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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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Alienation and Disparate Others

While the children and adolescents report many positive experiences with comfortable relationships, they also, like all individuals, have uncomfortable relationships and experiences in life. Some of these relationships and experiences were evident in these interviews and often included disparate others, or individuals that the participant perceives as different. In the adolescent interviews these differences sometimes included deaf or hard of hearing peers.

Boredom in Inaccessible Relationships. The children in phase I of the study repeatedly reported boredom in inaccessible situations. This continued in phase II; however, the adolescents reported more instances in more areas of their lives. In phase I, the informants’ stories about boredom focused on play relationships with hearing peers where communication was inaccessible. In phase II, the adolescents placed greater emphasis on the boredom and disconnect they experienced in extended and blended family communication and on communication and experiences in community situations. They also discussed hearing peers.

Alex: Sometimes my mom invites lots of family, and I’m the only deaf person. I get bored and space out.

Danny: Most of the time, they talk, and I don’t understand. It’s boring.

Pat: It’s a hearing church, and I just watch but don’t understand. But I’m really bored. No interpreter at all!

Lisa: Talking on the phone and another boy is waiting for him to finish and he’s bored.

Layers of Alienation. In childhood, the children talked about potential discomfort, rejection, mistreatment, or inaccessibility in play relations with hearing children. Awareness of this type of alienation took new forms in adolescence. They moved from this one layer to several additional layers in adolescence, including a disconnection and alienation in interactions with hearing extended and blended family members, within the community (e.g., in stores, restaurants, and movies and at parties and at church), and in interactions with deaf peers.

As can be developmentally expected, the adolescent stories were broader and deeper and indicated greater insight. The teens did not have the same “taken for granted” attitude they had as children, when they often took deaf and hearing differences in stride.

The phase II interviews revealed that during adolescence, the participants entered situations expecting to find barriers and were prepared to deal with them. They often emphatically articulated these painful alienating experiences, whereas in childhood, they put less emphasis on it and showed less emotion. In both phases of the study, the participants were able to identify their feelings associated with these various situations and experiences. In adolescence, however, they more readily had recommendations for dealing with them.

Inaccessible Family Relationships. While the teens in this study continue to be securely attached to their parents, some of them reported that when the family groups became larger (i.e., for holiday gatherings with extended family, or with the addition of hearing blended-family members), they saw their hearing parents as having more difficulty being available as a communication support or just as a communication oasis. Mary, whose parents and siblings are deaf, stated that deaf members of her family experienced this exclusion as well during extended family gatherings. Meanwhile, the adolescents report a variety of positive self-directed pathways when they are faced with these difficulties. A few of the stories revealed that some of the teens thought hearing people had prejudicial attitudes toward deaf family members. However, these stories were in reference to families other than their own.

Mary: I know several deaf kids from hearing families, and some of them look down on them. They’re deaf, so they send them away to school. They think they know nothing, they’re obtuse—you know, dumb. They send them away, and when they come home, they don’t really socialize; they’re not enthusiastic about signing, most of them. But some, they are hearing families, but they love them regardless. They go to the residential school for culture, to learn about the culture, to understand them as deaf. They’re eager to sign themselves. There are different kinds of people, really. Most of the time, I see different kinds.

Alex: My opinion is most deaf kids’ brothers and sisters might not like them or they might ignore them.

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