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Sunday, July 13, 2014

So You Want to Adopt a Deaf Child? Part 5 of...

"Why Is The Deaf Child So Far Behind The Hearing Child?" 

               This is the 5th blog post in the series "So You Want to Adopt a Deaf Child?"

The purpose of this series is to raise awareness and help educate all those involved in the process of the adoption of a deaf child; this includes their prospective parents and those representing the deaf children for adoption here in the US and in the deaf child's birth country.  Adoption is a life-long journey, it is not just the process of bringing your son or daughter home.  Parents must be fully informed of the many ways adopting a deaf child will impact their lives, prior to bringing them home. This will help to ensure parents are well equipped and the necessary resources are available and in place for allowing the deaf child the greatest possibility to thrive and reach their greatest potential.  

The Uniqueness of Deafness blog post should be read before the following:

Part 1 - A General Overview of the Deaf Child

Part 2 - Learning ASL (American Sign Language)

Part 3 - The New "Member" of Your Family...the ASL Interpreter!

Part 4 - Myth: Your Home Will Be Quieter with a Deaf Child!

This post: "Why Is The Deaf Child So Far Behind the Hearing Child?"

If you have not already been told, or discovered it through your own research, most likely 100% of the children available for adoption, today, have experienced trauma either during pregnancy, during birth, and/or during their early months and years of life.  This alone is cause enough for them to be behind in their social and emotional development compared to their peers, born into loving families ( 

In fact, Arthur Becker-Weidman's study of 57 children who had experienced early maltreatment (trauma) revealed the developmental average age for this group was 4 years 4 months, but the average chronological age was 9 years 9 months.  That's right, their developmental age was half their chronological age.  The above study does not not take into consideration the deaf child.

Let's turn our attention to the biologically born deaf child. 

95+% of children who experience deafness to some degree have hearing parents.  That means that less than 5% of deaf children are raised by Deaf parents.  Read it again and let it sink in.  Remember, when I use "d" I am referring to the population who has some form of hearing loss and when I use "D" I am referring to the population that identifies themselves within the Deaf Culture.  When I use both "d/D" I am referring to all those with hearing loss and those embracing the Deaf Community as their culture.  A separate blog post, in this series, will be devoted to the Deaf Culture. 

Deaf parents begin communicating with their babies (remember the vast majority of their babies, greater than 95%, are hearing) from the time they are born, the same as biological hearing parents do with their babies.  The only difference...their mode of communication. Deaf parents use American Sign Language (ASL) and hearing parents use spoken English.  Yes, both use a variety of other body language and facial expressions to also communicate with their babies, too. By the way, I am not aware of any hearing adult children with Deaf parents who are are not skilled English speakers.

If you are not already aware teaching hearing babies sign language has become a common occurrence for many hearing families these days.  This tends to be very basic and usually only consists of teaching one sign for one word and ends around the time the child's spoken vocabulary takes off at age two or three.  Research proves babies can learn to sign/gesture to express their needs much sooner than they can verbalize or speak their requests.  This reduces their frustrations, "giving them voice", and stimulates brain function and development at a very early age. Having a voice or being able to communicate wants and needs by signing reduces frustrations for the hearing baby (and of course this is true for the deaf baby, as well) which means less crying and less temper tantrums providing improved communication with those who care for them.  Research also sites babies given the ability to communicate through sign early can increase their IQ by as much as 12 points.  So babies born to Deaf parents, hearing or deaf, are reaping the many benefits of, manual/visual (on the hands) communication from birth, via American Sign Language (ASL).

Now, let's turn our attention to the deaf child waiting to be adopted.

