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Deaf Parenting: The desire for Deaf children:


By Belinda G. Vicars, MFA
3/21/2013


 

Deaf Parenting: The Desire for Deaf Children
 

A student writes:

"I was also studying the Deaf Culture and found it interesting that Deaf couples hope for Deaf children and are disappointed if not. I was hoping you could shed some light on this. What is the reasoning behind this idea?"

That is a good question.

 It is important to understand that while this sentiment is common, it cannot be ascribed to everyone in the Deaf community.

There is a wide range of Hearing capacities – some are hard of Hearing and middle range and some are profoundly Deaf. But overall, this sentiment is related to a much deeper issue, and thus requires a longer explanation.

First, let’s get some facts out of the way. Not every Deaf person was born Deaf.

You can divide individuals with Hearing loss into two categories:  people with Hearing loss that is congenital (with you at birth) and those that acquired Hearing loss after they were born. About half of congenital deafness is due to genetics.

If a couple each have a recessive gene that causes deafness (or if one of them carries a dominant gene that causes deafness) and they have a baby, well there you go, a Deaf baby.   The other half of congenitally deaf baby births are due to issues often related to the mother’s health: diabetes, toxemia, German measles, et cetera. Certain medication can permeate the womb and cause deafness.

Acquired Hearing loss, on the other hand, caused by child illnesses such as ear infections, meningitis, measles, chicken pox, influenza, and not to mention, head injuries and loud noises. Less than 5% of the Deaf population is born to Deaf parents.

The rest grow up in Hearing families, and of those Hearing families, less than 25% use sign language in the home. In such cases, many Deaf children grow up feeling disconnected from their parents and siblings. We grew up feeling isolated and alone.

Most parents find learning a new language daunting. Some follow outdated advice from professionals. In my case, my mother’s doctor advised her to not sign with me as that would (supposedly) stunt my speech development. I grew up pretty clueless about what was going in on my family. I am not, at all, close to either of my siblings.
 

But overall, I didn’t have bad childhood. I was close to my mom because, for the most part it was just the two of us. She was a single mom and I was the youngest child of three. By the time I was 9, my siblings had move out. Usually I could read her lips. Other times, I simply pretended I understood.

 

In my twenties, I had a roommate who was born Deaf and grew up oral, and then later in high school, learned sign language. Her parents and 7 younger siblings never learned sign. Not one bit. They used gestures, some mime, a lot of yelling (which, by the way, the way, did not help because she was stone Deaf – and yelling distorts the lips, making them impossible to read). She had a limited vocabulary and was extremely frustrated. Forming a sentence was difficult.
 

 Growing up, she served as the house maid – doing the dishes and taking care of the younger siblings, but no effort to actually communicate with her ever took place. And during our roommate years, when her parents wanted something, they’d ask me to ask her. Sad, huh? Now, that is common.


So, in a nutshell, that is the main reason why we’d rather have Deaf children. To give it even more perspective, when each and every one of my children were born (I have 4), I was thrilled that they were healthy and was totally fine with the fact that they were Hearing. With my Hearing aid, I can—for the most part—communicate with the Hearing world on a one-on-one basis. Without my Hearing aid, and I don’t wear it often, I am functionally Deaf.

 

I signed and voiced to my children while they were growing up. All of them understand well. I signed and voiced to them, and they spoke to me. In hindsight, that was a mistake on my part. Seriously. I spoke, initially, because I wanted to give them a choice as to whether to live in the Deaf or Hearing world, and I also wanted to make sure that their speech developed appropriately for their age (not that my speech is all that great). When they were young, they were fluent signers (for their age), but as they got older and more influenced by peers, they signed less and less. Now they can’t sign their way out of a paper bag. Well, maybe not that bad. They understand me, but I can’t understand them very well, especially when everybody is here for a family gathering.

 


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