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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Parents and Their Deaf Children: The Early Years

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Conflicts arose within extended families related to sending a child away from home to a residential school. Ramsey (2000) reports that extended families severely criticized Mexican-heritage parents who sent their child to a distant residential program. This conflicted with a cultural belief that parents should socialize the child in their culture and language at home. Sending a child away is viewed as a sign of incompetence and a serious indictment of the parentsí childrearing values.

Distance and economic hardship may also limit a familyís access to sign language classes as well as its ability to participate in the childís education. This mother commented:

Because I lived so far, I didnít get away, but they offered sign language classes twice a week. And I coulda went up for it, but because I had to work, because Iím a single parent, I didnít get to go for it. (Survey 202)

Her child has recently returned home because there is a trial program in her area for 1 year. A sign language teacher comes to the home to teach the whole family. The mother thinks this is wonderful but doesnít know whether it will continue.

Parents described a high level of satisfaction with early childhood programs that sent someone to their homes to teach them sign language and other skills related to raising a child with a hearing loss. In fact, all of the parents in our largest focus group received home visits of this kind. This in-home support contributed to the praise and appreciation parents expressed for the teachers and professionals working at their childrenís school. One mother commented:

And they sent a person out to talk to me, you know, about the educational ways they can go at his young age. . . . And that lady, she was a godsend. She worked miracles with me and my son [laughter]. And she started telling me, you know, how to first start off signing, you know, one-word signs, getting him to recognize íem and all that. And they come into my home so, you know, I didnít have to make schedules to go to (city name) or nothing like that. Their coming into my home helped me a lot. (Survey 98)

Several parents mentioned their feelings of isolation because they did not have access to a parent support group. Two parents with hard of hearing children were unable to find a parent support group because these were organized only for parents of deaf children:

You know what I didnít have is other parents to talk to. You know, and I was just really kinda going it alone. (Survey 186)

Other parents did not participate in a support group because they were unaware of their availability or the services offered were too far away or meetings conflicted with other family responsibilities.


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