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Researchers to examine the impact of support provided to deaf children

- Wits University

Wits and its UK partner are to investigate the impact of support provided to deaf infants and children in South Africa.

Hi-Hopes, a home-based intervention programme, supports families of deaf and hard of hearing children. Developmental and psychosocial needs are prioritised.

This collaborative study between Wits’ Centre for Deaf Studies and the University of Manchester’s Social Research with Deaf People programme, will analyse the impact of a home-based early intervention programme, on the development of children under six-years. The research project is funded by the UK's Medical Research Council.

Around 6,000 deaf children are born in South Africa each year, however, the lack of universal newborn hearing screening means that the average age of diagnosis of hearing loss amongst babies in South Africa is at 28-months-old.

"As a result, the linguistic, communicative, cognitive, and socio-emotional development of deaf and hard-of-hearing children in South Africa can be delayed, often significantly,” says Professor Claudine Storbeck, Principal Investigator at Wits University.

“In comparison, results from high-income countries show that identification and diagnosis by three-months of age with family support and early intervention by six months of age drastically improve the developmental progress of deaf children,” says Professor Alys Young, the UK Principal Investigator.

The researchers will investigate the HI HOPES programme, an early intervention and family support programme for families with deaf and hard of hearing children. Founded in 2006 by the Wits Centre for Deaf Studies as a non-profit programme, it provides families with specialised home-based early childhood development programme for children from birth to six-years.

“The research project will investigate the extent and character of the impact of such a home-based early intervention programme, alongside an understanding of what might mitigate the effectiveness of such a programme of intervention,” says the researchers.

“This is important because home-based early intervention for deaf infants is not universal and the case for its effectiveness is not proven within the wider context of school readiness in South Africa.”

School readiness and assessment tools

Information from the project also aims to provide large scale data on the development of deaf children in South Africa that will help to inform the South African Government/UNICEF National Early Learning and Development Standards (NELDS) from birth to four years.

Data will also inform assessments for children under five-years such as the Early Learning Outcomes Measure (ELOM), developed by South African early learning charity DataDrive2030. Outcomes will promote the suitability of ELOM for deaf children as well as developing a standardised South African Sign Language (SASL) version to ensure the validity of all items for children who are SASL users.

Prof. Storbeck adds: “It will be possible for the first time in South Africa to accurately evaluate deaf children’s developmental progress and needs in all domains (not just language) at the point of school entry.

Currently the availability of data on deaf child development and impact of early intervention is sparce and structured early intervention programmes to promote early childhood development in the first three years of life are minimal.