DeafHear Regional News

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Story Of The Month


Communication is Key!

Deirdre Cunningham, Speech and Language Therapist,
tells us about her work with Deaf children.
Posted: 1st September 2015


Deirdre Cunningham is a Speech and Language Therapist (SLT) working with Deaf and Hard of Hearing children in North Dublin and in the schools for Deaf children in Cabra. In our Story of the Month Deirdre tells us about her work and how the role of a Speech and Language Therapist fo Deaf children has changed in recent years.

Starting the Journey Working with Deaf children: Deirdre Cunningham, Speech and Language Therapist 2015

Deirdre Cunningham:
Speech and Language Therapist


Deirdre is originally from Limerick, and after school studied psychology in University College Cork. After her degree, Deirdre worked in an ABA school teaching children with autism. Deirdre said that this was when she discovered that ‘communication is key’ to children’s development. This inspired her to train as a SLT. She returned to her native city and completed a Masters in Speech and Language Therapy. During the Masters course Deirdre completed a placement in Long Island in New York where she worked with children and adults who had cochlear implants.

After completing her Masters, in 2007 Deirdre began working for a private speech and language therapy clinic as an SLT, and in 2010 she joined the HSE in Finglas on the northside of Dublin City. Deirdre says that in the HSE she would have worked with approximately 100 children, but just 2 or 3 children of those children had a hearing loss. For a number of years the schools for Deaf children had been left without any support from a Speech and Language Therapist, and in 2011 the HSE advertised a postion in St Mary’s and St Joseph’s schools in Cabra. Deirdre applied for the post, and thankfully she got the job!

Working in the Schools

Deirdre says that the traditional role of a SLT working directly with children on a one–to–one basis has changed dramatically. Nowadays her role is a more holistic and collaborative role, working closely with parents and other professionals to support the children in the best way possible. Much of Deirdre’s work involves group work: group work with children in the schools and group work with parents. She believes that her role as a SLT is to support those working with the children on a daily basis, parents and teachers in particular, so that they in turn can support the children in developing their communication skills.

Deirdre has run regular courses for parents, and works with teachers and Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) in the classroom to support the development of the children’s communication skills. Deirdre has used the Hanen Programme in her work with parents, and she has collaborated with the schools’ educational pyschologist in her group work with children and providing ‘Parents Plus’ to parents.

…communication is key to children’s development.

For Deirdre, how children communicate is not the most important thing. The critical issue is that each child develops communication skills that best equip him or her to cope with the challenges of daily living, based on their potential and abilitities. For some children the focus might be on developing sound awareness and discrimination, for others it might be on developing language that supports emotional understanding and development of ‘theory of mind’. Working with Deaf children: Deirdre Cunningham, Speech and Language Therapist 2015

Deirdre facilitates a group for teenagers involving both girls and boys from the Deaf schools in Cabra. The focus is on developing social language skills that enable young people to make friends, manage new situations, and make the transition to college or work after school. Deirdre sees her core role as ensuring that each child reaches their potential in developing communication skills and the ‘social language’ for life that will serve them well in adulthood.

One of the things Deirdre really enjoys about her present job is the variety of her work with the children and the opportunity to work with them over a period of time. She says most SLTs in working in the community do not get to do this, and that it is both rewarding and a privilege to be able work with the children ‘on their journey’ through the school years.


Deirdre has always believed that getting access to appropriate training is essential if professionals are to do a good job. Soon after getting the post in the Deaf schools Deirdre completed specialist training in the UK at her own expense for SLTs working with Deaf children. Deirdre has also been instrumental in organising additional training for other SLTs and teachers around the country. Over the past two years 38 SLTs from around the country have received addtional training, (Working with Deaf Children, Part 1, CSD Consultants), which took place in Dublin and Cork. There are now two SLTs working directly with the children and teachers in the Deaf school in Limerick and the special class for Deaf children in Cork. Working with Deaf children: Deirdre Cunningham, Speech and Language Therapist 2015

Deirdre has also been involved in supporting 6 teachers from the schools receiving training in Elklan, an organisation that specialises in language and communication development in children, while Deirdre herself has also trained up to FETAC Level V in Irish Sign Language as part of her own ongoing training.

The Future

Along with other stakeholders such as DeafHear, the Catholic Institute for Deaf People who manage the schools in Cabra, and local HSE personnel, Deirdre has been an advocating for improved services for Deaf and Hard of Hearing children. For many years there have been major gaps in multi-disciplinary supports for Deaf and Hard of Hearing children in areas such as speech and language therapy, clinical psychology and child psychiatry, mainly because there has been limited expertise available on the ground.

The HSE are presently rolling out a new framework for services for children with disabilities: Progressing Children’s Disability Services. At the same time Deirdre and other stakeholders have been actively seeking the provision of a multi–disciplinary team to support Deaf and Hard of Hearing children in Dublin and around the country. Working with Deaf children: Deirdre Cunningham, Speech and Language Therapist 2015

Deirdre is commited to improving the support available to this group of children, and the training she has helped to secure for SLTs around the country is testimony to this. Also, not long after starting her new post in Cabra, Deirdre successfully negotiated with her employer, the HSE, that she would be able to work with Deaf and Hard of Hearing children in the community for one day a week, as there was a two year waiting list in the area for those children to get an appointment with an SLT!

Deirdre says she has enjoyed the range of experiences she has had in her professional role working with Deaf and Hard of Hearing children, such as her involvement in developing training programmes, completing a presentation on her work through the Deaf Education Centre, and advocating for improved services and the establishment of a multi–disciplinary team for Deaf and Hard of Hearing children who need additional support.

In just a relatively short space of time Deirdre has made an important contribution in this area, and we hope she continues to do so for many years to come. Line Break Image


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Check out some of our previous Story of the Month!

Michael’s Story

Part 1 of Michael’s story focusses on the earlier part of his adult life and how he coped with his deteriorating hearing loss. Most of the content was written by Michael in 2004 and was published in ‘1 in 7’, the Royal National Institute for the Deaf magazine. Read On… Michael’s Story (Part 1)

More Stories of the Month
can be viewed here...





more...Hearing loss costs an estimated €2.2bn every year in Ireland.


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