Perceptions of Communication Choice and Usage among African American Hearing Parents: Afrocentric Cultural Implications for African American Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children

Article excerpt

IN A QUALITATIVE STUDY employing an exploratory design, the researcher explored the perceptions of communication choice and usage among 14 African American hearing parents of deaf and hard of hearing children. Semistructured, in-depth thematic interviews were used with a modified grounded-theory approach in which themes were analyzed and coded. Four thematic challenges and opportunities related to communication choice and usage were found: (a) oral tradition-nommo, (b) sign and oral-diunital, (c) literacy, and (d) racial/ethnic cultural socialization. Afrocentric implications for deaf and hard of hearing children are explored based on research observations pertaining to the significance of the oral tradition in African American culture and the socialization of African American deaf and hard of hearing children in the context of African American hearing families.

One of the first decisions hearing parents must make after a diagnosis of hearing loss in their young child is related to communication and language development. This is particularly true because of the close causal link between hearing loss and language development (Desselle & Pearlmutter, 1997; Eisermann & McCoun, 1995; Harrison, Dannhardt, & Roush,1996). Ninety-four percent of hearing losses in children occurs prior to age 3 years and/or the acquisition of language (Eleweke & Rodda, 2000); nearly 95% of deaf and hard of hearing children (i.e., children with slight to profound hearing loss) have hearing parents (Mitchell & Karchmer, 2004). Therefore, the first 3 years of a child's life are critical in the maturation of the brain for language development, particularly in hearing families with deaf and hard of hearing children (Marschark, 1997; Santos, 1995).

The decision regarding communication and language also has direct consequences for the educational placement of the child - for example, in a school for d/Deaf and hard of hearing children, a mainstream setting, or other setting (Kluwin, 1991, 1995; Knoor, Meuleman, & Klatter-Folmer, 2003; Myers et al., 2010). Communication and language development decisions for the child are then embedded in educational placement experiences that occur in an ecological, sociocultural setting. For example, African American hearing parents of African American deaf and hard of hearing children find themselves caught in the middle of a debate that has been raging for centuries. At the heart of this heated discussion is the push for identity (Deaf or deaf) and "mainstream" functions and opportunities that require mastery of spoken and written Standard English, typical of what constitutes "mainstream" American culture (Cohen, Fischgrund, & Redding, 1990; Dolnick, 1993; Lane, 1993, 1996; Stokoe, I960).

Furthermore, the lack of culturally relevant health, educational, and social services for African American hearing families may compound the challenges involved in making communication and language choices (Cohen, 1993; Yacobacci-Tam, 1988). Culture affects how families perceive disability as well as how families interact with persons with disabilities (Fischgrund, Cohen, & Clarkson, 1988; Gartner, Lipsky, & Turnbull, 1991; Philp & Duckworth, 1982). Cultural groups differ more specifically in their perceptions of and responses to deafness (Chamba, Ahmad, Darr, & Jones, 1998; Steinberg & Davila, 1997). According to A. G. Fisiloglu and H. Fisiloglu (1996) and Gartner et al. (1991), these perceptions and responses are indicative of factors such as culture and/or economic disposition, rather than a function of having a deaf or hard of hearing child within the family unit.

Although African American children make up approximately 16% of children with profound hearing loss in schools (Gallaudet Research Institute, 2009), there continues to be a dearth of information focusing on African American hearing families raising these children. Because there can be no "universal" interpretation of what it means to raise a deaf or hard of hearing child that can be applied cross-culturally or intraculturally to all families, it is important to assess African Americans' experiences and perceptions of communication choice and usage in raising a deaf child (Cohen, 1993; Gärtneret al. …