The Importance of ‘Serve And Return’ for Children with Hearing Loss
Children with hearing loss are in need of the same ‘serve and return’ experience as typical hearing children.
It is critical to help them develop conversational competency. Although it will take a little bit of extra effort, serve and return interactions will help your child develop their communication skills, regardless of hearing loss or difficulties.
What Is Serve And Return?
Serve and return interaction shapes brain circuitry and helps develop your child’s communication abilities.
A ‘serve’ is when your baby attempts to communicate with you in some way. They could give you a smile, a look, a kick of their leg or even a sound that will grab your attention. Anything that helps them interact with you and look for a response would be considered a ‘serve’
A ‘return’ is where you give a simple response to your baby’s attempt at communication. You can do this by simply acknowledging your child’s effort and reciprocating with a smile, laugh or with a comment.
Now communication is beginning to move between you, not always with the spoken language, but through expression and gestures too.
These interactions between you and your child are doing a lot more than just building a relationship. You’re deepening the connections in your baby’s brain while it develops.
If you’d like to know more about serve and return you can check out our previous blog on the subject.
Using serve and return with your baby can help develop their communication skills, just as it would with any other child.
How To Use Serve And Return For A Child With Hearing Loss
Serve and return has successfully been used to support children with hearing loss, and it has been used alongside Listening and Spoken Language (LSL) strategies.
You can use LSL strategies throughout your day as you interact with your child giving them the chance to practice serve and return skills.
Serve and return is especially important for children with hearing loss. All young children and babies need to be able to hear the speech and language so their brain can begin to form connections needed later in life to listen, read and speak.
Having a child with hearing loss can limit their access to these sounds which are needed for their brains to grow and make all of these connections. This is why it’s important that if your newborn fails their hearing screening, then a hearing device should be used as early as possible.
Children with hearing loss deserve the opportunity to practice serve and return as much as possible, which is why it’s essential for the adults in their lives to engage in this strategy.
How Should I Use Serve And Return With A Child Who Has Hearing Loss?
Recognize all the little opportunities to engage
Babies often stare at you continuously until you make eye contact with them. This attention is usually reciprocated by a big smile from the baby, because they’ve managed to make a connection with somebody.
Once you’re aware of serve and return, you can begin to recognize even the smallest of smiles or gargles is a ‘serve’ in your direction and a chance for you to ‘return’ your baby’s communication efforts.
By simply taking notice of what your baby is saying or doing is a brilliant first step in encouraging them to continue their communication and learning.
Narrate everything around you
By discussing and describing all the ordinary and mundane things in your life, you are actually giving a wonderful gift to your baby.
If you’re cutting a piece of fruit, consider describing what it is, what it looks like and what you’re doing with it. Your baby will be able to make connections between what you’re saying and what they’re seeing.
Expand on what they’re saying to you
If your child hands you a toy during their playtime, try to add words to describe what they’re giving you. If they name the toy, for example maybe they say “lego”, then try to add on to the words they’ve said to you to keep the conversation going. For example, you could say “I like your lego” or “You have a red lego”.
Ask the right questions
Next time you’re looking through a book with your child, you can ask them what they see. If your child then points to a dog in the book you can narrate to them, “You see a dog!” This is an approach to keep the serve and return going.
Try not to use questions that involve right and wrong answers. This will stop the flow of conversation as it will seem too much like a test for your child.
Model the answers for your child
When asking your child a question, they might not respond or know the answer to your question. You can help them by turning to a sibling or friend and asking them the question. When they answer, your child will now have a model answer for the question you asked. If you turn back to them and ask them the same question, they may now know the answer.
If you ask how something tastes and your child still doesn’t know how to respond, then you could offer them a choice. For example, you can ask them; “Do you think the apple tastes yummy or yucky?”, which will give them the words they need to answer.
Practice the expectation of a response
Always leave time for your child to respond or return when conversing with them. Try to engage in a way that lets them have an opportunity to respond. You can do this by pausing, waiting and giving them an expectant look to encourage a response. This will help them learn the power of taking turns in conversations.
Serve and return will change as your child begins to grow and go through the stages of development. Your LSL Strategies and Techniques should change with them too, and be used along with serve and return to give your child the same benefits and opportunities as those without hearing difficulties.
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