Deaf Studies Corner14th April 2014

The Forgotten Children

Children of Deaf Parents are often the forgotten group when it comes to accessing the support their parents cannot provide.

by Sarah Lawrence

Reflecting on numerous conversations and my own experiences, I have recently been pondering the support that is available to young deaf children. In turn, this got me thinking about another group that I think are often overlooked. Generally, hearing parents are able to get help, support and advice from neighbours and other parents easily, but this is not the case for most Deaf parents who can often struggle to communicate with relatives and other parents due to a lack of BSL skills.

Over the years, there has been regular support for Deaf and Hard of Hearing (HoH) children. They usually have access to additional support in schools and have the ability to meet up at events like those typically held by the National Deaf Children's Society (NDCS). In addition, in school, Deaf children often have access to additional classes at their Partial Hearing Unit (PHU) if they need some extra support with their basic skills.

There is also some help available for Deaf adults with deaf/HoH children. But what about those children who aren’t Deaf but do have Deaf parents? Children of Deaf Adults, or CoDAs as they’re more commonly known in the Deaf Community. Surely, they have an easy life right? It seems that because they are hearing, it is assumed they have nothing to worry about. In some cases that may be true. but in many cases, nothing could be further from the truth. Based on my discussions, I am not so sure they do have the easy upbringing many people might assume.

The lack of empowerment of Deaf people over the last few decades has really let them down. It has resulted in many Deaf children growing up to be adults without full independence. It is not uncommon for those adults to still depend on family or friends to make phone calls or sort out paperwork for them, to accompany them to the doctors or to manage their money for them. It is often the case that grandparents become heavily involved in the upbringing of the children because of the power imbalances we accept as a society resulting in an attitude of ‘they are hearing, so they must know best!’

Many Deaf parents don’t attend the school parent's evenings for their own children, a hearing Grandparent might attend in their place and then give the parent(s) a summary afterwards. Personally, I feel it is vital that I attend the school myself to find out how my children are doing – I insist on having a BSL/English Interpreter present and regular updates from the school by email. In this respect, I have been very lucky - the school have been brilliant, they have done everything they can to help, but sometimes I just feel that there must be some extra support for children of deaf parents.

Young children and teenagers of Deaf parents are growing up in a home environment that’s different from the majority of other children. Due to the poor standard of Education for Deaf people in the UK, many Deaf parents struggle to help their children with their homework. They may cope through primary school, but once the children start secondary school they are often unable to ask their parents for help with homework because they have had such a poor education themselves. We know there is substantial support in place to assist young deaf people – but there is no structure to offer CoDAs any additional support.

In a world full of pressures to achieve, CoDAs are often relied upon for impromptu interpreting when their Deaf parent(s) need to communicate with those in ‘the hearing world.’ A little phone call here and there, an explanation of a letter that’s arrived, an interpreted chat with the man at the door. Over many years this can lead to children feeling resentful of their parents because they have effectively become unpaid staff, let alone the issues it presents regarding privacy.

Over the last few weeks I decided to risk bringing up discussions around rebellious teenagers with other Deaf parents and was surprised to find that so many said there had been difficulties with their own children. I’m now convinced that along the way, something is going wrong for these young people and they are not getting the support that they really need. I feel they should be offered an opportunity to meet up and network with other young people in the same situation, in the same way deaf children might at an NDCS event. By meeting other youngsters they would know they are not alone, and they could learn from each other appropriate ways to find the support they need or to explain to parents how they are feeling. Perhaps counselling or mediation sessions could be arranged to discuss with children and their parents what are the appropriate behaviours to expect from each other.

These are just some options that may or may not work. There are potentially several solutions, but I hope that other people out there are also looking into this, people who do have the ability to offer support to these young people. While individually they might be ‘normal’ hearing children, their situation can be difficult and as a society we need to ensure they are not forgotten and left to struggle alone.

An example of the sort of issue that needs to be resolved is the lack of funding for private tuition during school years, to support achievement during examinations? Deaf parents often do not have the same job opportunities and may not be able to afford the expense of getting some additional tuition for their children, to make up for the support they themselves cannot provide. This might create a cycle of failing, where CoDAs do not achieve what they are capable of and consequently miss out on some of the best opportunities.

Article by Sarah Lawrence

posted in Deaf Lifestyle / Deaf Studies Corner

14th April 2014