By King, J. Freeman
The Exceptional Parent , Vol. 40, No. 5
A majority of parents who have a child who is deaf are hearing and usually have had no experience with deafness. The impact on the parents can unequivocally alter their lives. Often, the diagnosis of deafness is delivered as though it was exclusively medical, and does not encompass the linguistic, educational, and social aspects of the total child. The professional advice given to the parent regarding their child is often accepted as irrefutable fact, and can lead to the emotional, social, linguistic, and educational success or failure of the child.
The parents initially are not aware that their child is deaf because the baby displays comparable sensorimotor development, babbling, and gestural behavior as a hearing baby in the first few months of life. After repeated cycles of suspicion that a problem exists, when the child is about a year old, he/she undergoes extensive audiologic testing and the parents are informed that their child has a hearing loss. It is at this point that the parents often experience a range of emotions that send them on an emotional roller coaster ride. The emotions experienced often include denial, guilt, and blame.
It is easy for the parents to fall into the trap of seeking numerous opinions and "cures." Certainly, it is appropriate to obtain more than one diagnosis from qualified specialists; however, consultations with an endless series of clinics, professionals, and proffered cures over an extended period of years is a frantic effort to deny the reality of the child being deaf.
Hearing parents, not familiar with deafness, often view their child with terrible uncertainty. They are uncertain as to what to expect in terms of goals and expectations for their child's future, and are uncertain about their roles and how to be effective parents in this new situation. At the core of the uncertainty is the issue of communication: Should American Sign Language be used? Where does speech fit into the picture? Should a manually coded English system be the means of communication? Cued speech? Should a cochlear implant be considered? Even though research findings indicate benefits for families choosing sign as a means of communication, the issue remains complex and is often never satisfactorily resolved by the hearing parents.
Decisions regarding communication methods and educational placement options
Communication methods include the oral/aural approach, manually coded English systems, the bilingual-bicultural approach, cued speech, and total communication. Educational placement options include mainstreaming, residential programs, and day class programs. Parents are often swamped with so much information regarding communication and educational methods, as well as educational placement options, that they have no idea what to believe. One can only imagine the confusion that parents feel as a result of the ideological propaganda bombardment often presented by those in the medical and educational professions.
The need for early and consistent communication
Communication involves shared meanings. Without deep and meaningful communication with parents, siblings, peers, teachers, and other significant people in the child's life, there are no shared meanings, no shared experiences, no development of identity, and inadequate transmission of world knowledge. Deep and meaningful communication is a precursor to language development, whether it is a visual or an auditory language. Parents naturally raise the question as to what kind of language will be most accessible for their child who is deaf: a visual language or an auditory language?
Because of the various options available to parents, one can easily understand the consternation that the parents encounter. Perhaps the most important question that can assist parents as they ferret through the biases of professionals regarding methods and placement options is whether or not the deaf child is primarily a visual or an auditory learner : Once this question is answered, the parents can investigate the various methods and educational placement options, and choose the method and placement option that best addresses the child's strength, not his/her weakness--the option that plays to the child's ability, not his/her perceived disability. …