Monday 25 July



With great excitement I headed off to Denver Colorado in July for the AGBELL convention “Hear in Denver” – the bringing together of deaf people, parents of deaf children and the professionals with whom they work. The strapline of this international meeting was “Accelerating Progress, Advancing opportunity” and it lived up to this motto. Progress was accelerated through a rich programme of research and practical workshops and opportunity was in abundance; not only to understand the principles of developing language in the deaf population but also to network, revive forgotten skills (such as dancing the Macarana) and share stories and resources.


A highlight for me was attending a “BIG TALK” by Carol Flexer and Jane Madell, world renowned audiologists and authors who have changed the face of paediatrics audiology world -wide. This double act, Batman and Robin of the Audiology world, made talking through audiograms feel like an adventure, I left feeling I had an ounce of their superpower along with the refrain hearing is about the BRAIN”.


Having the opportunity to deliver two “BIG TALKS” was a great privilege. It meant sharing ideas, research and stories with teachers, therapists and parents based on our professional experience in the UK. The first of these was about “Theory of Mind” (the ability to understand that another’s’ mind is different to one’s own). Typically hearing children develop Theory of Mind naturally and show key development around the age of four. Children with hearing loss can have difficulty in this domain, largely due to the lack of overhearing – most do not have access to the conversation that occurs between two other people and therefore miss that the people can express different perspectives about the same event. The talk looked at a developmental rather than remedial model – fostering Theory of Mind from the earliest moments with a child who has hearing loss. A big message was using “causal explanatory talk” explaining the feelings of others to children and the reasons behind them eg. “Daddy is very cross because he lost his keys”; “the man is laughing because his daughter is doing a funny dance”. The delegates had great fun designing activities to implement in their classrooms/therapy sessions/living rooms: birthday cards were crudely drawn with crayons, Snakes and Ladders was negotiated – kindergarten-style, and Red Riding Hood was eaten by a scary wolf! All in a way that exposed how people were thinking and feeling and developed the understanding that happens between two people i.e. Theory of Mind.


The second “BIG TALK” was entitled “Turning Pages: Advancing Progress and Accelerating Opportunity Through Book Sharing.” This session looked at book sharing between 0-5 years olds and their parents. We also launched “Baby Talk” a board book we have recently developed to encourage early book sharing with babies. The book features children wearing hearing aids and cochlear implants and is designed for babies as young as three months of age. At this stage, babies love looking at faces and the aim is twofold: to enable children with hearing loss to see pictures of other children wearing technology such as hearing aids or cochlear implants.


Pretend play develops at about 18 months and using the pictures can act as a bridge for this – feeding the babies in the book with a spoon, brushing their hair with a brush, or using a blanket to play “peekaboo!”


A favourite quote by Jacqui Kennedy states “There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world, a love of books is the best of all”. The talk then went on to discuss how “Baby Talk” can be used for book sharing at different stages of development. The plot thickened when toddlers came into play and research on story structure was analysed with practical examples. At about two years of age, children begin to follow a plot and stories like “Where’s Spot?” can be instrumental in the development of this.


The international audience from America, Australia, Spain, Argentina and Denmark enjoyed hearing about English authors such as Jez Alborough and Shirley Hughes and the development of emotional vocabulary and social interaction was demonstrated through interaction with books using members of the audience. These books can be used around the age of 3 to start discussing emotion and encourage making friends.


 Great conversation was stimulated and we left with a list of new books to enlarge children’s worlds and empty suitcases – all the copies of “Baby Talk” snapped up and in the hands of parents, therapists and teachers eager to share books with little ones.  


My reflection on this experience is that in a current world that is fragmented and uncertain, it is so important to join with people who have a common goal, to accelerate the progress of others and one’s own progress, to advance the opportunity of others and one’s own opportunity. When something moves us to act to better the lives of human beings, we are united, wherever we are from, be it through audiograms, books, Theory of Mind or whatever means may motivate us to make a change.


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