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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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The doctor found fluid in the child’s ears and put him on antibiotics. When that did not clear up the problem, they put tubes in his ears. About 2 months later, they did a brain stem hearing test and identified his profound hearing loss.

After experiencing many problems with their child in a preschool program, the following parents learned during their child’s kindergarten health screening test that he had a hearing problem:

You know he had these problems along the way, and we never knew it was hearing related. Until we had him screened for kindergarten. You know they had the physical that’s required for kindergarten. And at that time, they tested his hearing, and I remember the girl testing it again. And you know she came back in. You know, you want to see the results. She gave me the paper, and I said, “Oh, what does this mean?” And she said, “Oh, he hears like an old man.” And I was just so stunned, like, “What do you mean?” But the referral was that we go to a hearing doctor, I mean an ear, nose, and throat doctor, who did the test again and con-firmed it. So we did not find out ’til 5 years old. Well, actually he was 5½. And by the time we got to the audiologist, you know, I find out, wow, there are ways that he could have been screened much earlier. And so that, you know, you kinda kick yourself, well, why didn’t I know? His pediatrician said he could hear, the speech therapist said she checked his hearing, but apparently they . . . didn’t know. I mean, they, you know, my pediatrician said, well, he couldn’t have tested him earlier because it wouldn’t be reliable. (Survey 186)

Thus, the discovery of this child’s hearing loss was delayed because the doctor dismissed the mother’s concerns and because of the lack of information about reliable hearing tests that are available for infants and young children. Gerner de Garcia (1993) also reports delayed identification for Hispanic children resulting from doctors’ dismissals of mothers’ concerns. She suggests a number of factors to account for these dismissals, such as a lack of Spanish-speaking professionals, limited access to health care, or perceptions of the mother as incompetent. Another possible contributor to a delay is parental denial of a child’s problem. Families from poor countries may not be able to verify their suspicions until they immigrate to the United States, where testing and services are more widely available.

Delayed identification means delayed intervention, resulting in slowed progress in language and speech and perhaps a loss of self-esteem (see chapter 3).

Reactions to a Child’s Hearing Loss
Parents were asked about their initial reactions when they learned of their child’s hearing loss. Like other hearing parents, they described feelings of shock, grief, and devastation. The following mother discussed her family’s reaction as well as her own:

I remember my sister calling and feeling so bad for me, I mean everybody just like, you know, and when you think about it now, it’s not bad, it’s only hearing loss. But when you’re dealing with the possibility of life-threatening illness and hearing loss, it just seems so bad. It was a really terrible weekend. I prayed so much. And you know I cried a lot. I’m sure, but, um, we got over that. (Survey 186)

Reactions to the deaf Hispanic child by extended family members, influenced by cultural beliefs about disability, may include pity and powerful stigmas. The child may be isolated because other parents believe deafness to be contagious (Steinberg, Davila, Collazo, Loew, & Fischgrund, 1997). Inaccurate understandings equate deafness with cognitive delays and fears of lifelong dependence. Deafness may also be equated with illness and provoke a search for a miraculous cure (Ramsey, 2000).

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