Raising and Educating a Deaf Child

International experts answer your questions about the choices, controversies, and decisions faced by the parents and educators of deaf and hard-of-hearing children.

Question from Tracey C., New Zealand

I am a Kiwi mum of an amazing little girl now aged 8, who was born with a severe-profound sensorineural hearing loss. I taught D. to speak, as well as supplementing our lives with Sign Language, and anything else we could possibly use to help her communicate. After hearing about the John Tracy Clinic when she was 3, I fund-raised and managed to get our family over to the Summer International Session when D. was 4. She is now just starting her fourth year at school, and is a very intelligent little girl with a reading age of 13 years and comprehension of 12 years. She is a dear wee person with a genuinely nice nature, and a compassion and maturity beyond her years.

So, we’ve done a good job so far in some areas, BUT we are broken hearted parents because she has no friends. I have been trying for a long time to figure out why, and simply after eliminating everything I can think of, I can only assume it’s because she is Deaf. I desperately want to help her and I would do anything to achieve that. Can you please give me some advice? [Readers: This is an interesting and all-too common challenge faced by hearing parents of deaf children. For that reason, we are going to post the full series of exchanges related to this query.]

Question from Tracey C., New Zealand. Posted February 11, 2010.
Response from Jennifer Lukomski - Rochester Institute of Technology

First it would be important for the mom to talk to D. about the situation. Is she concerned herself about not having friends? What social relationships does she have. Is she able to Video Conference? Does she have technology access? Has mom observed her daughter at school interacting with her classmates? Is there anyone person D. can identify that she might want to be friends with? Can mom see about hooking her up with a one on one friend outside school activity? Does her daughter have any interests outside of school that would lend them to peer interactions, art club, photo club, soccer, tennis… Has mom talked to the teacher about the situation? Are their dyad projects in the classroom? Can the teacher identity suitable friends? Is D. bullied or left alone? Can she teach other students sign language, or about deafness? Does she have good nonverbal social language? Can she read other people’s nonverbal cues? Maybe her maturity level is higher than her classmates? Maybe her interests are different? Maybe mom can help D. find individuals with similar interests. Maybe having her paired with a peer coach that can who her in social situations. Also have her share her strengths by helping out with students who may not read at her level. Another suggestion is to consider deaf summer camp for her to meet other students like her. Another thing is for mom to nurture D.’s comfort with solitude. There is some preliminary qualitative research that suggests solitude may be a unique deaf ‘resilience factor,” meaning that that your daughter may be perfectly content with her solitude and finds it “safe.”