Early Intervention Critical for Bilingual Children

Multilingual playgroups help families build networksMultilingual playgroups help families build networks
For parents of children with hearing or vision loss who speak a language other than English at home, navigating the health system and the services available can be daunting. Cultural background can impact on a family's expectations for their child and when and how they seek advice but seeking support at the earliest possible time is critical to give children with hearing or vision loss the best start in life.

RIDBC, Australia's largest non-government provider of early childhood intervention, education, therapy and cochlear implant services for children and adults with hearing or vision loss, is focused on delivering services that understand the family's culture, and work as a team to provide services and advice in the family's home language.


  Early intervention can help children develop two languages

"Early intervention is critical for all children to achieve positive language outcomes. Developing speech and language in two dialects can present additional challenges but, with early intervention children can become proficient in two languages over time," said Sandi Ambler, Head of Education at RIDBC.

While Sandi acknowledges the acceptance and diagnosis of childhood disability is different for many cultures, she says that she can't stress the importance of early intervention enough. "Access to services from a young age is vital to ensure the families and children have the support and resources they need to reach their goals. Early Intervention services are designed to empower parents by giving them the strategies and confidence to support their children."  

RIDBC is committed to providing access to as much information and support as possible in the family's home language.  This includes access to interpreters across all RIDBC services, from cochlear implant services to early childhood intervention and allied health services, and even multilingual playgroups and parent teacher communication.


 Services in your language

This is a particular focus for the team at RIDBC Western Sydney Region; who support adults and children with hearing loss in some of Australia's most culturally-diverse communities. They support children from birth through to adulthood, from initial hearing assessments right through to early childhood intervention and allied health services such as speech therapy and networking and playgroups with the assistance of interpreters who are experienced with hearing loss.

"Our clinicians and therapists work together to provide speech, language and hearing services in the families first language.  Our interpreters develop an understanding of the language of hearing loss, helping them to translate health advice, both accurately and sensitively." explained Rebecca Maxwell, Area Manager, RIDBC Western Sydney. 


 Your interpreter is part of your team

Rebecca says that it is important that families are equally comfortable with their interpreters too.  Because of this, she says, it can often seem a good idea to ask a family member or friend who is fluent in English to act as an interpreter, but the reality can be quite different. 

"Our family members and friends care about us deeply on a personal level and because of this, they may want to soften or change news they perceive as potentially negative in order to protect the ones they love.  The upshot, of course, is that the family are not getting accurate advice as there is a filter between them and their health practitioners," Rebecca said.

Rebecca says the key lies in working with the same interpreter to build up trust and an understanding of each other, so that families can be both comfortable and secure in the knowledge that they will be receiving an accurate translation.

According to experienced interpreter, Tuyet Thu Hua, who regularly works with RIDBC's Vietnamese-speaking families, this is important for her as well.  "I work as part of the team with the education and allied health professionals and the family, and take the time to understand the family's background, goals and dreams for their child. In Vietnamese culture, we often don’t like to tell too many people outside the family about our story, so by working with the same interpreter, families can develop trust and not have to share their story far and wide. 

"I have developed extensive knowledge about hearing loss, and this really helps me to ensure I can translate advice accurately, but also with an understanding of the family's emotions and culture.  It's such a privilege to be part of the family's lives, and often I find myself feeling emotional when a child reaches a goal – being part of that is an honour."


 Engaging extended family

Many of the early intervention sessions for younger children also take place in the family home so that the family are in a comfortable environment.

Rebecca says that this is also fantastic for engaging extended family members in the care and support of the child. "It's important that parents and caregivers are given the tools and confidence to coach and support their child. In many cultures, this includes a range of extended family members, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc, so by providing the sessions at home, all the caregivers can participate and be part of the journey."


  Multilingual playgroups help families build networks

Alongside hearing services and supporting health and early education services, RIDBC Western Sydney currently offer a multilingual playgroup, for families of children with hearing loss to share experiences and build friendships. 

The Early Learning Group offers children and their families the opportunity to engage with fun activities and music that also facilitates learning. Families from non-English speaking backgrounds are provided with an interpreter to overcome language barriers. 

Currently the group has families who speak English, Vietnamese, Farsi, Mandarin, and Arabic, who share experiences and support each other in a welcoming, safe and supportive environment.

Similar multilingual Early Learning Groups are also offered at many other RIDBC sites, for families with children who are vision or hearing impaired


Find out more

If your child has vision or hearing loss and you would like to find out more about RIDBC services, please contact RIDBC on 1300 581 391.

RIDBC is a registered NDIS provider, meaning eligible families can access financial support for services. Many services are also bulk-billed. RIDBC staff can provide advice on the funding options available to you.



Receive stories like this once a month directly to your inbox.

Button to subscribe