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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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While many of the strengths the children indicated in phase I have carried over into their adolescence, some differences became evident in the adolescent study, including the following:
  1. The adolescents are involved in a variety of extracurricular school activities that were not a part of their lives in the earlier study. These will be addressed in the Pathways section.
  2. As children, the informants taught hearing others in their lives to sign; as adolescents they are teaching others in their lives to sign, and they are teaching others about Deaf culture and the realities and meanings of being deaf.
  3. In adolescence, they also take it upon themselves to teach hearing others how best to bridge their cultural and communication differences to achieve more successful interaction.
  4. As children, the informants moved back and forth between their taken-for-granted deaf and hearing play relationships; as adolescents, they are more aware of a preferred social identification and social network. They focus their social energies on relationships with others who are like them in their communication and culture preferences. In these self-same relationships (that is, “deaf like me”), they now report feeling ease, depth, and comfort in communication and social relations. In particular, ease of communication was of great importance to them and allowed for greater depth in their relationships.
The interviews also revealed some undertones and indications of what some of the teens see as the challenges that deaf people face in their lifeworlds. Angie’s interviews were ripe with an energetic and optimistic desire to learn, grow, and move toward a successful emancipation and adult life. She indicated that deaf people have to work harder and use different resources to find needed information and to access the same services and environmental events that are more readily available to hearing people (e.g., information on taxes, medical care, emergency response, communications). Danny and Mary both shared their perception that deaf people generally do not have an equitable distribution of wealth and material goods. Mary stated that deaf people struggle more with English, and Danny indicated that hearing people might generally be more intelligent, an opinion that has been socially perpetuated but is not supported by research (see Braden, 1994). Pat, as an exception, saw his vocational options as more limited than the other participants did. Regardless, all of the teens presented multiple strengths in their perceptions of themselves and other deaf people that far outweighed what they saw as their limitations. Examples of these strengths can be found throughout this chapter.

We love the stories themselves—the words of these open and articulate teenagers—and we know that we still have much to learn from them and from the author. We are thrilled to have even a peripheral role as observers as this uniquely powerful, longitudinal study unfolds. We are confident that you, the reader, will be engaged and enlightened by this fascinating journey into the lifeworlds of these very special teenagers.

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Attachment and Domesticated Others

In both phase I and phase II studies, the participants shared stories that revealed their feelings about their relationships with others, especially their parents and friends. Their comments as adolescents contain similarities to and differences from the information they shared when they were younger.

All of the participants told me stories about situations where they felt a sense of attachment or belonging. In both studies the informants indicated a greater sense of attachment in relationships that were linguistically matched or communicatively accessible. However, in the phase II study, the adolescents expressed a stronger, deeper, and more direct sense of attachment in these self-same relationships.

In phase I the children said that they had comfortable relationships with people regardless of whether the other person was deaf or hearing. These other people in their lives were identified as domesticated others. While it was apparent that communication access was more important to the children in phase I than whether or not the other person was deaf or hearing, the children also indicated the most comfort in relations with deaf peers. They were involved in enjoyable play activities, and play was an important aspect of their lives with both hearing and deaf children.


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