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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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Support from Religion

In the NPP survey, Black (59%) and Hispanic (45%) families reported that their religion was very helpful in terms of support, as compared to White families (28%). In one family, the parents, grandmother, and uncle are taking sign language classes. In this family, the grandfather is a minister, and they reported the following:

Wife: Prayers help a lot, too.

Husband: You can’t stop believing, like you’re saying. You got to have your beliefs. (Interview)

Another mother explained that it was prayer that got them through the initial shock. She said that their support came from “prayer, friends, um, reading the Word, getting on our knees” (Survey 334).

Rodriguez and Santiviago (1991), Ramsey (2000), and Steinberg and colleagues (1997) also re-port a strong link between religion and beliefs about disabilities. In the study by Steinberg et al., the Hispanic families made reference to God as the cause of their child’s deafness. However, that study made no mention of religion as a source of support. Mapp and Hudson (1997) report that African American and Hispanic families who experienced fewer adjustment problems and lower levels of stress also reported more frequent church attendance. These parents indicated that their religion was a helpful source of support.

Support from Professionals
The degree of support from professionals varied considerably among the interviewed parents. A husband and wife who were interviewed described their family’s meeting with doctors at the hospital after their child’s hearing loss was identified. The mother, father, child, grandmother, grandfather, uncle, and godmother all attended. They went to learn more about the child’s deaf-ness, the causative factors, the tests that were used, and the management of hearing aids, asking questions and discussing their concerns:

They explain to you how they put the hearing aids on and the volume of the hearing aids. [A staff member] was speaking Spanish to my mother because she didn’t understand English. So she was translating everything that [the doctor] had to say in Spanish. They had a meeting there to teach them what was the reason he was deaf, his hearing aids, how to put them on. (Interview)

The following family described the friendship and personal concern of these professionals, whom they still see occasionally:

Like anybody in general, there are certain things you want to hear and certain things you don’t want to hear. When they told us that he had a hearing loss, it was kind of hard to accept at first, but they directed us in the right way of going about and getting his hearing aids and so on. To this day they are still helping us. (Interview)

Although this family received extraordinary, positive support from professionals, this is not al-ways the case for minority families. Lack of fluency in the family’s language, underrepresentation of ethnic groups in the professional community, or cultural insensitivity can lead to less positive experiences (Gerner de Garcia, 2000; Wathum-Ocama, 2000). A contrasting experience is evident in the comments of another mother, whose doctor told her that her child had significant medical problems and would need special services and that the child should be in an early intervention program getting physical therapy. Even though she was living in a major metropolitan area, the doctor was not able to give her any referrals. She moved to another state in search of services for her daughter and found an early intervention program that agreed to do the evaluation free of charge:

Yeah, they were just, like I said, so supportive, and they always looked for the positive about what she could do, and their whole philosophy was to build off of what they could do and would try to add to that. The medical profession is always focused on what they can’t do and what the problem is. (Survey 075)

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