Childhood deafness is a significant global issue, affecting more than 62 million children younger than 15 years old – 2/3 of whom reside in developing countries. The source of child deafness is widely under-reported and varied, but medical experts point to insufficient prenatal care, lack of immunizations, exposure to ototoxic drugs, and chronic middle ear infection as the leading causes.
The World Health Organization estimates that through immunizations, early identification and intervention programs, access to hearing aids, medical treatments, and other vehicles, over 50% of the burden of hearing loss in developing countries could reduced or eliminated.
There are a wide range of communication options available to the deaf and hard of hearing population.
On one end of the spectrum is sign language-only communication, which calls for the use of hands to articulate all words and actions. Sign language has its own structure which makes it unique to locally spoken language. The other end of the spectrum is auditory-verbal communication, in which a individual with hearing loss uses their voice to communicate and hearing technology (hearing aids, cochlear implants) to hear.
In between the two end-points are various communication options that combine signs with the spoken word. Being able to communicate effectively and read and write the language(s) of the country they live in is crucial to a deaf or hard of hearing child’s ability to participate effectively in hearing society.
Children with hearing loss are born with the same basic capacities for learning and language as all children; they can reach language potential on par with hearing peers - if they receive appropriate educational programs and support as soon as possible. A child's brain develops in response to the amount of sensory stimulation it receives. Children identified at birth as deaf or hard of hearing, who begin immediate therapy, can learn and progress at a rate comparable to children with normal hearing, regardless of the severity of their hearing loss.
The human brain develops its acumen for language in the first 6 years of life, and the first 3 years are the most critical. The earlier a child is provided with early intervention programs and support, the more time there is to influence positive language development.
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