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Raising a Child Who Is Deaf or Hard of Hearing

Learning sign language
Photo by daveynin (Flickr)

Finding out that your child is deaf can be an earth-shattering experience, especially if it is unexpected. There can be a sense of loss, usually combined with anxiety, anger, or even confusion, for most who have experienced this. The first question is usually something along the lines of, “What do I do now?” or “What do I do for my child?” Hopefully, this post can help answer some of the questions you might be asking yourself about raising and educating a deaf child.

When raising a deaf child, the first and most important thing to remember is that they are still your child! It may seem painfully obvious, but sometimes, we can push our children away because of their difference. If anything, your child is going to need more of your time, patience, and love than a hearing child normally does. Although not common, child deafness touches approximately nine out of every 1,000 homes, so you are not alone. Studies have shown that approximately 90% of those who have some or total hearing loss have parents that are hearing and have no experience in how to raise a deaf child.

It is good to keep in mind that child hearing loss is frustrating for both the children and the parents. One of the smartest things that a parent can do is to find their local deaf community and plug themselves in. They tend to be fairly tight knit groups but are quick to welcome those seeking knowledge and understanding about deafness and the culture of deafness.

In some cases, child hearing loss is caused by an accident, sickness, or other unexpected life event, usually when the child is just out of the infant stage. But no matter the cause, having to learn how to work with child deafness as a parent can be a confusing and stressful process. There are many guides out there that can walk you through the process and help you learn what to expect, but they are not all of the same quality. In my research for this post, I stumbled across a wonderful guide written by someone who is deaf themselves. In an academic paper, she recounts her experience growing up deaf and what it was like to straddle “two worlds.” According to her, one of the most important things a parent can do when learning how to raise a deaf child is to gain as much knowledge as possible, thus providing more options to help them learn to deal with child deafness in their family.

A parent must understand that raising and educating a deaf child go hand in hand from the first day the disability is recognized. Although this may be the case for every child as they are brought up, it is especially important for raising a deaf child. Because of their disability, deaf children do not have the opportunity to learn from their environment like hearing children do. They aren’t able to hear the TV or radio in the background, missing out on learning their language or even social graces by osmosis. Due to this inability to absorb as much knowledge from their environment, a parent must be more deliberate in all that they do with the child, especially in the things they want the child to learn, such as how to communicate with others.

There are three traditions out there when it comes to how to teach someone who is deaf how to communicate: the oral tradition, the bilingual/bicultural approach, and the total communication approach. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, and only those who have tried them know which approach would be the best for them and their child. I strongly recommend that anyone who is looking to learn more about these various approaches find someone who has experience with them and get a firsthand account of each.

Above all, never give up hope! You and your child are about to start on an amazing journey together. It will have its ups and downs, no doubt, but I have never met people with bigger hearts then those in the deaf community I had the privilege to be part of when learning ASL.

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