Deaf children face isolation and loneliness as more than half of British adults do not feel confident talking to them, according to new figures.

New research released by the National Deaf Children’s Society found one in five people have felt nervous when talking to deaf people because they do not know what to do, while 10 per cent have pretended to understand something a deaf person said instead of asking for clarification.

The organisation said a reluctance to speak to deaf people has contributed to feelings of isolation and loneliness among the UK’s 50,000 deaf children, affecting happiness, mental health and communication skills.

The results of the YouGov survey, conducted for this year’s Deaf Awareness Week (6-12 May), also suggested that many people do not understand a number of aspects of deafness.

Although there are 11 million deaf people in the UK, 70 per cent of respondents said that they didn’t know anyone who was deaf. 

One in three (32 per cent) could not be sure deaf people could detect any sound without hearing technology, although the majority can.

A third (34 per cent) said they had slowed down their speech for a deaf person, which the National Deaf Children’s Society says makes lipreading more difficult.

Susan Daniels, chief executive of the National Deaf Children’s Society, said, ‘Deaf children often feel isolated and lonely and when more than half of the population don’t feel confident talking to deaf people, it’s not hard to see why.

‘Imagine being left out of classroom chatter, standing alone in the playground or not being invited to birthday parties when you just want to be included. This is the reality lots of deaf children face every day and the saddest part is that it can be avoided so easily.

‘If everyone took the time to pick up some tips, become a little more deaf aware and make a bit of extra effort, it would make an incredible difference. Every child wants to be included in the fun and games happening around them and deaf children are no exception.’

The National Deaf Children’s Society’s five top tips for deaf awareness

  1. Every deaf child will have a preferred method of communicating, so find out if they use speech, British Sign Language or a mixture of both.
  2. Speak clearly and naturally. Deaf children will try to lip-read, so speak as you normally would. Speaking slowly or too loudly makes lip-reading much more difficult.
  3. Make sure they can see your mouth. Covering your mouth with your hands, eating or chewing can make lip-reading very difficult. It also muffles any sound you’re making.
  4. Use visual cues where possible. Point to what you’re talking about, and don’t be shy about using gestures to support your communication.
  5. Don’t give up and never say “I’ll tell you later.” Deaf children want to be involved just like their friends, so if one method doesn’t work, don’t be scared to improvise, such as typing things on your phone or writing on pieces of paper.