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Deaf Children in China

Alison Callaway

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From Deafness and Education International

Deaf Children in China is a considerable academic achievement and interesting, compelling reading. Alison Callaway is a medical doctor, has a doctorate from the Centre for Deaf Studies, Bristol and speaks, reads and writes Chinese. The focus is on pre-school deaf children, the reactions of parents to the diagnosis of deafness and subsequent perceptions, attitudes and behaviour towards their young deaf children. Based on an empirical investigation in the city of Nanjing, the study relates mostly to urban families. The methodology consists of interviews with parents, informal talks with professionals and observations in the pre-school. The data is supplemented by a sample from 168 letters from parents and grandparents from all over China to the principal of the pre-school for deaf children in Nanjing. The principal has a deaf daughter and her remarkable intellectual, spoken and written language achievements have been well publicized in China and influential in determining the aspirations of many Chinese parents of deaf children.

There is a wealth of contextual information about Chinese society and culture -- beliefs, values, norms of behaviour in relation to child rearing, Chinese medical practices and educational provision.

The book provides objective insight into the experiences, fears and aspirations of care-givers of deaf children in China and the western reader cannot fail to appreciate the significance of cultural values and knowledge to adult perceptions of young deaf children. For example, we recognize the reported reactions of parents on diagnosis of shock, sadness and fears for the future, but the extent to which Chinese parents seek alternative medical treatments in the hope of a cure, and the alarmingly high proportion of family income spent on these endeavours, is less familiar to us. But this is not surprising considering the respect Chinese people have for traditional medicine and the claims for, e.g., acupuncture and herbal treatments, for curing or at least reducing hearing loss.

The data reveals an understandable parental concern for their deaf child to talk, but an absence of knowledge of the process of spoken language acquisition, for example of the need for interactive communication and turn-taking, conversational strategies and the need for consistent use of hearing aids. Informal chatter with young children is not a cultural norm, with obedience and politeness in children accorded greater value. Families are left to their own devices when it comes to brining up a deaf child; diagnosis depends solely on the initiatives of parents and diagnosis of even profound deafness before the age of three years is rare. Little advice accompanies diagnosis and there are no follow-up audiological and pre-school advisory services nor organized parent groups. Many Chinese families somehow find the resources to buy hearing aids (not even Chinese-produced hearing aids are free) and some mothers give up full-time work to devote more time to their deaf child. The paucity of information and support for families has to b e seen as a crying shame in view of Chinese parents' fervent desire to do their best for their deaf children.

The author expresses her personal regret at the current lack of respect for sign language in China so that parents do not explore what she believes would be a helpful communication option.

So, is it all despair? Alison Callaway reports many government initiatives designed to offer improved educational services to children with disabilities. Chinese experts are aware of interventions such as good audiological management and cochlear implants, but awareness alone is not enough. Nonetheless, services for deaf children in the cities are likely to improve in time and likewise in rural areas with the development of community-based rehabilitation programmes. She proposes collaboration with the west as a helpful step, and this book offers inspiration as well as essential information for any prospective collaborator.

This review cannot do justice to the richness of information and ideas in this book and you do not need to be going to China to learn from it. The book stimulates reflection about our own approaches to families with young deaf children. And there is particular relevance to current cultural issues associated with supporting our ethnic minority families. An excellent book.

-- Wendy Lynas, Senior Lecturer, Education of the Deaf, University of Manchester

Alison Callaway, a medical doctor with a family practice in Oxford, completed her doctorate at the Centre for Deaf Studies, University of Bristol, England.

ISBN 978-1-56368-339-8, 6 x 9 paperback, 336 pages, notes, references, index

$69.95s

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