ANSWERS FOR PARENTS
OF DEAF CHILDREN
You were so excited about having a baby! Your baby arrives and you find out he/she is Deaf.
Your child was healthy one day then he/she comes down with the flu... only it wasn't the flu... it's Spinal Meningitis. Your child's fever soars, and soon after you notice he/she isn't responding to you. Your child is Deaf.
Stories like these plague parents around the world. Children lose their hearing for a variety of reasons from illness to genetics, but once hearing is lost, parents often find themselves in an unknown world full of hundreds of opinions, hundreds of decisions, and hundreds of fears. We hope this web page will help parents resolve some questions and alleviate some fears. If you have any additional questions about parenting a Deaf child, please do not hesitate to call our office! We would love to answer any questions we can. You and your children are important to us. Remember, you are not alone.
IN THE BEGINNING
There is no way to prepare for that moment when you find out your child has a severe hearing loss. Deaf parents often rejoice, but Hearing parents are riddled with confusion and fears. What should a parent do?
1) Take a deep breath. You will make it through this.
2) Give yourself time to grieve the changes that are happening in your family. Deafness is
not a bad thing, but for a Hearing parent it seems overwhelming. It's normal to feel
sad, confused, angry, guilty, etc.
3) Don't feel guilty. Your child's deafness was likely not something you could avoid.
4) Start to educate yourself on deafness and the unique experience of parenting a deaf child.
5) Don't make any quick decisions about surgeries. Don't be pressured. Take time to investigate all your communication and aid
options, and decide what is right for your family when it feels comfortable.
6) Treat your Deaf child like any other child.
7) Find support. Everyone needs to feel like they have someone to talk to.
1) Will my child have a normal life?
YES! Some deaf children have multiple disabilities which can make their progress a bit more challenging, but deafness is far from a death sentence. Today we have Deaf physicians, Deaf attorneys, Deaf police officers, Deaf firefighters, Deaf singers, Deaf writers, Deaf actors, Deaf NFL players, Deaf pro baseball players, Deaf clothing designers, Deaf pilots, Deaf ballerinas, Deaf reality stars, Deaf Olympians, Deaf Academy Award Winners, and even a Deaf Miss America! It's safe to say Deaf individuals have the potential to acheive quite a bit!
2) How do I help my child succeed?
Communicate! Early and effective communication is THE most important thing you can do for your child. Whatever communication method you choose, make sure it's effective for your child. If they are not progressing in their communication skills on target with other children their age, begin to seek additional or alternative communication options.
Make sure BOTH parents interact with your Deaf child. Many times the mothers of Deaf kids pour into their kids but fathers tend to be less involved. We strongly encourage both parents to heavily interact with their kids. It makes an incredible impact on their growth and development.
Make sure your child does not get lazy with his/her communciation. Some parents allow their kids to use single words answers, or improper English grammar. Make sure your child communicates using complete sentences. This will help him/her develop advanced language skills.
Do NOT treat your child differently. The most successful Deaf adults were pushed and challenged never coddled.
Educate your child at every opportunity! Teach them about everything you can including what sound is like. We learn a great deal of things by hearing information indirectly, but deaf kids usually learn by direct education. Many deaf kids don't have enough hearing to learn an idiom a husband says to a wife in the kitchen, or to learn about politics discussed on talk radio, or to learn about how a repair is done on your house as you discuss it with the repair man on the phone, or to know that the engine of a lawn mower sounds different that the engine of a motorcyle or the engine of your SUV. Parents need to fill in gaps by direct education which can be done by stopping and explaining all kinds of topics which cross your paths on a daily basis.
Work towards increasing your child's vocabulary. Label everything in your house so he/she can learn the English words associated with objects. Teach your kids obscure words like "obscure". Read to your child and have your child read to you, making sure to correct them so their language grows.
Work on improving critical thinking and problem solving skills. Ask them WH questions like "What did you learn today?" or "When are you planning to do your homework," or "Why did you say that?". When they are unsure of how to do something, show them where to find the answers. Teach them about using dictionaries, thesauruses, and encyclopedias. Teach them how to search the web.
Try to avoid the phrase "I'll tell you later." Deaf people spend most of their lives hearing that. Just tell them what's being said... immediately.
