The thing that I say that makes me sound like a broken record is that the more involved the parents are in the process of habilitation after getting a new device or after a diagnosis of hearing loss, the better off the child is. If it is a baby and the parents are involved in the early intervention services that are done in their home or the early intervention center, it will be much more effective. If it is an adolescent who just got a cochlear implant and the parents are nicely involved, not overly involved, it will be much more effective when the parents can be involved in the child’s language skill acquisition.
Stacey Culver, M.S., Speech Language Clinician
There is not a “right way” for all families or children
The degree and kind of impact of the hearing loss differs immensely with each family. For families with other deaf members, there is naturally more often quick comfort and little stress around the diagnosis and decisions to be made. For families with no experience with hearing loss, there is obviously more initial stress. With time, some families find the hearing loss becomes a relatively minor part of the child’s life and does not define the child in any way. For some families, being deaf or hard of hearing is a significant part of personal identity. Some families will connect with other parents of children with a hearing loss, join clubs for children with similar needs, even change professions to connect with the field. For some parents of children with many complex medical or developmental needs, dealing with the hearing loss may seem easier because there are more active solutions, like obtaining hearing aids or a cochlear implant, than other issues the child faces. For some families, the hearing loss feels particularly stressful, perhaps because it resulted from other medical treatments, such as hearing loss secondary to chemotherapy for cancer. There is not a right way to manage a hearing loss in the family system and families are perceptive and resilient about finding the best route within their family.
Betsy Kammerer, Ph.D., Psychologist
Parents You are not Alone
I think the most important thing that parents have to remember is that they are not in this journey alone. There are certainly plenty of professionals that can give them professional information and professional guidance. There are lots of other people that can give them other information. As the kids get older, there are other hard of hearing kids to get together with socially, which may be important because so many times the kids are the only child around with hearing aids. There really is always somebody you can reach out to for guidance, for suggestions, for support, for whatever you really need. The incidence of hearing loss in children is very small, but there are lots of other kids and families out there with whom parents and families can connect.
Charlotte Mullen, M.A., Audiologist
Parents’ feelings are Universal
It doesn’t matter what country you come from, it doesn’t matter what language you speak there are some very common themes regarding what parents dream of for their children. Everybody wants the best for their children. Everybody wants their children to grow up to be healthy. Parents want their children to get a good education. They want their children to be able to have a good life and to have their own families some day, and keep the cycle rolling. The apprehensions so many parents feel when they find out that their child has a hearing loss, are also similar. Coming to believe in possibilities and appreciating their child’s strengths and capabilities leads to a fulfilling parent child relationship.
Terrell Clark, Ph.D., Pediatric Psychologist
It’s Like Adopting a Child from China…
Instead of viewing their deaf child as handicapped, why not view it as sort of an “I adopted a child from China.”? Like a family that may be African American that adopts a child from China, and they adopt the culture of that child so that the child doesn’t feel different in the family. That’s a very apt metaphor for the experience of raising a deaf child, because for that child who is raised in a family that may be different racially from them, different culturally than them, but a parent who’s willing to maybe take the time and expose the child and expose themselves to the culture that the child derives from the food, the customs, the places that the people from those various cultures call part of their normal, everyday life people who make those choices feel enriched by them, and that’s very much parallel to the experience of raising a deaf child as a hearing parent.
Norma Tourangeau, M.Ed. Former Sign Language Evaluator
Take advantage of the help available
I have had the privilege of working with deaf and hard of hearing children in several different countries. For example, I visited a school for deaf and hard of hearing children in Cambodia that had just opened 5 years before my visit. Prior to that time, deaf children in that country were not even allowed to go to school. I want parents to know that, relative to many places around the globe, the services available to children with a hearing loss in the U.S. are quite good. Even if you live in a rural area or an area with very few deaf children, help is available from national organizations, on line parent support groups, national deaf and hard of hearing chapters and informational clearing houses. You have not “signed up” for this role as a parent of a deaf child and it may, at times, feel overwhelming. So I encourage you to ask for and seek out help. Take advantage of the many resources available to you and your family.
Amy Szarkowski, Ph.D., Former Psychology Post Doctoral Fellow