child and educational attainment.


  • Attendance
  • Engaging professionals
  • Course title
  • Age appropriate sign language

Notes: Just wanted to share with you some of the challenges we have encountered over the last year.

Attendance: The biggest challenge. Difficult to achieve 100% attendance as you asking families with young children to commit to attending a course for a number of weeks. In Highland we had the added difficulty of the population being spread across a large geographic area.

Professionals have been very supportive of the project but we would have liked to have spent more time speaking with professionals and getting their views and opinions on the content of the courses, gaps etc. We hope to do this more in the future. This lack of dialogue and busy workloads has meant that in some areas professionals have been less pro-active in promoting the courses to parents.

Initially sign up for the parenting course was extremely low. Feedback suggested this was because of the course title 'Parenting a Deaf Child'. It was deemed quite clinical and negative. We decided to change the title of the course to 'Being the Parent of a Deaf Child' and this seemed to generate more parental interest. We will continue to use this title for the course in Scotland.

The demand for the FSL course has greatly exceeded our expectations. The course has evaluated very well and parents are extremely keen to continue learning BSL. The issue we are faced with is where to refer parents on to? The success of FSL has been that it teaches signs that are age appropriate, meeting the needs of families with young children. There is a huge gap to BSL Level 1 and the content of the course is very adult focused.

Looking to the future ...

  • Seek further funding to extend project delivery across Scotland and beyond March 2013.
  • Work with partners to devise training programmes for staff regularly working with families and deaf children.
  • Develop, in partnership, a topic based BSL curriculum to meet the needs of parents with primary school aged children.
  • Promote our affiliated local groups to maintain opportunities for parents to meet regularly.

Notes: Project currently funded until March 2013

  • 1 FSL, Edinburgh
  • 1 BPoaDC for BME families, Glasgow.
  • 2 CiF courses (TBC but likely to be Ayrshire and East Renfrewshire due to Local Authority support)
  • Grandparents weekend, Glasgow, Jan 2013
  • Coffee mornings with parents

Communication is Fun and Being the Parent of a Deaf Child have much scope to be utilised as training for staff. CiF would be particularly beneficial for Child Development Officers working in mainstream nurseries. The course can introduce staff to the different methods of communication, share top communication tips and explore ways to use toys, games, books and activities to develop a child's language and social emotional abilities. BPoaDC would be of significant use to those delivering mainstream parenting courses such as Triple P and Mellow Parenting. This training would allow facilitators to tailor programmes or provide additional one-to-one support to families they encounter with a deaf child.

The need to fill the gap between FSL an BSL Level 1 has become apparent through this course. Parents must be able to learn sign language appropriate for the age of their child and this learning should be widely available and free of charge.

Our local groups are a great way for parents, deaf children and siblings to meet regularly. NDCS has a role to assist local groups to plan more activities and events to cater for families with young children. This will allow parents from YCYC to continue to meet and support each other.

James Bowell Head of Projects
Telephone: 020 7014 5911

Joanne O'Donnell Early Years Development Worker
Telephone: 0141 354 7850