Learning to listen and speak, let alone understanding others, is usually much harder for someone who has hearing loss, especially from birth, or a very young age. Learn more about hearing loss.

  1. General Information
  2. Causes
  3. Lipreading
  4. Sign Language
  5. Deafness Fact List

General Information

Deafness can be simply defined as the inability to hear.

Hearing impairment may be more specifically described according to its degree:

  • Mild
  • Moderate
  • Severe
  • Profound

Hearing losses are also generally categorised according to whereabouts along the hearing 'pathway' they occur.

A conductive loss occurs when something interferes with sound travelling between the outer and inner ears (eg, infection). These are usually medically or surgically treatable.

A sensorineural loss results from damage to the cochlea (the organ of hearing) or the auditory nerve. It may cause reduced sound levels, distortion and other problems. Hearing aids or cochlear implants are often recommended.

The term 'Deaf' (often with a capital D) is often used to describe people who identify with the Deaf community, which uses Auslan (Australian Sign Language).


Some of the more common causes of hearing impairment are:

  • Genetic conditions
  • Infection during pregnancy, including cytomegalovirus, rubella, syphilis, herpes and toxoplasmosis
  • Birth complications
  • Craniofacial abnormalities
  • Meningitis
  • Head trauma or perforation of the eardrum
  • Persistent ear infections (otitis media)
  • Some syndromes and degenerative disorders

Learning to listen and speak

Most children with hearing impairment use a hearing aid or a cochlear implant to help them understand speech.

These children often require support and intensive spoken language input to help them develop speech and listening skills.

RIDBC assists families and children to develop these skills throughout their entire schooling. We use a range of techniques (sometimes known as auditory-verbal and auditory oral habilitation) to help children learn to listen and talk, choosing the best strategies for each individual.

For very young children, we help parents to learn techniques and methods for developing spoken language at home on a daily basis.

For school-aged children, we teach students to maximise the use of their residual hearing and to develop the skills, which enable them to learn through spoken language.

RIDBC is a member of First Voice - an association of organisations that provide listening and spoken language early intervention services to children who are deaf or hard of hearing and their families. Visit www.firstvoice.org.au for more information. 


Some people with hearing impairment use lipreading to help them understand what others are saying.

Lipreading is very difficult. It is estimated that 70% of sounds look the same on the lips – for example:

  • baby
  • maybe, and
  • pay me

...all look the same on your lips when you say them out loud.

Lipreading gives clues to augment existing hearing, but it cannot be used alone for unambiguous communication, and it requires a great deal of concentration. It can be very exhausting.

Sign Language

AUSLAN (Australian Sign Language) is the language of Australia's Deaf community. It incorporates signs, body movements, facial expressions, mime and gesture.

AUSLAN has its own grammar and vocabulary that are very different to English. It can communicate a rich variety of concepts and subtle meanings.

It uses fingerspellling for words in English without signs (such as surnames).

AUSLAN has its roots in English, Scottish and Irish Sign Languages. It is different from American and French Sign Languages. It is a naturally-evolved language, just like English. New signs are always being created.

AUSLAN was officially recognised in Australia’s National Language Policy in 1987.

RIDBC researchers have developed AUSLAN dictionaries and the interactive AUSLAN website, Signbank.

Other signed languages used in Australia include:

  • Signed English, a straight conversion of English to signs
  • Pidgin Signed English

Deafness Fact List

  • On average, one Australian child is identified with impaired hearing every day.
  • 1 in 1000 babies is born with significant hearing loss.
  • By school age, 2 in every 1000 children will have been identified with hearing loss.
  • By the end of secondary school, more than 3 out of every 1000 children will require assistance because of hearing loss.
  • More than 12,000 children in Australia have a significant hearing impairment.
  • Newborns identified with hearing loss get the best possible start to life when they, and their families, receive immediate support and assistance.
  • Hearing loss affects a child’s speech and language ability. RIDBC relies heavily on community support to help a deaf child learn to speak, read and write.
  • With skilled special education, children with impaired hearing have the opportunity to enjoy parity with their peers at school.
  • Around 90% of children with hearing impairment enrolled in RIDBC services are learning to communicate through listening and speaking.
  • One in every six children enrolled in RIDBC services lives in a regional or rural area.
  • At RIDBC, 11.6 per cent of families of children who have hearing impairment are from non-English speaking backgrounds.
  • The number of deaf or hearing impaired children enrolled in RIDBC programs has increased by 40% in the last 7 years.
  • Every year, more than 60% of Australia’s new teachers of the Deaf undertake their professional training through RIDBC.
  • It takes one-year of postgraduate coursework to professionally train a teacher of the Deaf. More than 60% of Australia’s new Teachers of the Deaf graduate through RIDBC every year.
  • There is a worldwide shortage of highly trained Teachers of the Deaf.
  • More than 500 professionals from around the world have received qualifications in education of children who are deaf or blind through RIDBC’s Renwick Centre.
  • Without RIDBC, there would be 500 fewer professionals in Australia qualified to teach children who are deaf or blind.
  • Every year RIDBC provides more than 8,000 hours of continuing education for professionals working with deaf and blind children across Australia and internationally.