While recognition of sight problems or physical impairments may be triggered by spotting eye glasses or a wheelchair, deafness must be discovered through acts of direct communication. The girl walks down the hall and does not acknowledge her friend calling her name. The term disabled has been much debated in recent years. It is both a classification of a functional limitation and a branding stereotype that scars a certain type of person. More than 90 percent of deaf children are born into hearing families.
Before the 1970s, the impact this group of unique children had on their families and how the family structure adjusted was little studied (Mapp 7). Though raising a deaf child is challenging at times for parents and influential on how siblings are treated, it can also be a rewarding experience and an adhesive to hold together a family. When a child is diagnosed with deafness, it is the flag marking the beginning of a series of potentially draining events for his or her parents.
Though many parents say that raising a deaf child differs in subtle yet slight ways from the already challenging aspects of raising any child, they also agree that their child’s disability tends to amplify emotions, especially in the early stages of diagnoses. There are feelings of disbelief, confusion, and disappointment that lead to anger while guilt mingles with a sense of mourning. Through all of these overwhelming responses, parents learn to deal with the seclusion, to recognize the drawbacks of their situation, and to effectively develop strategies for their families.
Though it is too generalizing to say that all parents react the same way to their child’s hearing loss, many parents do react in similar manners. It is the hearing parents that are affected the most by the arrival of the news of hearing loss in their child. Deaf parents, on the other hand generally embrace the handicap of their child because they realize they have the resources and language knowledge to help the child. In studies done comparing deaf hildren from hearing parents with those from deaf parents, the children from deaf parents significantly outscored their counterparts in areas such as vocabulary, reading, social skills, and mathematics. An explanation for this may be that the children of hearing parents experience something called “language deprivation” by which they are stripped of the knowledge commonly passed down through the direct exposure to a language natural to their parents (Mapp 190). For this reason, the stresses of raising a deaf child fall heavier on hearing parents.
Many hearing parents feel this diagnosis shatters the illusion that their child is and will be perfect. This loss of innocence is a sentiment that many parents mourn. Many parents of deaf children have had little or no contact with the deaf community and are forced to comprehend a subject entirely foreign to them. Shock is a common response and works well as a defense mechanism that enables parents to begin the stages of mourning the illusionary loss of their normal child (Luterman 6). This shock gradually fades to disbelief as parents grasp at the permanent and incurable meanings of the word “deaf. Many ask how such a thing could happen in their family and occasionally the hearing problem is kept a secret. Though she was diagnosed in kindergarten, the girl begged her parents to keep her secret for years, senselessly believing that if no one knew about it then the problem did not exist despite the molds she wore in her ears. On top of denial, many families feel overwhelmed and that they have been given too much information in too short of a time period and may feel either ill-equipped to face the challenges of the diagnosis.
With this fear often times comes anger and most parents of hearing impaired children feel a fundamental anger without an outlet through which to vent. There is anger at themselves, at the world, and even at the deaf child themselves. Sometimes this anger turns itself inwards and manifests itself as depression; other times it is capable of either strengthening or creating rifts within family systems and relationships. Perhaps one of the most prominent emotions felt by parents of deaf children is guilt.
The future they had envisioned for their child has been violated in ways they never expected. Many parents would agree that having a hurting child and being helpless to assist them is one of the most distressing feelings they will ever experience (Luterman 9). Although having a deaf child can be rewarding in many ways it is very hard to see this in the beginning and the diagnosis affects parents in some very unique ways. Since the 1970s, studies have been done directly assessing the impact a deaf child has on families, especially on parents.
It became clear from these studies that mothers and fathers deal with the stresses of their ill child in very different ways. Since mothers are typically invested in the daily stresses of raising a deaf child, studies have shown that they are more likely to be very involved in health and safety issues. Fathers on the other hand are typically found to engage in more distant roles of parenting due to occupational time consumption and are more successful at developing relationships with their child that does not revolve around the child’s disability (Luterman et al. 34-35).
Studies have also shown that the time following a child’s diagnosis can be particularly trying on husbands as they are trying to reassure their wives that everything will be fine while privately attempting to deal with their own deep and emotional grief (Luterman et al. 7). The separate roles each parent takes on complement each other by providing unique skills for their child. One of the most emotional taxing yet gratifying parts of raising a deaf child is that the mother is typically the one member of the family most capable of communicating with the deaf child.
