Babysitting for Deaf Children

10 Tips for Babysitters Caring for Deaf Children

Caring for a child with special needs can be intimidating if you don’t have much experience in the area. If you’ve been invited to babysit a child with a hearing impairment, you’ll probably have to adjust some or all of your methods to accommodate them. Here are a few things you should keep in mind when tailoring your childcare style to a deaf child.

  1. Know the Severity of Hearing Impairment – Some children with hearing impairments have limited hearing with the help of a hearing aid and can communicate verbally with little difficulty, while others have more profound hearing loss and communicate solely through lip reading and sign language. It’s important to know the level of impairment of the child you’ll be babysitting.
  2. Learn Basic ASL – American Sign Language is the fourth most common language in the United States, so picking up enough knowledge for basic communication is a good idea. If you have no experience with ASL or working with the hearing impaired, the parents of your charge probably don’t expect you to become fluent with sign language immediately; learning enough to communicate simple concepts will suffice in the beginning.
  3. Don’t Complicate Lip-Reading – If your charge reads lips, it’s natural for you to feel like you should speak very slowly and exaggerate the movement of your mouth to make it easier for them. In fact, this will make the process much more difficult. Look your charge in the eye and speak clearly, but normally. Normal movements and patterns are what your charge is accustomed to.
  4. Keep an Eye on Hearing Aids – Some hearing-impaired children will have hearing aids, which are very expensive to replace if lost or damaged. Be sure to ask about taking hearing aids out for bath time or other activities just to make sure that these expensive pieces of equipment are not lost or damaged. Older children may also turn off a hearing aid to “escape” authority figures, so be aware of this as well.
  5. Be Vigilant During Outdoor Play – When children without hearing impairments wander away during outdoor play, they can hear you calling and will usually come home. A deaf child will not be able to hear you calling, and also won’t be able to hear approaching cars or other potential dangers.
  6. Use Non-Verbal Cues – Children who are engaged in an activity may not realize that you’re trying to get their attention, so you’ll have to rely on non-verbal forms of communication. Tapping on the table they’re sitting at will set off vibrations that they’ll react to; you can also touch the child’s shoulder to get their attention. Interacting with your charge is the only effective way to establish what sort of communication works best for the two of you.
  7. Know Emergency Signals – The parents of children with a hearing impairment will have a signal that indicates an emergency situation that their child understands. Because smoke alarms will not alert a deaf child, you’ll need to know exactly what system the family has established for use in the event of an emergency.
  8. Stick to Their Schedule – Most children rely heavily on a routine, but it can be especially important for a child with special needs. Be sure to adhere to the child’s normal routine to the very best of your ability.
  9. Be Patient – The inability to communicate clearly can be frustrating for both you and your charge. Keeping your composure is very important; a frustrated child will often become hysterical if they sense that you’re losing control.
  10. Be Aware of Background Noise – Sources of noise that you don’t even notice can be problematic for children with hearing aids. The low hum of the television, laughing siblings and even a running fan can all make it more difficult for a hearing aid-dependent child to make out words and understand you.

The more frequently you care for a hearing-impaired child, the more the two of you will become accustomed to each other. By learning the ways that your charge communicates best and being patient with them, you’ll be on your way to a great working relationship in no time!