Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Family-Centered Practices and American Sign Language (ASL): Challenges and Recommendations

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Family-Centered Practices and American Sign Language (ASL): Challenges and Recommendations

Article excerpt

When a child is born deaf or becomes deaf (e.g., through illness, an accident), family members are faced with many important decisions, especially which mode(s) of communication their child will use, a decision that shapes every aspect of a child's life. This very personal decision is influenced not only by the child's parents, but also by professionals working with the family, friends, and extended family members (Hardonk et al., 2011). Therefore, the degree to which professionals use family-centered practices impacts life decisions of the parents as well as their feelings about being supported or not by professionals (Ingber & Dromi, 2010; Mounty, 1986). The purpose of this study was to better understand the experiences and recommendations of families who chose American Sign Language (ASL) as their primary mode of communication through focus group interviews. More specifically, this research was guided by this question: How can families with ASL users inform educational and family-centered practices for children?

Theoretical Stance

The theoretical perspectives of family-centered practices informed this research (Dunst, Trivette, & Deal, 1988; Dunst, Trivette, & Hamby, 2007; Epley, Summers, & Turnbull, 2010). Effective parent-professional partnerships include attention to the well-being of the family, not just an individual family member (Keen, 2007). An understanding of the successes and challenges experienced by families of ASL users can guide professional interactions and recommendations toward family-centered practices.

A variety of definitions and beliefs represent family-centered practices (Epley et al., 2010). Dempsey and Keen (2008) proposed four summative beliefs of family-centered practices: (a) the family and not the professional is the constant in the child's life; (b) the family is in the best position to determine the needs and well-being of the child; (c) supporting the family is the best way to help the child, including an understanding of the family's community; and (d) family choice and decision making in the provision of services respect and affirm families' strengths (p. 42). Early foundations of family-centered practices focused on enabling and empowering families through helpful professional interactions. These evidence-based guidelines promoted building on family strengths and resources through mutually respectful partnerships. The importance of family member choice in decision making was stressed also (Dunst et al., 1988). More recently, Dunst (2007) described three types of family-centered practices: "relational help-giving, participatory help-giving, and parent-practitioner collaboration" (p. 170). These practices are based in empowerment theory (Dunst, Boyd, Trivette, & Hamby, 2002) and form the framework for this research.

Dunst (2011) postulates that relational practices encompass practitioner clinical skills, thoughts, and feelings about family culture, and the level of sensitivity the practitioner or provider displays in relation to family beliefs. Participatory practices include providing "individualized, flexible, and being responsive to family concerns and priorities, and ... involve providing families with informed choices and family involvement in achieving desired goals and outcomes" (Dunst et al., 2007, p. 371). The third category, parent-practitioner collaboration, is fundamental to all family--centered practices. Knowing more about the cultural beliefs, familial interactions, and educational experiences of families with ASL users can inform relational, participatory, and parent--practitioner family- centered practices for professionals and improve outcomes for children and families.

Context and Issues

This project was part of a larger study focused on understanding the strengths and needs of families from diverse language communities, including immigrants speaking languages other than English and families using ASL. …

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