12 / 1994
In Sweden,the first persons you meet with your worries will often be the child welfare clinic. Even there, you meet persons who do not know much of deafness. This uncertaintly and the feelings you have have a bad impact on the emotional climate of the family. I think the diagnosis should be made as early as possible. The sooner you get through this phase the sooner you can be positive partner to your deaf child. In this phase you have to work throught several problems.
On the same time that you have to accept the diagnosis, you also have to deal with the consequences. These questions rise a lot of discussions in many families : oral or sign way?
For the family life both ways have implications not at least on the siblings and the communication between the parents. There is also a problem of dividing your time between the hearing and the deaf children. Please do look at the whole family, not just at the deaf!
Then comes the time when the family has to consider the appropriate school for the child. Parents of deaf children very often have no choice. If you cannot communicate with your deaf child, the child might not understand why he is sent away to a boarding school.
You have also to think about the balance between hearing and deaf children during these periods. In so many societies a handicap is still a stigma that means you have sinned in one way or another. Especially older generations might react according to this, that might mean that the family with a deaf child is separated from the network of relatives. Also the hearing siblings might not have the normal relations with the older generations and also with the friends of the family.
Another consequence is that the family tends to change its habits, they might stop listen to the radio because the deaf child cannot take part and many other things.
When you have a grown up deaf child what about that? Some parents loose their contact with the deaf children, some not. You as a parent might also have engaged yourself so much in your child and renounced so much in your own life that it is very difficult to separate from him.
Most deaf persons marry a deaf person. Once again you have to think about your attitudes towards deafness. The same happens when they get children usually hearing. They will need also an oral input. How much should you do?
I have talked about many difficult situations and about depression and guilt feelings but forgotten the anger you might have had. I have also not talked about how you deal with these feelings. I have stressed some of the early implications of having a deaf child in the family because I think they are of importance in dealing with deaf persons.
This paper shows us some implications of having a deaf child in a hearing family and recall the necessity to consider the family as a whole.
GESTES Groupe d’Etude Spécialisé "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 speech of Britta HEGETHORN, MD, psychiatric department, 1 M56, 14186 Huddinge, Sjukhus, Huddinge, SWEDEN. Phone 00 46 08 188 63 95
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HEGETHORN, Britta, GESTES
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