Hearing Impairment, Social Networks, and Coping: The Need for Families with Hearing-Impaired Children to Relate to Other Parents and to Hearing-Impaired Adults

Article excerpt

For a report on the stress experiences of parents with hearingimpaired children in Germany, 317 parents completed a survey on how their families communicate and socialite, among other issues. The report focuses on how contacts with other parents and with hearing-impaired adults affect stress experiences, in the context of the child's hearing status and the means of communication. Parents who frequently meet with other parents show evidence of a warm, accepting, trusting relationship with their child. Parents who have many contacts with hearing-impaired adults show evidence of a strong sense of competence in regard to their child's upbringing. The findings confirm the implication found in most reports describing empirical studies. Social support is to be regarded as a cornerstone of psychosocial intervention and has to play as great a role as possible in institutional programs.

In German-speaking countries, empirical research on socialization processes within the family has not been considered very relevant by experts on deaf education. Especially in Germany, the "right access" to the child is being sought once again with great zeal. The family of the child with impaired hearing mainly has to support those processes that, from an educational viewpoint, seem necessary. Thanks to introduction of cochlear implantation in the 1980s, a new dimension has been added to the harsh discussions pitting the oral/aural method against the bilingual method. Many a teacher of the Deaf, hoping this will provide a definitive solution to the question of signing, consequently eagerly follows this new way.

For a thorough analysis of the parents' psychological situation, an unbiased view is essential. Such an analysis would have to describe relevant variables of socialization processes within the family, not neglecting a complex, socioecologically oriented paradigm of stress and coping. This way, central aspects of child development could be freed from the discussion of methods.

My associates and I carried out a major survey on parent stress involving 317 families with hearing-impaired children. We linked it to a several variables that we feel affect the process of coping with stress (cf. Hintermair & Horsch, 1998). In the process, we also asked about the parents' contacts both with other parents and with hearing-impaired adults. Thus, we hoped to get insights that-put on empirical grounds-might help to enrich contact with the child and his or her family by means of a new dimension coined through socialization theory, rather than simply go for educational necessities.

When one considers the findings of recent research in areas such life events, coping, and social supports, it becomes clear that the complex of social resources lies at the heart of any theory on socialization. As Nestmann (1996) points out, being part of a social network that functions without conflict (cf. Barrera, 1981; Billings & Moss, 1984) and, above all, with emotional support (Brown & Harris, 1978; Thoits, 1985; Vaux, 1988) makes all the difference when one is trying to cope with stress. Social support is particularly necessary when it comes to finding out about one's own convictions and opinions when faced with a difficult life event, and to correcting or confirming them, as need be. It is because of this that social networks will always function as "identity workshops" (cf. Stark, 1996), which contribute to the development of personal identity patterns even under extraordinarily difficult conditions. Doing so, they play a vital part in maintaining social identity in times of crisis. Welcoming people into this social network who can truly share their experiences relating to critical life events therefore becomes the task at hand.

Relevant Conceptional Distinctions

The Social Network and Social Support

In the literature, the concepts of the social network and social support are often used to mean the same thing, a practice that has drawn criticism from Ulich (1987) and Van Aken, Coleman, and Cotterell (1994). …