Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Children Who Are Hearing Impaired with Additional Disabilities and Related Aspects of Parental Stress

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Children Who Are Hearing Impaired with Additional Disabilities and Related Aspects of Parental Stress

Article excerpt

This article discusses the results and implications of a major survey performed at the University of Education in Heidelberg, Germany (Hintermair & Horsch, 1998), on the stress experienced by parents of children who are hearing impaired. Experts on deaf education in Germany have paid little attention to the empirical investigation of the socialization processes within the families. Thus, this study tapped a major unexplored area in Germany.

The theoretical basis is a model combining various areas of recent research on life events, coping, social support, health psychology, and personal psychology. This leads to a complex socioeconomically orientated view of hearing impairment and its consequences for the families in question and their social surroundings. The concept of this model has opened up new ways of looking at hearing impairment as a critical life event (Hintermair & Horsch, 1998). It offers a variety of options for coping strategies or processes. Failure becomes just as explicable and understandable as the successful handling of a difficult situation.

Crucial aspects of coping, as seen from the point of socialization psychology, were explored in this larger study. For example, we examined what effect contacts among the parents and between parents and adults who are hearing impaired had on the parents' stress experiences (Hintermair, 2000 [submitted for publication]). We also wanted to find out whether the communication mode parents used to interact with their children had any impact on their personal feelings of stress. In addition, this study examined variables like gender of the parent, severity of hearing loss, age of child, and additional disabilities of the child for their effects on the parents.

When surveying the relevant literature, we found that any disability (not only hearing impairment), whether it be mental or physical, is unanimously regarded as a considerable stress potential for the parents (Beckman, 1991; Dyson, 1991, 1993; Dyson & Fewell, 1986; Hadadian, 1994; Kazak, 1987). In the few studies that report divergent results, methodical inaccuracies are (according to Dyson) responsible. When demographic data of the families, (such as socioeconomic status, etc.), are corrected, the findings described previously are confirmed.

One might conclude that for parents whose children have additional disabilities, stress is multiplied due to a "twofold challenge," which would be reflected in higher stress scores. Knoop (1996) compared parents of cochlea-implanted children with (N = 10) and without additional disabilities (N = 68) on responses to the Parenting Stress Index. The differences between the two groups were highly significant on all scales, with the scores for adaptability, acceptance, and demandingness for the area of interactive stress; and the scores for depression, attachment, and social isolation for the area of emotional stress rating especially high. Meadow-Orlans, Smith-Gray, & Dyssegaard (1995) also carried out research on children who are hearing impaired with and without additional disabilities (with, however, only a small random sample). They reported an interesting phenomenon: Groups differed only insignificantly. However, they also found that the mean scores of mothers with children who are multiply disabled and hearing impaired resulted from two extreme scores: Some of the mothers scored extremely low, while others obtained extremely high scores. In interviews with the mothers it was revealed that those with low scores tended to deny their true feelings. Meadow-Orlans et al. concluded that the mean scores obscure the actual proportions and that both groups of mothers were in need of immediate psychosocial support.

METHOD

Participants and Instruments

The parents who took part in our study were presented with a German translation of the Parenting Stress Index (Abidin, 1990) by Klaus Sarimski (Center for Child Rehabilitation, Munich) as well as with a short additional questionnaire covering a battery of personal data. …

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