Fight for their accessibility. Don't think for a second that venues, schools, or amusement parks have your particular child's best interest in mind. They might, but most don't understand deafness and don't provide adequate accessibility. If accessibility options are in place it might be under your particular standards. Make sure you make your child's accessibility a priority. Get quality interpreters for them in schools, make sure they have interpreters at performance events, when you travel on cruises or stay in hotels make sure you have accessibility devices like flashing lights placed in your state/hotel rooms, hire interpreters at performance events. If your child is implanted don't think for a second that he/she is easily managing those environments without added accessibility. Many parents believe once a child is implanted accessibility wars are over. They falsely believe their child is "fixed". Nothing can be farther from the truth, so understand, children are resilient and may not complain. All children, implanted or not, will benefit from added accessibility.
Avoid using electronics as a way to avoid communication. A lot of parents use iPads, phones, etc as ways to avoid having to communicate with their deaf children. It's not always easy or comfortable, but communcate with your child as much as possible.
Avoid trying to make them more "Hearing" or "normal". Accept their deafness and learn how to work with their deafness to help them to be as successful as possible. Every child wants love and acceptance. Make sure they feel that love and acceptance. That's the beginning of a foundation of success.
Encourage your child to get involved in extra-curricular activities. Those activities make a huge difference in their lives. Have them play sports, join the drama team, take specialized lessons in Art, attend workshops, and never hold back because of their deafness.
3) I am considering implantation. Should I give my child an implant?
That is a decision we strongly encourage parents to make slowly. Some implants are incredibly successful with no major negative effects on a child, and others are unsuccessful or have serious physical side effects. There is no way to predict what the outcome will be. Generally speaking, most parents feel positive about their decision to implant. Take some time to read through the Communication Aids page and visit the links provided. The medical field does encourage nearly all parents of deaf children to implant these days. They do this for two reasons: physicians see deafness as disability which can be "fixed", and implantation is a big business in the medical field. Those of us who work with the Deaf outside the medical field know deafness is not something which can be fixed but rather managed, and the life of a deaf individual can be incredible with or
without an implant. The surgery is extremely invasive and even without the occurance of unexpected side effects will bring some limitations to your deaf child's future lifestyle and medical care options. Parents need to make the decision to implant carefully, corporately, and slowly so they know it's the best decision for their family and their child.
We do not encourage parents of hard of hearing children to implant their children. Children having hearing losses manageble with a non-invasive hearing aid will find aids allow for avoidance of risky medical intervention, more enjoyment of music over the mechanical sounds of an implant, and does not limit future lifestyle choices or medical proceedures.
Again, implantation is not a fix all, but an aid creating access to the Hearing world. Take some time to research all aspects and perspectives about implantation on your own, and decide what is right for you and your child. There will be positive sides and negative sides to every decision, so just make sure the decision is right for you.
4) I am considering using sign language with my child, but was told it would negatively affect their speech development.
There is NO evidence proving that theory. Sign language is incredibly beneficial. Children who learn sign language pre-lingually statistically have a 10 point increase in their IQs. Research also shows that children who sign have improved language acquisition. In addition sign language is an incredible tool for even implanted children to understand language in difficult situations like at the dinner table, at performance events, when they are showering or swimming, or when their battery dies. Many parents are anti-sign language on principle and per suggestion from their doctors but sign language is one of the most powerful weapons in a parent's communication arsenol. Don't miss a chance to use it.
5) How well will my child be able to speak?
The degree to which a deaf child is able to speak depends on a variety of factors including age of identification and intervention and degree of hearing loss. Some deaf children have an incredible knack at speaking and lipreading. Some can acheive this unaided and with little training. Some deaf children struggle with speech with or without tutoring. Aids can provide assistance in speech development. Deaf individuals with speech do have an easier time interacting with Hearing individuals, however both speech users and non-verbal deaf individuals lead very fulfilling and successful lives.
6) I was told it would be better to isolate my child from other Deaf individuals. Is that ideal?
We strongly encourage you expose your children to Deafness. Kids feel "normal" when they get exposed to others like them. This may mean they enter a program at school with multiple Deaf kids, or you take them to special local or national Deaf events. Events like Deaf Awareness Day at Disneyland can be a fun vacation, and at the same time provide critically needed exposure to your Deaf child. You can often find Deaf events in your area as well with minimal effort. Deaf children who try to avoid their deafness tend to have higher levels of stress and greater sensitivity to the topic of their hearing loss. They tend to strive to prove they are "as good as" Hearing people rather than embracing themselves as they are. We have found that deaf kids who interact with other Deaf children are more well adjusted and more at peace with their hearing loss.