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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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Both the adolescents’ stories and Dr. Sheridan’s conceptual and theoretical analysis of what the adolescents present have deepened and broadened. Dr. Sheridan provides a framework for analysis of similarities and differences among the teenagers by referring to their unique “lifeworlds”—that is, the synthesis of their experiences, their relationships, and their truths; the intersecting physical and psychological systems of self, family, community, and beyond; the ways they view their current reality, and the possibilities they see for the futures. Yes, all of these teenagers are deaf, and, as will be clear in the book, communication accessibility is a critical and increasingly important influence as they mature and encounter more complex environments. It becomes inescapably clear that Angie, Joe, Alex, Pat, Mary, Danny, and Lisa are unique persons with unique gifts, challenges, needs, plans, and hopes. The diversity in their comments and the portrayals of their lifeworlds prove the fallacy of referring to “deaf children,” “deaf adolescents,” or “deaf people” as labels reflecting monolithic, homogeneous groups.

Although the adolescents’ lifeworlds are fascinating, this book gives us much more than a collection of individual stories. Using the approach of following a small and diverse set of individuals from childhood to adolescence allows us, the readers, to see how attitudes, experiences, and personal characteristics interact and evolve over time. A gifted scholar, Dr. Sheridan shares with us how these individuals’ development illuminates and refines theories of maturational processes. Her focus on adolescents who are deaf both clarifies and expands our current thinking about maturation during this stage in general—for deaf as well as hearing persons. Dr. Sheridan helps us see how various deaf and hard of hearing identities wax and wane over time depending on individual experiences, therefore illustrating the various ways in which unique individual characteristics and experiences interact in the process of internalizing identities.

We are pleased to have this opportunity to “catch up” with the lives of the children to whom Dr. Sheridan introduced us earlier—and to have at the same time the opportunity to “catch up” with her thinking and conceptualizing about inter-relating factors that are influencing these individuals and, perhaps, have influenced our own lives as well. Since Dr. Sheridan plans to continue exploring developmental issues with this cohort through adulthood as part of a planned longitudinal study, we look forward to meeting Angie, Joe, Alex, Pat, Mary, Danny, and Lisa again when they have reached the next stage in their lives, namely adulthood, hoping that they will again allow us entry into their lives and anticipating Dr. Sheridan’s continuing contributions as she integrates these children’s expressions of their lifeworlds with ever more elegant theories of development and identity.

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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