Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Mother-Infant Hearing Status and Intuitive Parenting Behaviors during the First 18 Months

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Mother-Infant Hearing Status and Intuitive Parenting Behaviors during the First 18 Months

Article excerpt

INFANTS ENTER the world prepared to learn about their environments and to become effective social partners, while most parents are equally prepared to support these early emergent skills. Through subtle, nonconscious behaviors, parents guide their infants in the regulation of emotions, language acquisition, and participation in social exchanges. For example, Deaf mothers modify their signed communication when it is directed to an infant, in much the same way that hearing adults vary their pitch and melodic contours when speaking to an infant. Both hearing and Deaf parents may also accommodate to an infant's hearing status during play interactions in ways that facilitate the child's attention to both the object and the social world. In the present study, such intuitive parenting behaviors were compared at infant ages 6, 9, 12, and 18 months, based on observations of Deaf and hearing mother-infant dyads.

Human infancy is a stage when many impressive, significant adaptations occur within a short amount of time for both parents and infants, regardless of their hearing status. Infants come into the world predisposed to learn about their social and physical environments and to become effective communicative partners, while parents seem equally prepared to support these early emergent skills even if their intent is not always conscious (H. Papousek & M. Papousek, 1987, 1995). Although parents contribute significantly to both their child's innate characteristics and the environmental influences to which the child will be exposed, this process may be altered from its normally expected course in cases in which one member of a parent-infant dyad is ill, has special learning or perceptual needs, or is under particular stress (H. Papousek & M. Papousek, 1997).

Universal newborn hearing screening has produced a profound change in the United States in recent years: The age of diagnosis of infant hearing loss is now closer to 3 months than to the previous norm of 3 years (Yoshinaga-Itano, 2003). Early intervention and support for families is therefore much more common and expected, and professionals trained in providing these services are increasingly knowledgeable about the dynamics of parent-child interaction when one partner is deaf. Nevertheless, there is still much to be learned about the development of communication, regulatory competencies, long-term outcomes, and socialization of children in such situations.

The fact that the great majority of deaf children are born to hearing parents does not seem to diminish the disappointment or distress sometimes experienced by such parents upon receiving an unexpected diagnosis of hearing loss in their infant. The parents in deaf child-hearing parents dyads are sometimes reported to be less flexible and more intrusive during interactions with their infants than they might be if their child were hearing (Schlesinger & Meadow, 1972; Spencer & Gutfreund, 1990). There is evidence suggesting that this may be due to stress caused by the diagnosis of deafness, or to the uncertainty and sense of helplessness related to feeling inadequate as parents until they are able to communicate effectively and easily with their own child (Meado w-Orlans, Koester, Spencer, & MacTlirk, 2004). In addition, hearing parents are quickly faced with numerous decisions related to the use of spoken versus signed communication, hearing aids, the selection of an educational environment, and the possibility of cochlear implantation, all of which are issues that are often marked by controversy (MeadowOrlans, Koester, et al., 2004). From hearing parents' perspectives, the time following an infant's diagnosis of deafness may be overwhelming and confusing, especially if there has been little prior experience with or history of deafness in the family.

On the other hand, for Deaf parents, the diagnosis of their child's hearing loss may bring a sense of joy and relief, as they feel more equipped to nurture a child who shares their communicative needs (Orlansky & Heward, 1981). …

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