She becomes not only a mother, but an educator, social guidance counselor, communication specialist, interpreter, and audiologist consultant (Mapp 15). The girl’s mother went to the school district when the girl entered high school hoping sign language classes were available as a precaution in case her half deaf child continued to lose her hearing. They refused to even consider letting sign language qualify for her foreign language requirement. Another recurring theme in the challenges faced by parents is the abundance of ignorance in the faculty of school systems themselves.
One frustrated parent wrote said about mainstreaming her deaf child into a hearing school, “…the teacher sometimes forgets…her limits and limitations…and does something incredibly dumb, such as the time in fifth grade when the teacher gave my daughter an oral spelling test of single words” (Luterman 175). Though most studies have focused extensively on the impact of a deaf child on parents, it is equally important to understand how it affects siblings. Family dynamics as well as parental reactions shape whether the hearing problem will strengthen the family structure or create tenuous situations.
The definition of a family is a system of which all parts are inextricably interconnected (Luterman et al. 41). The sibling of a deaf child is typically forced to grow up faster than other children their age and assume greater responsibilities. One of the greatest favors a parent can do for the sibling of a deaf child is to realize that an entire family unit cannot be healthy when revolving around the limitations of one of its members. In 70% of the cases of deaf children, there is one or more sibling involved in the family’s makeup (Mapp 65).
These children can suffer from having a disabled sibling because their parents may feel both physically and emotionally exhausted after caring for the child that seems to need more attention. The sibling may feel neglected and guilty that they somehow evaded deafness themselves while their brother or sister is suffering. There may be feelings of shame and embarrassment when an adolescent child draws attention by signing with their sibling in public. Older children may feel a deep rooted anxiety that their own children will suffer from hearing loss.
As with the relationships between parents, it is important that siblings be given a venue of open communication to vent their anxieties and frustrations. Clear communication is the key to a successful family structure. It has been found that some siblings may react with attention-seeking strategies like poor academic performance, illnesses, and recurrent tantrums. Other children may internalize their issues and end up with innate resentment issues when they are older (Luterman 143).
While having a deaf sibling undoubtedly has drawbacks many siblings reported positive attributes as well. The recurring theme was that compassionate individuals with greater sensitivities to prejudices came from families with disabled children. These siblings also attributed the bond their family shared to their ability to form a cohesive unit during times of crisis (Luterman et al. 50). In order to thrive, it is vital that the family copes properly with the stressors associated with a deaf child.
One of the most damaging, yet well intentioned acts a parent of a deaf child can commit is overprotection. Parents of handicapped children regularly underestimate their child’s abilities, thus not allowing the child to make mistakes and learn. Overprotection leads to feelings of incapability and will hinder the child later in life. It must be acknowledged and accepted that even with interpreters, communication in a mainstream school will only be at about 75 percent for a deaf child (Jones 53). Instead of shielding a child from this barrier of communication, a parent must learn to mbrace it as a time of growth and a test of patience. Many parents see having a deaf child as a gift, as an opportunity to tap into strengths they never before realized they had. Though mothers of deaf children are likely to name healthcare providers as sources of support whereas hearing mothers named friends, it seems as though the levels of happiness of both women are consistent (Mapp 118). A parent’s attitude toward having a deaf child molds not only interfamily relationships, but the success of the child themselves.
The original confusion of their child’s diagnosis can morph into knowledge; the anger becomes a steady energy and focused drive, while the guilt turns into a lifelong commitment. The most important part of having a deaf child is that it forces ever member of a family to reevaluate life and realize just how precious of a gift it is. A disability only becomes a handicap when an individual allows it to skew their perception and hinder their accomplishments in life (Duckworth et al. 2). The girl smiled at her parents as she boarded the plane for college.
It was through the hard work of her parents that she had made it so far. Never had they allowed her to see herself as tainted. They dealt with their issues quietly and ensured that the girl’s sister was never left behind. Through a sense of humor, teacher meetings, hard work, and patience they had shown her that her limitations led to endless accomplishments. The diagnosis was a hearing impairment and the girl is me. Works Cited Duckworth, Derek and Mark Philp. Children with Disabilites and their Families. New Jersey: Humanities Press Company, Ltd. 1982. Print. Jones, Reginald L. , ed. Reflections on Growing up Disabled. Virginia: The Council for Exceptional Children, 1983. Print. Luterman, David M. and Mark Ross. When your Child is Deaf: A Guide for Parents. Michigan: York Press, Inc. , 1991. Print. ---. Counseling Parents of Hearing-Impaired Children. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, Inc. , 1979. Print. Mapp, Idalia, ed. Essential Readings on Stress and Coping among Parents of Deaf and Hearing- Impaired Children. Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2004. Print.