12 / 1996
What we did not expect, however, was that deaf parents with hearing children would be in such need of help. More than one third of the families seen in our unit are families where one or both parents are deaf or profoundly hearing impaired. Obviously many of them have had problems for a long time but did not know where to go for support. The families present different kinds of problems and we’ll start with the less serious ones. Sometimes the main probleme seems to be lack of knowledge (in otherwise emotionally competent parents)on how to foster children : how to establish routines for eating, sleeping etc. and how to set norms and maintain authority as parents. Sometimes there is also a lack of knowledge about child development.
We hope that some of the problems in this group will be alleviated by a recently started project where deaf parents in our area can have parents education in sign language. Some others problems are related to divorce or to families in crisis. A divorce always means stress but we have found that a divorce often means additional problems if the adults are deaf.
Children are always stressed by divorce. The situation becomes even more stressfull when children of deaf parents notice their parents’s helplessness and far too often, they are forced to be interpreters in affairs they do not understand. e.g. when the parents call the gynecologist and the GP or goes to the lawyer’s office to discuss disease, legal matters or serious problems of any kind.
In these families, we try to relieve the children from the burden of being "parents" and we sometimes try to find a support family through the social support services whom the children can visit and where they can be allowed to be just a children.
A problem that’s seldom presented as the main one, but which is yet significant is home-school contact. Due to lack of interpreters deaf parents often cannot benefit from parents meeting and regular feed-back conferences with the teacher. They often have problems reading written messages as well and many parents feel very incompetent when it comes to helping their children with assignment. Some children manage to take on responsability for their own work and for the contact between home and school. Sometimes grandparents can be of great help but often relations with the older generation are strained.
We have seen some examples where the deaf adult has great difficulties to fulfill his or her role as a parent. It seems as if some of these deaf adults simply do not know how to lead a "normal" family life. Some of them have great difficulties to give necessary priority to the needs of their children. When working with families with deaf members, we hav been surprised by the lack of sign language competence both in hearing spouses and in hearing children. In those cases, parents and children have great difficulties finding an easy going communication.
This paper points up the difficulties of hearing children who have deaf parents and emphasises the necessity to be able to procure some help in these underrated cases. Till now, such cases did not appear because of the lack of services for deaf people. We may now suppose a great communicational desease variability in deaf and hearing mixed families.
GESTES Groupe d’Etude Specialisé "Thérapies et Surdités"organised in Paris the ESMHD European Society for Mental Health and Deafnessthird international congress, on december 1994. The publication of the proceedings will occur later on.
Written from the speeches of Lena EIDEVAL WALLIN, child psychiatrist, and Kerstin HEILING, PhD, psychologist, University Hospital, BUP.F Dôva/HÖrselsk, S 22186, Lund, SWEDEN. Tel 00 46 46 173 826
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EIDEVAL WALLIN, Lena; HEILING, Kestin, GESTES
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