This section of 2ears2hear looks at the range of communication approaches that are open to you as a parent to choose for your child.

There is a continuum of language options. At one end is an oral approach which is how a mainstream hearing child would learn to communicate. At the other end is a visual approach based around New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL).

We aim to help parents understand the consequences of each approach along the communication continuum.

Parental Choice

We want to make it clear that no decision a parent takes with regards to which communication approach is wrong. Each family has different values, culture and goals. Only you as parents can weigh those factors up. Professionals  can provide advice, but it is your responsibility as a parent to make these decisions. Professionals will not be around when your child is grown up and asks why the choices you made were taken. You will be.

You should have as an expectation that ALL professionals will respect and support your decision. We strongly encourage parents to communicate their decisions clearly with the professionals that will work with your child. We also strongly advise you to replace any ‘professional’ who does not accept your decisions. Parental choice is paramount.

The Continuum

The communication continuum represents the mix of visual and oral language a child uses.

Communications Continuum Graphic - 2.001

The dotted line represents a continuum of this mix. At the left hand end we have 100% visual language. At the right hand end we have 100% oral language. In the middle a 50:50 split.

We have chosen to break the language continuum into six slices to facilitate more in-depth explanation. These slices represent various logical mixes long the continuum. There is a page devoted to each ‘slice’.

Communications Continuum Graphic.001


We have not addressed written language in this continuum. This sits alongside the communication continuum.

Making a decision

We would encourage you to read each page.

We would encourage you to meet and talk with parents who have made these choices in the past. Understand that these choices are a bit like the choice to breastfeed or use formula. It is a deeply personal choice so you can have two different families being sure that their completely different choices were the right choice. When meeting with such families, focus on the consequences of their choice.

For instance, a family that chooses an NZSL approach will all need to learn NZSL. That is a consequence. A family that chooses an oral approach with the use of technology (say cochlear implants) will need to attend numerous appointments in the first year of use to support that technology. These are consequences.

We also recommend talking with the professionals in this area. A lot has changed in the area of hearing loss in the last decade. What was commonly thought to be not possible is now common. Funding has significantly stepped up in New Zealand in the last year to a point where all options are reasonably funded. All these options are available to you as parents. It is your choice.

Choosing a non-oral approach

One consequence we do wish to draw to your attention is that of choosing not to develop the auditory/oral side of communication at all. Some parents do choose not to provide their child with access to auditory and oral experience. They may choose not to have hearing aids, conduction devices or cochlear implants at all and completely rely on the NZSL for all communication.

This is a legitimate choice.

However it is important to realise that the development of the auditory cortex happens in the first few years of life. Development of this area of the brain becomes more and more difficult as your child gets older. By the time your child is 7 years old, if they have not laid down a good auditory foundation, it will be highly improbably your child will ever be able to develop the ability to listen and speak – even if they decide they want to when they are older.

In short, the consequence of not developing at least some auditory side of communication as an infant/toddler is that this option will most likely be not available for your child in the future. And the consequence of any delay is that developing listening and spoken language gets more and more difficult. This is one of the reasons why the Universal Newborn Hearing Screening and Early Intervention Programme focuses on providing appropriate intervention by the time the child is 6 months old.

The Family Book

The Family Book produced by the Ministry of Education has some useful information in it. It does not deal with the language continuum well (see pages 63-67). The area of the language continuum is highly polarising and politicised within D/deaf culture and education. The Ministry has not been able to navigate a parent/child focused pathway through this issue. The Ministry fundamentally does not support nor respect parental choice as a foundational principle – particularly in the area of language choice. One of the reasons for developing this section of 2ears2hear is to address this deficiency.

Family Book

You can click this image and open a copy.

There is also a section which offers some stories from various families.

Family Book Stories

You can click this image and open a copy.



This section is edited by a parent whose child has cochlear implants. His family has chosen the oral approach on the communication continuum. In compiling this resource we have attempted to reflect the views of many different parents who have chosen different approaches. Our desire is for this resource to be non-judgemental, factual and most importantly helpful for parents. We believe the consequence approach of engaging with this decision is the best way to do this.