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THE TASK AT HAND
Giving advice on child-rearing is easy, and there is no shortage of experts. Advice is usually based, however, upon several wrong assumptions; that these techniques can be taught, and that teaching the techniques to parents will be beneficial to their children. When you have and raise a deaf child, your sense of parental competence can be impaired by conflicting or insensitive advice.
It seems appropriate that hearing parents should get the same enjoyment from their deaf child as deaf parents do: through acceptance, easy communication, and a balance that satisfies everyone’s needs. Deafness is an issue that must be dealt with regardless of what part of the world you reside in. For example Australia handles a charity that supports young deaf and hard of hearing people in Australia.
IMPACT OF DEAFNESS ON THE FAMILY
Effects on the Parents
A child with special needs, such as hearing impairment, poses challenges to any family’s integrity. It is usually the mother, however, who is most heavily burdened.
The mother is usually the parent who visits the experts, who works hard with the child, and who undergoes the most changes in feeling and understanding.
Other experts has stated that most “parent education” is really “mother education.” If the father works during the day, it is more difficult for him to participate in activities that take place during working hours.
He is less likely to visit professionals or clinics with his child. Gradually the mother becomes relatively better informed. An imbalance in family roles can result. Some of the recommendations many professionals make can place parents in uncomfortable or unwelcome positions.
For example, by “instructing” them we may remind them of unpleasant school experiences. By pointing out potential problem areas, we may increase some parents’ worries. Finding out how to do everything to the recommended extent and yet to balance everyone’s needs, including your own, is a great challenge!
There are no simple formulas: “Raising children was, is, and always will be a mission of love….Basically, what is indispensable to your children is learning to live in harmony with themselves and others.
Short of teaching your child sign language, you must always exhibit some type of good communication with the child.
If the parents had marriage problems before their child arrived, the deaf child’s presence may aggravate these problems. Overall, however, separation and divorce are not more common among parents of deaf children.
Researchers ran relationship studies regarding them and their deaf child. In both of these studies, parents were asked how the presence of the deaf child had affected their marriages.
The replies were about equally divided between good and bad effects. (It should be noted that separation and divorce are only crude measures of the impact of a deaf child on a marriage.)
In raising a deaf child, financial burdens may also be increased. In some countries medical care, hearing aids and batteries can require a considerable sum of money. The family may have to move to be closer to a special school or other services, and may have to pay for certain special programs.
Effects on Siblings
Brothers and sisters (siblings) may also be affected by your child’s deafness. If too much attention is paid to the deaf child, normal rivalry and jealousy may be intensified. There are several ways in which problems may arise.
Hostility may be shown directly; this is common in young children. Frequent battles may occur.
A more indirect expression of the need for attention is for the hearing child to wish to be deaf too. It may be helpful to periodically assess whether your hearing children are receiving enough attention and encouragement.
Resentment can occur and is best handled by seeking it’s source. If your hearing children are encouraged to reveal their feelings freely. it will be easier to discover whether a problem exists.
(Much the same recommendation could be given for treating deaf children, too.) A still more indirect manifestation of attention seeking is excessive devotion to the parents’ cause (deafness), so that the hearing sibling becomes a kind of substitute parent.
The hearing child may feel that the only way to gain acceptance is to enter the field of deafness later as a professional that study hearing loss symptoms in children.
How is it possible to tell whether a hearing child’s interest in deafness is excessive? One indication is the suppression of all normal hostility and rivalry.
Another sign is when the hearing child’s interest are deliberately and repeatedly sacrificed. There’s nothing wrong with sacrifice, but no ordinary deaf child benefits from being treated as if he were helpless or unable to tolerate any frustration.
At the start, young brothers or sisters may not realize what is expected of them and may overdo for their deaf sibling, just as relatives may. It is really a question of whether the deaf child is truly made a member of the family. If a normal family relationship exists, then no one will be expected to be perfect or to always give up things in favor of anyone else.
Effects on Relatives
Relatives may be an important source of support for parents, and they may also supply emotional warmth and wisdom to deaf children. However, relatives may also be a serious problem.
Grandparents are often in a dilemma: although they feel sympathy for their own children ( the deaf child’s parents) and for their grandchild, they have little opportunity to participate in the experiences that gradually lead to parental acceptance of deafness.
They usually have no (or outmoded) knowledge of deafness and their responsibility for their deaf grandchild may be limited to baby-sitting. It is not surprising that many grandparents remain at the level of denying deafness or searching for miraculous cures.
It is then difficult for the child’s parents (who are still children to their own parents) simultaneously to maintain good relationships with their child, with each other, with the experts, and with the grandparents. (Similar situations may obtain for other relatives.)
Studies have shown that it is wise for professionals to inquire about the importance of relatives to each family. What are relatives’ attitudes toward deafness and toward the management methods advised? Have their relationships with the parents changed for better or for worse?
It often seems worthwhile to involve important relatives in some contacts with professionals, providing that this is desired by all concerned. It is unfortunate that efforts of this kind are so rarely made.
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