It is possible the older deaf children (ages 7 or 8 and beyond), available for adoption, will have had the opportunity to learn their native sign language in their own country (ASL is not universal) prior to their coming home. Rarely before this age are they exposed to sign.  And for those deaf children who have been exposed to their native sign language for any amount of time, they should be placed in families that are already sign language fluent. 

it is also very possible the 10 year old and older deaf child, available for adoption, will have never been exposed to sign language of any kind prior to their adoption.  That's right, no language (not even written) at the age of 10 and sometimes older for some. Of course, deaf children, who have been deprived of the ability to learn to communicate with anyone in their world will have the most trauma to overcome.  These deaf children should be placed in homes that are highly trained and equipped and sign-language fluent giving the deaf child the greatest opportunity to begin to bond as soon as mom and dad (and siblings) can begin to teach them sign language in the natural setting of "home".  If there is no mode of communication for the deaf child and parents are not already sign language fluent the ability to begin the process of bonding will be delayed even longer causing additional trauma.  

I want to share a video clip with you of the Barnes Family adoption from 2012.  Larry and Dawn Barnes are Deaf and this video shows their very first meeting with their 8 year old adopted Chinese Deaf son, Tie. This was in April 2012 and Tie had started attending the deaf school in China in September of 2011.  Just for the record, not all Chinese deaf schools teach their students sign language, many of them are oral or speaking only schools.  This was the first time Tie was given the opportunity of learning Chinese Sign Language (CSL), at the age of seven.  After the first day, I asked Larry what he thought about Tie's level of CSL.  He told me Tie was CSL fluent.  Keep in mind that was after only seven months of exposure to sign language at the age of seven years.  It is evident Tie was READY for learning his natural language of sign and did so in the sign language rich environment at his Chinese deaf school.  

In the video, notice how quickly Larry and Dawn can bridge the communication gap with Tie, in this very first meeting, even though CSL and ASL are vastly different.  There were three other hearing families in the same room meeting their hearing Chinese children.  Each had their own Chinese translator to facilitate communication.  The Barnes had no need for that.  Gestures play a huge role in communication when bridging the gap between two sign languages and they can also benefit hearing families in the beginning, as well. A phrase you will want to tell your self often, "Show, don't tell!" The pictures Larry and Dawn are showing Tie are of his brothers and sisters back home.  After showing him their pictures and their name signs (this will be covered in the blog post on Deaf Culture), only once, Tie could copy their ASL sign names correctly, even though he has never seen ASL signs before.

Hopefully, this video will help to educate those placing older deaf children who have been exposed to their own native sign language prior to adoption the need for placing them in ASL-fluent families or families who are well on their way to fluency.  Read Part 2 in this series to see how long it can take for someone to become "fluent" in another language, their second language, including American Sign Language.  

For some reason it is rare for hearing parents to learn to sign with their deaf biological children.  In fact, less than 10% of hearing parents learn to sign with their deaf children in the US, still today.  This statistic comes from the deaf schools where hearing parents send their children once they have realized their deaf child will be using sign language as their natural mode of communication and accepting the Deaf Culture as their own.  Through the years I have been told over and over again, by the hearing parents of their now adult Deaf children, "I so wish I could sign with my son/daughter.  I have missed so much not being able to communicate with them better."  Makes one wonder how their Deaf son or daughter has felt all their lives, doesn't it?

Ideally, embracing both worlds and becoming bilingual in both English and ASL and bicultural, the hearing and the Deaf culture, will grant the deaf child and their hearing family members the greatest benefits of both.

The video below shows how hearing parents of deaf children can learn to communicate freely in ASL and provide that rich environment for their deaf children to thrive.

How does the lack of communication relate to the much delayed cognitive, social and emotional development of the deaf child born to and raised by hearing parents who do not use sign language? 

Language acquisition is vital to communication which is vital for the brain to function and develop normally and research shows there is an optimum time for the baby brain to naturally learn language.  These delays for the deaf child delay not only their cognitive development, but also behavioral,  and social and emotional development for them, as well. 

All of the above information is relating to deaf children in loving biological families, born here in the US. Now, try to grasp the fact the deaf son or daughter you are contemplating adopting has been institutionalized and deprived of language, (among many other traumatic things) more than likely, from birth.  

Again, the purpose of this blog post is not to educate parents (adoptive or biological) on how to improve their deaf child's social and emotional development, but it is to make adoptive parents and those who represent deaf children for adoption aware of some of the additional challenges families will face when they adopt the deaf child.  These delays will be long term challenges and will often be frustrating for moms and dads, siblings, extended family members, educators, medical personnel, and everyone who interacts with the deaf child. 

