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 (http://www.comeunity.com/adoption/health/adoption-orphanage-development.html).
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.
However, 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?
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