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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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Interviewed parents reported varying degrees of support from their family, the child’s siblings, their religion, and the professionals they encountered in their child’s early years. Some extended family members felt sorry for them; others provided active support and acceptance.

Support from Family/Siblings
Previous studies of these groups document the importance of and support from extended family members in Hispanic, African American, and Asian families (Cheng, 2000; Mapp & Hudson, 1997; Rodriguez & Santiviago, 1991). In the NPP survey, both White and Black families generally reported strong support from their extended families, whereas Hispanic families reported their relatives to be less supportive.

Despite the importance of extended family in many cultural groups, not all of the minority families with deaf children receive support from their extended family. No Hispanic parent in the study by Steinberg et al. (1997) received help from their extended families. However, five of nine participants had relocated from Puerto Rico in order to obtain services for the deaf child. (This was also true of a participant in one of our focus groups.) NPP parents reported making many sacrifices and significant life changes for their children. Four families moved from other countries or across state lines to improve opportunities for their children.

One supportive grandmother heard about cochlear implants in her work at a pediatric hospital:

She saw a sign saying “cochlear implant patients” or something. So she called the hospital the next day and made an appointment . . . and 3 days later we were at the appointment getting him evaluated, and within I guess a month or so he had qualified as a candidate [and he was implanted 6 months later]. (Survey 185)
In some families, the siblings were very supportive, and in others they had not adjusted to their deaf or hard of hearing brother or sister. As sometimes happens, the following younger brother wanted to be like his older deaf sibling:

He’s got a younger brother . . . (who) is very close. He’s 2 years old, and that little guy is learning sign language. He switches between sign language and speaking because he sees Mommy do the sign language and Brother do the sign language, and he wants to do everything big brother does. (Interview)

Some siblings refused to use sign language. In the following family, the older sister was very embarrassed by her hard of hearing brother’s hearing aids:

I don’t know, we’re very accepting of glasses, you know, but hearing aids is just another thing. And my daughter was so devastated, too, and she was so embarrassed of him, wearing hearing aids, she hated the hearing aids. She would say this in front of him. (Survey 186)

When this child’s hearing loss was identified, the mother sought books to explain deafness to her hearing children. She found several about profoundly deaf children but none about hard of hearing children. She plans to write books for siblings of hard of hearing children when she retires.

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