Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Healthy Families of Children Who Are Deaf

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Healthy Families of Children Who Are Deaf

Article excerpt

FAMILIES PROVIDE the building blocks for the development of healthy, happy, competent children. The purpose of the present study was to identify and interview healthy families of children who were deaf. The researchers were interested in identifying factors that contribute to families' health as well as in collecting suggestions for other families with children who are deaf and for professionals in the field of deaf education. Nineteen families, all nominated by deaf education professionals, were interviewed. The interviews were transcribed and coded, and responses to each interview question were grouped under recurring themes. A summary of the results, limitations of the study, suggestions for future research, and recommendations for practice are provided.

"She's like family" is an expression of endearment used to communicate a sense of caring, connection, and comfort. The concept of family shapes people's most intimate human relationships and strongly influences their educational, political, and social conscience. In fact, the importance of family is one of the most commonly accepted values in society.

Families also are the critical element in the development of healthy, competent, and caring children (Individuals With Disabilities Education Act Amendments, 1997). The quality of family life affects the success of young people in school and in the community, and significantly influences how well they will function as adults (Singer & Irvin, 1989). Regardless of gender, ethnicity, social class, or age, children and youth who feel cared for, accepted, and supported by their family are reported to be healthier, happier, and more competent than their peers who do not feel this way. The presence of open communication and creative problem solving in the home provides a model for youth to negotiate complex internal and external social situations. Furthermore, parents who provide a balance of boundaries and nurturing teach youth to be self-reliant and self-assured. Consequently, few would argue against the premise that the family is the primary and most powerful system to which one person ever belongs (Seligman & Darling, 1997).

Families who have a child with a hearing loss experience many of the same successes and challenges as other families. Yet having a child with a hearing loss tends to change family dynamics and the home environment (Meadow-Orlans, Mertens, & Sass-Lehrer, 2003). While family and parenting issues are fundamentally the same, the hearing loss tends to impose greater complexity on the parenting process, requiring more thought and greater care (Luterman, 1987). Three specific issues are often particularly different for families who have a child with a hearing loss:

1. Most (91.5%) children with a hearing loss are born to hearing parents (Gallaudet Research Institute, 2001), almost all of whom use spoken language as their primary means of communication. In addition, because hearing loss is a low-incidence disability, most of these parents never came into contact with someone who was deaf or hard of hearing until the birth of their child. Consequently, they have a limited understanding of what it is like to have a hearing loss. Sound is so much a part of their lives that they cannot imagine a world where speech is always unintelligible, distorted, or too soft, or simply not heard at all. Through spoken language, most of these parents have learned unconsciously to interact with others, developed language, acquired knowledge, and enhanced their intellectual functioning.

2. When hearing parents learn that their child has a hearing loss, they usually experience a range of reactions and face a variety of challenges. Some of those challenges include understanding the impact of a hearing loss, finding appropriate services and support, and developing strategies for communicating with their child. Regardless of the form of communication parents choose-an oral approach, a sign system, or American Sign Language (ASL) -they will need to make significant changes in how they interact with their child. …

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