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

Thank you for your response! D. has become extremely adept at reading “body language” as we call it, in fact she’s an expert. She is a very socially atuned person and we have worked on these non verbal cues for years in many ways. Her own body language is open, welcoming and expressive, and she has an alert, smiling face and responds to nearly everyone with delight. I’ve been lucky enough to observe her at school over the last few years on a regular basis, as I have worked as a special needs teacher aide at school in a variety of classrooms, including hers on occasion. I have been privileged enough to be able to observe her without her knowledge and I genuinely feel that she is not transmitting any signals that are in any way off putting to peers. I’ve checked that out with teachers and they feel the same way.

My suspicions are this – D. has a lovely, friendly nature and adores playing with others. It seems to me that as the years are progressing, the level of cattiness with girls is increasing, and that there seems to be a dislike of anyone that doesn’t fit the “norm” image. D. also misses out on whispers, muttered jokes and asides, and if a comment is flung out in The playground for example “let’s go to the slides,” and the children run off – they look back and see she hasn’t followed, they think she doesn’t want to – she looks and sees them all take off without her and thinks they don’t want her. I’ve observed this and while the teachers and I make all efforts to explain to the children that D. doesn’t hear them, it makes little difference to children in the end. Basically it seems that when she approaches groups of different children and asks to join in their play, they say NO. I’ve observed what happens when other hearing children do the same thing, and the answer seems to be predominantly YES.

I have definitely worked hard at encouraging all out of school socialisation and she is a good netball player and a valued member of the team. She does gymnastics with another group, and I have had many playdates and so on, but children/parents seem not to return them. D. And I have both done little educational sessions on sign language, hearing aids, that sort of thing in the classroom as well, to see if we can encourage more acceptance and interest.

At present, D. is going to sessions with the school psychologist, and I in fact have gone to my own psychologist to discuss my distress, as I don’t want to project it on to D. Both of them have asked me to work on the “being happy alone” theme which I’m doing without making it terribly obvious. I often talk about how wonderful it is for me to have a book wherever I am, so that if I’m bored, lonely or just simply want to be alone, I can disappear into my lovely book and those feelings dissipate.

We have deaf friends that we have playdates with – deaf children with profoundly deaf parents who only sign, and oral deaf friends and we intersperse these into our lives so that she has access to all of her worlds, because after reading many books on deafness, it seems that often parents try and force their children to go only down one track – either sign, or oral, and not let them have everything. I have a strong belief that if D. is familiar and comfortable with the Deaf world, as much as the hearing world, then there will be periods in her life where she will naturally gravitate to one or the other for reasons at the time.

I feel as if I am facing a horrible fact now, that it IS hard for Deaf children to function well in mainstream friendship groups, and that they are, despite having excellent speech, vocabulary etc., excluded. I simply can’t think of what else to do, but I hate seeing the change in her bubbly, happy personality, and watching the incredibly expressive sadness in her body language when she talks about spending playtime and lunchtimes alone, day after day.

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

Tracey, it sounds as if you are doing all the right things.  But, here is one more suggestion: Perhaps once a week or so, for lunch and/or during play time, D. could have an “arranged” group to meet with peers that she selects. Maybe the school psychologist can help with that.   More to come. Stay tuned…