The Impact of Deafness on the Family
The diagnosis of hearing hearting loss is often a shock and brings with it a need to know why and how such a thing could have happened. Often it is difficult to determine the cause of a child’s hearing loss. There may be several factors that contribute to the hearing loss. Questions parents may have, include: Why did this happen? Will my child be normal? What caused it? What will my child be like when he or she grows up? Why do I feel responsible? How will my deaf child and I communicate with each other? How well will my child be able to speak? What impact will hearing loss have on my family relationship? What do I do when other people treat my child differently? How can I get other family members involved? How can I help hearing siblings adjust to a deaf or hard of hearing brother or sister? Parents with a child who has a hearing loss have many anxieties, concerns, and questions that are normal for concerned parents of any child.
A range of emotions and reactions – grief, guilt, anger, are common. Many parents find that these emotions return at each new stage of their child’s development, so that adjusting to deafness is a continuing process. Other parents may accept deafness at one point at one point in life, only to find another area where acceptance has not yet been achieved.
Communication is Vital
It is not uncommon for parents to believe that serious hearing loss will destroy all chances of a normal, healthy family. This need not be the case. Your family unit can be happy and vigorous as any other.
Communication is vital. Thus early communication between parent and child is imperative. Parents should explore communication modes used by deaf and hard of hearing people and start communication with their child as soon as possible. The ability to communicate clearly with their child is the most important task parents will face and will have the greatest impact on developing an integrated family unit.
Parent of deaf children frequently must deal with the negative reactions of others. Relatives as well as strangers often react as if the child were incapable of doing anything independently. It is normal for parents to feel angry and hurt when this happens.
You can develop strategies for coping with other people’s responses:
- You can confront people’s ignorance by discussing deafness and ways to communicate with your child.
- You can explain that pity is needless and only hurts the child.
- You can provide a positive, loving model for how to behave toward your child.
- In situations where you are frustrated, tired, or out in public, you can choose not to explain at all.
- Other parents who have coped with similar experiences have valuable insights to share about coping with these difficult situations.
Each family member will react differently to the diagnosis of hearing loss. Some members will learn to cope with the loss more easily than others. Problems existing in the family before the diagnosis may be magnified due to the additional stress association with a child who has a disability in the family.
An Added Burden
Often, the responsibility for involving family members frequently falls on one parent – usually the mother. This is an added burden for the mother, who must allow each family member to adjust to the situation at his or her own pace. She cannot force family members to learn communication strategies until they are ready to do so.
Hearing brothers and sisters need as much information’s as adult family members do. They feel the stress in the family and may be expected to participate in activities that they might not understand or they would rather avoid. Whether younger or older, hearing siblings often feel jealous and resentful of the attention the deaf sibling receives. They may also feel embarrassed when they are playing with friends.
Parents need to strive to treat hearing and deaf siblings as normally as possible and not force the hearing children to participate in every activity related to the non-hearing child.
By treating each child in your family as unique and special parent-time to each, you avoid singling out the deaf child as more important. This enhances positive self-concept in all siblings, reduces feelings of resentment, and encourages total family involvement. You can also encourage all siblings to help each other in certain situations. In this way the deaf child becomes both a receiver of help and a giver of help.
Adapted from ‘Growing Together’ Information for Parents of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children and submitted by the Jamaica Association for the Deaf (JAD).