Below are several resources to help increase your knowledge of the needs of the deaf child:

How Deaf Children Learn:  What Parents and Teachers Need to Know

Language Acquisition for Deaf Children:  Reducing the Harms of Zero Tolerance to the Use of Alternative Approaches

Social, Behavioral, and Emotional Issues related to Deaf/Hard of Hearing Student -- Part 1

Social, Behavioral, and Emotional Issues Related to Deaf/Hard of Hearing Student - Part 2

Saturday, July 5, 2014

So You Want to Adopt a Deaf Child? Part 4 of...

Deaf Children Are Anything But Quiet!  

If you assume your home will be quiet and peaceful because you adopt a deaf son or daughter, you are mistaken!

Even though your deaf son or daughter may experience hearing loss, he/she will still probably have perfectly functioning vocal chords.  Do not mistakenly think having a deaf child in your home will ensure it to be a peaceful and quiet environment for you to enjoy.  On the contrary, in fact, the noise level caused by a deaf child could possibly elevate beyond anything your hearing child(ren) could produce and could be labeled "Dangerous Decibels" by OSHA.  This is not a joke!

Hearing parents of deaf children often share about their deaf children's yelling/screaming and how loud they are, much louder than their hearing siblings.  Hearing children can hear themselves and tend to regulate, somewhat, what comes out of their mouths, however deaf children cannot hear the sounds they make, fully, nor have any idea of their intensity on a hearing person. 

In institutions and orphanages often the only way a deaf child gains any attention is by making some kind of annoying sound to alert their hearing caregivers of some need or want they have.  That sound is rarely soft and easy on the ears.  This is one time the deaf child is fully aware of the noise they are making.  Much different from an infant who gives up crying when no one responds the older deaf child learns their crying out can manipulate others who are hearing to satisfy their wishes and gain them attention, even if it results in negative attention and/or discipline.  

Many hearing parents talk of the ear pain they experience when their deaf child cries, especially while being held, and wonder if it is acceptable to wear ear plugs.  The cries of some Deaf adults are so extremely loud and some of the most intense expression of emotion I have ever heard. Not something I will soon forget. These "natural" uninhibited expressions reveal deep emotions that hearing people rarely expose.

If we think of all the many sounds our bodies produce, naturally, we will gain a better understanding of all the sounds deaf children are oblivious to and what parents will be responsible to teach their deaf children about.  Keep in mind these children are older and larger when adopted meaning the sounds of their bodily functions will tend to be louder, as well.  Be aware since these are sounds the children never hear it will take much longer to help them learn to curtail the noises without constant reminders.  And they will often use them to manipulate getting what they want and/or maintaining control in a given situation especially in public places. Public places, where hearing parent's and sibling's embarrassment is greater, are some of the most common times deaf children's noises annoy family members the most.  

Chomping and smacking gum can be very annoying!
In addition, deaf children and some Deaf adults make sounds while working, playing, signing, eating and are never aware of them, unless a hearing parent or child or friend tells them.  These sounds can be grunting noises, clicks with their tongues while signing, popping knuckles, and so on.  Sounds made by clicking pens, tapping fingers on a table, stomping a foot--Deaf people feel the vibrations from this, but do not hear the sound--and the like are other actions hearing parents of deaf children sight as annoying.  Slamming doors and drawers (unintentionally, maybe, until a hearing parent brings attention to it), walking heavily or climbing stairs without carpet and even breathing heavily are other bothersome noises hearing parents mention on a regular basis.

Some believe it is inappropriate to alert Deaf people to the sounds they are making without knowing, especially if they do not ask.  The fact remains, dDeaf children and adults will always have hearing people (parents, children, classmates, friends, bosses, co-workers, spouses) they do life with on a daily basis.  Minimizing sounds that tend to bring negative attention from hearing people can only benefit the dDeaf as they learn to navigate well the hearing world they must live in. 

Check out Parts 1 - 3 of "So You Want to Adopt a Deaf Child?" on the SFH blog in May 2014.