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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Deaf Adolescents: Inner Lives and Lifeworld Development

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The adolescent participants exhibit many strengths. While many of the perceptions and experiences emerging from the childhood study continue, we can also see the adolescentsí changing images and insights in regard to their self-concepts, their relationships with and perceptions of others, their likes and dislikes, their futures, and the pathways they choose as they face their challenges. They are becoming increasingly capable of educating others about the multifaceted meanings of being deaf and demonstrating techniques for improving cross-cultural relations and communication among deaf and hearing people. They are realizing their preferred social group identities and are focusing their social energies in those directions where they experience greater depth and ease in their communication and relationships. They can identify situations that are particularly challenging, such as feeling isolated from communication in large family gatherings, and have developed strategies for dealing with uncomfortable situations. They more readily adapt, using a broader array of solutions that include turning to their deaf peer group, an otherwise accessible group, or solitary activities. The participants appear to be more prepared to deal with these challenges as their experience grows. They are also able to identify and deal with the communication and cultural issues inherent in relationships with deaf peers who possess diverse identities (e.g., hard of hearing, English signers, ASL, and culturally deaf). The participants are better able to articulate alienating experiences. The adolescent interviews were much more in depth than the childhood interviews, and the teenagers were more direct in expressing insights than they were as children. In the adolescent interviews, it was apparent that the decisions they are making in life now are more thought out. In addition, they can, and do, take advantage of rapidly changing technology in their lives.

With little exception, these adolescents continue to have confident, promising images of their futures (both for themselves and other deaf people), and they enjoy an array of vocational and professional opportunities. Most of them envision college as a possibility, yet they are more aware of the reality of barriers to certain professions. In this study, they anticipated continued socialization and intimacy with a primarily deaf social network into adulthood, and the concept of deaf constancy is inherent in their images of their futures.


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