Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Resilience and Success among Deaf High School Students: Three Case Studies

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Resilience and Success among Deaf High School Students: Three Case Studies

Article excerpt

Case studies are presented of deaf high school students who were identified as "outstandingly successful" in a national survey. In the analysis of case histories, a subgroup of students had achieved success despite numerous stressful circumstances. Students who would have been expected to do poorly were nonetheless achieving. Although from different sociocultural, linguistic, and educational backgrounds, these students appeared to have one attribute in common: a high level of resilience. The study explores resilience and how three deaf students were able to overcome many obstacles to achievement.

Challenges and obstacles are a part of everyone's experience. Some people are able to cope with and overcome the hurdles that life puts in their path, while others are tripped up and fail to get back on the right track. The ability of an individual to overcome-rather than surrender to-life's challenges has been defined as "resilience" (Joseph, 1994).

J. M. Joseph (1994) found that resilient individuals share, to some degree, four characteristics:

1. They take a proactive approach, rather than a reactive or passive approach, to problem solving. This approach requires the person to be self-reliant and independent while at the same time sufficiently socially adept to get appropriate help from adults and peers.

2. They are able to construe their experiences in positive and constructive ways even when those experiences are painful or negative.

3. They are good-natured and easy to deal with, and, as a result, they gain other people's positive attention.

4. They develop a sense of "coherence" early in life, that is, a basic belief that one has some control over what happens. (pp. 28-29)

In the present article, we present the case studies of three deaf high school students who were identified as "outstandingly successful" in a national survey conducted by Charlson, Strong, and Gold (1992). As part of that survey, 23 high school students in a variety of settings and geographic locations were nominated by teachers or administrators. Teachers, parents, and the 23 students themselves disclosed in questionnaires and interviews the resilient qualities of these young deaf people. The cases of the three students described in the present article are especially revealing.

Kimchi and Schaffner (1991), in their studies of both children and adults, found that it is possible to foster the skills and attitudes characteristic of people with resilient personalities in others who lack such traits. We hope that study of the linguistic and academic backgrounds of these three individuals, their unique life situations, and their strategies for overcoming the obstacles in their lives, will provide useful and possibly inspiring insights to parents and teachers of deaf children.


The purpose of the study by Charlson et al. (1992) was to identify correlates of success in order to develop hypotheses for future research, to produce a detailed set of individual examples of success, and to examine themes common among the study participants, including types of accomplishment, isolation, and the role of family relationships. In the present study, we focus on the theme of resilience.

Students were selected to participate in the original study (i.e., Charlson et al., 1992) as follows: First, letters were sent to a selected sample of 46 schools and programs across the United States that were described in the 1989 reference issue of the American Annals of the Deaf as having at least 10 students at the high school level ("Educational Programs and Services," 1989). The sample was constructed to cover all the major geographic areas, both residential and mainstream schools, and both oral and sign programs. The letter invited the principal or program coordinator to nominate an outstandingly successful student to be considered for the study. Success was not explicitly defined because the authors were interested in the reasons given by nominators for their choices. …

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