By Belinda G. Vicars, MFA
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
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outdated advice from professionals.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
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.
You can learn American Sign Language (ASL) online at American Sign Language University ™
ASL resources by Lifeprint.com © Dr. William Vicars