Why I Don’t Worry About Vocal Quality

This may sound shocking, coming from an Auditory Verbal Therapist, but I don’t lose sleep at night over whether a child’s speech sounds “deaf” or not.  Yup.  You read it correctly.  Why???

The goal of a listening and spoken language approach to deaf education is to help people with a hearing loss make the best use of their residual hearing or the hearing gained from technology and to use speech to have functional communication with the world at large.  Note the word “FUNCTIONAL” … functional does not mean perfect.  Functional does not mean your voice sounds like angels descending form the heavens.  Functional does not mean that you have 100% perfect articulation every time you open your mouth.  These goals aren’t even attainable for hearing people!  Even the typically-hearing, typically-developing hearing adult doesn’t speak perfectly all of the time!  Instead, functional means that your speech works for you — your life, your daily needs.  The goal of a listening and spoken language approach is that deaf children can be understood when they talk and understand when others talk to them.

So why all the misconceptions… that all people in my field want is to “force deaf kids to talk pretty” — give me a break!  “Pretty” speech (such a judgmental and subjective term, anyhow) IS a reality for many people with hearing loss because, with early intervention and better technology, the future of deaf education has never been brighter.  Self-monitoring and auditory feedback impact our ability to modulate our speech.  We talk as well as we hear, and, for many deaf children with appropriate amplification, they hear — and therefore, talk — pretty darn well!  As long as we are vigilant about monitoring the functioning of the child’s technology and ensuring optimum access to sound, the quality of their speech usually takes care of itself.

More important than vocal quality, however, is the LANGUAGE behind the speech.  The primary goal of a listening and spoken language approach is to give the child competence in their parents’, and their society’s, language.  To give them the words, the concepts, the language structures needed to express themselves in their everyday life.  If you can express yourself competently and confidently in spoken English, people will listen, regardless of how you sound.  When you start early enough, vocal quality will come along with that package!

So, I’m not saying to throw articulation and vocal quality out with the bathwater, but I am saying that it is a gross mischaracterization of the listening and spoken language approach to assume that all we care about it “pretty speech” with an utter disregard for the child’s language development.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  It’s just that, with appropriate early identification and aggressive audiological management, the child’s language and speech can develop as naturally as possible, and thus, excessive preoccupation with how the child sounds is no longer relevant.  It will come with time, and we’ve got bigger fish to fry!

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