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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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In the phase II study, the ease and depth of communication became more important than just accessibility to communication, and it is clear that this ease and depth facilitates bonding, comfort, and identification with others like themselves. The adolescents reported feeling more comfortable with deaf peers they identify with or see as similar in communication and language. They adapt to communication differences but make references to having more fun in relationships with deaf teenagers. In other words, as children, the theme is it’s not whether you are deaf or hearing, but how you communicate, while in adolescence the theme became I am more comfortable when you are deaf like me and we experience ease and depth in communication. These adolescents actively choose domesticated others who share their language, communication method, and culture.

The following quotations illustrate the adolescent stage of attachment in relationships with domesticated others.

Alex: [talking about his brief experience with mainstreaming]: They were hard of hearing, not deaf, so they were talking and using English. I was the only one who was really deaf. Then I met one other girl and one other guy who were deaf, too, but there were just three of us. They were fun. [In the residential school] it’s easy to communicate and a lot more fun. I have so many friends.

Mary: Before, when I was little, it was fun, I didn’t mind because we played. It didn’t matter. The older I get, the more I want to socialize with peers who are deaf like me and can talk and talk and talk with me. I like that. [She imagines how an adolescent deaf girl would feel in her hearing school and how that would be different in a residential school.] She probably wouldn’t be very enthusiastic about participating in sports after school because it’s hard to communicate with hearing peers. [If she transferred to a deaf school she’d be] more enthusiastic about talking . . . I’d talk and chat and socialize more.

Parental Regard. In both childhood and adolescence, the participants were overwhelmingly certain of their parents’ love, positive regard, and affection for them. This is an important finding because anecdotal and published information assumes that deaf children and adolescents most often feel their hearing parents do not love or accept them. At the same time, there is some evidence at both stages that the participants see their hearing parents as needing to adjust and believe that their parents would worry about them. Stories of enjoyable family activities are expressed at both phases.
Joe: My family? Well, they’re great! My mom, she’s always been with me for all my life. For many years my mom’s been helping and I really love her! She was there for me. I would say generally, many parents and mine try to support the kids as much as they can and show how well they can do. It’s a hard job.

Angie: My family enjoys being together. It doesn’t matter if children are deaf or hearing. It’s no problem. Families still love them.

Friendships. In both the phase I and phase II studies, the informants delighted in their stories about their many friends and the activities they participated in together. Yet, as indicated before, it is important to note that they recognize greater comfort, depth, enjoyment, and ease in relationships with peers they identify as like themselves.
Alex: Friends come up and talk and laugh, waiting for the same bus, saying funny things and laughing. They sit down near each other where they can all see each other and go on laughing and talking.

Lisa: My friends and I have a good time together. I have thousands of friends.

Mary: We got together and had a lot of fun. We went out to dinner and went dancing until eleven o’clock or twelve o’clock. Then I went to a friend’s house and stayed overnight there. We partied most of the night, partied and enjoyed. It was really fun.

Danny: Well, we play. We get together and have fun watching TV. We play video games. We talk. We get into trouble at night after bedtime. We get up and sneak around and get into trouble. I like that. Teenagers like to sneak out and have a good time. I like that.

Joe: My good friend, we’ve been best friends for a long time. He’s deaf himself. We both get together and do sports together.

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