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How to communicate with your child is often the first of many big questions that parents ask once they find out their child has a hearing loss.

Communication is essential to your child's development and wellbeing, no matter which communication options you choose. Research has shown that a child who receives a lot of language input from an early age, whether it's signed or spoken, has far better outcomes than children who don't. However you will find many often-contradictory documents stating which would be more beneficial.

As parents we all have to make decisions based upon our own understanding of our world, our own family situation and our own child and their needs.

Communication options are no different. Whether you choose spoken (oral) language, use signed language (New Zealand Sign Language) or raise your child with both, the decision needs to be yours and it needs to be based upon a clear understanding of each. 

Also be aware that as your child grows their needs may change. Flexibility is a huge asset in parenting deaf or hard of hearing kids, and the ability to follow their lead.

Don't feel that decisions you make now are set in concrete; find what works and keep modifying it as your child grows and your family changes. 

On this page you will find information about

Signed Language

Nearly every country has its own sign language, complete with a unique vocabulary and grammatical structure (the same as any language).

New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) is the natural language of the Deaf community in New Zealand; so it reflects the country’s culture by including signs for Māori terminology and concepts unique to New Zealand. As one of the country’s official languages, more than 20,000 New Zealanders use NZSL daily. It is also the 15th most frequently used language out of approximately 190 languages currently used in New Zealand (Census 2013).

Sign language is a combination of hand shapes, facial expressions and body movements. It is not simply signed representations of spoken words.

Deaf Aotearoa

Deaf Aotearoa is a Deaf-led, not-for-profit organisation and the only nationwide provider of services to Deaf people. Deaf Aotearoa focus on promoting awareness of, access to and advancement of New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL). Their goal is the equality and full participation in society by Deaf individuals.

Total Communication, Signed English and Makaton

There are other methods of signing that were used in the past, or are used for a specific communication purpose for a child who may not be deaf or hard of hearing. We include the links here as you may hear about them from other parents and/or school staff.

NZFDC recommends that New Zealand Sign Language is always the preference for signed language, it has it's own grammar and structure and is the natural language of the Deaf community in NZ.  

Spoken Language

Auditory-Verbal Therapy (AVT)

Thanks to the improved technology in hearing aids and the availability of the cochlear implant, 95% of deaf and hard of hearing children can have access to sound. And with the right therapy, these children can learn to listen and to speak clearly and naturally like their hearing peers. This therapy is Auditory-Verbal Therapy or AVT. 

Auditory-Verbal Therapists guide and coach families to help their children develop spoken language through listening, and help them advocate for their children's inclusion in mainstream schools. Ultimately, parents gain confidence that their children will have access to a full range of educational, social and vocational choices in life.

Bilingual and bimodal

Signed and spoken language development complement and support each other - one does not detract from the other. Signed communication can start younger than spoken language.

Neuroscientific research demonstrates that the brain has the capacity to acquire both a visual and spoken language without detriment to the development of either language through either modality.

Bilingual means the development and use of two or more languages. New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) is a visual language and English a spoken and written language. The goal of this approach is for each child to develop linguistic proficiency in NZSL and written English. Spoken English is a component of this approach. It is valued, encouraged, and incorporated and is specific to an individual child’s characteristics and goals.

Bimodal refers to the development and use of language in more than one modality. NZSL is a signed language and English is a spoken language (spoken and signed are the “modes” to which “bimodal” refers).

Research and articles


Communication support for pre-school children who are deaf or hard of hearing

Information for parents and caregivers

This information sheet is for the parents and caregivers of children (birth to 5 years of age) who are deaf or hard of hearing. It focuses on the communication approaches and pathways parents and caregivers may want to consider for their child and family. The information sheet provides information on each communication pathway, and how to access support for each pathway, it is intended as a guide and support for families in their decision making around different communication pathways.

First Signs

First Signs provides families with deaf and hard of hearing children with real opportunities to include New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) as an additional language in their home. 

One of the wonderful aspects of our service is that eligibility is not based on an audiogram, use of assistive listening devices or home language. Our service is about connecting families to a language that is accessible to all children.

Learn NZSL

Learn NZSL logoLearn NZSL is a free learning portal on New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL).

Watch, learn and practise how to use NZSL in common situations, shown as nine topics; within each topic, you’ll find plenty of videos, resources and exercises to keep you busy. Go through the topics in sequence to get the full story of Learn NZSL.

Parent Hui video series

In April 2015, a 3-day Parent Hui was held in Christchurch, for parents of young children (0-6 years old), who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Hosted by the New Zealand Federation for Deaf Children (NZFDC), Deaf Aotearoa New Zealand (DANZ) and the Ministry of Education; 60 families and whānau came together for workshops, forums and sessions presented by professionals and other parents on a range of topics from audiology to music & movement.

There are four videos in the series that focus on communication:

  • Bilingualism - What it means to be bilingual and how being bilingual affects children. How can that help me and my child? What is it that parents should know?
  • Developing Language - How do children develop language and how parents, whānau, caregivers can get involved in supporting children to develop language. A presentation from Liz Doell, Senior Lecturer, Specialist teaching programme Co-ordinator, University of Canterbury on ‘Developing Language’.
  • Introduction to NZSL - This interactive session focused on using NZSL in everyday routines, signs that you can use in the morning, at home, getting ready for the day, the sorts of signs useful for family life.
  • It takes 2 to Talk - A practical guide to learning how to communicate with your deaf or hard of hearing child. Tips and strategies that parents can use to encourage language development and language facilitation with their child or children.

Each video has an audio version with open and closed captions and a transcript, and a NZSL version with closed captions and transcript.