I have three kids. The joy of kids is watching them mature and develop. My three are all robust lads. All different, very intelligent and passionate about most things that they do. They love sport and are competitive to the extreme. They went through all the milestones learning to talk and walk, the terrible two’s, starting school, l learning to read, making friends learning to share and the like. On top of this they have deaf parents. They moved from the deaf world to the hearing world at will. They have met people from allover the world. They accept disability as just a way of life. They treat no-one differently. You know how kids are cruel? Well recently a friend from soccer, who is grossly obese and who is probably the butt of jokes at school, returned to Ballarat for a visit. The middle son found out on FB and told him to come along to watch their next match and catch up. He did so and one by one my three went up to their friend and greeted him warmly. Difference is nothing to them. They are mature beyond their years. That is not to say they are not kids, they are and they have their MOMENTS, but their exposure to the world has meant that they have grown up very quickly and my wife and I are extremely proud of them.
The point of the story, apart from demonstrating my pride in the lads, is that they have matured because they are exposed. I like to think we guide them. We don’t mollycoddle or protect them overly so. We answer their questions openly and honestly without, I hope, speaking down to them. We encourage independence through getting them to catch public transport or simply cooking their own Pizzas on Friday nights. We set them challenges, hell my youngest, at the tender age of 10, had read all the Harry Potter books. It is this exposure to life coupled with strong and flexible guidance that has, I believe, led to their maturity. But what of deaf kids?
Lets consider this passage that I have pinched from a website that discusses how we can help kids to mature:
“As part of being responsible, children need to respect and show concern for the well-being of other people. Respect ranges from using basic manners to having compassion for the suffering of others. Compassion is developed by trying to see things from the point of view of others, and learning that their feelings resemble our own.
Daddy, why was Grandma crying?
She is very sad. One of her closest friends just died. Come and sit with me. Do you remember how you felt when your gerbil, Whiskers, died?
I felt sad and lonely.
I’m sure Grandma feels that way, too. Maybe you can think of a way to help her.
I could give her a hug…
That’s a great idea! I’m really glad you thought of it.
Respect for others also includes the habit of treating people fairly as individuals, regardless of race, sex, or ethnic group. As we mature, respect includes realizing that not all our obligations to others, such as caring for a family member who is sick, are chosen freely. And it includes tolerance for people who do not share our beliefs or likes or dislikes, as long as they do not harm others.
These habits are especially important because many of the wrongs people commit result from indifference to the suffering they cause.”
OK, this seems simple enough doesn’t it? Kid at dinner table asks question to dad. Dad answers and they discuss the issue. Dad imparts his wisdom to the child and child learns some nice and mature behaviours that will assist them to mature into well rounded adults. Simple isn’t it?
But no it is not. It is far more complicated. Perhaps the above conversation occurred at the dinner table where all the family were having dinner. Perhaps mum was there. Mum listens in and contributes her wisdom too. Little brother Paul pipes in with a question, “Where do people go when they die?” The subject changes to death and different views as to what happens when people die. They go to heaven or hell. They have a funeral and are buried. “What’s a funeral?” Perhaps cremation comes up in the conversation and this is discussed too. Perhaps spirituality comes into the discussion too. Or cultures and how they respond to death. From this simple conversation about grandma being sad a host of topics and issues can be discussed. The result? Growth in knowledge, in the long term maturity and the ability to deal with and understand a myriad of situations. And all of this comes from OVERHEARING.
But how do deaf kids overhear? Now the oralist will tell you that to help them overhear we must enhance their listening skills. Now we deafies know, particularly the more deaf we are, that aids and cochlear implants and the like will only take us so far. We know that in groups when all are talking that we miss heaps of information. We know that when their is a lot of background noise we often struggle. So simple dinner time conversations are not something that are made accessible by amplified sound. There will be limits to how much information that deafies will receive in any given situation. The example given in the previous paragraph clearly shows that access to a simple dinner conversation can expand knowledge and, ultimately, maturity. How much of these conversations do deaf kids access?
Let’s revisit the above conversation. The family is in a lull. The conversation on death has ended. On the television in the background Tony Abbott is being interviewed. Tony, being Tony, is telling the world that a woman’s place is in the kitchen. That central to the family is having a solid mother figure who carries out the traditional female role. It is Tony’s view that the onslaught of women into the workplace has led to the breakdown of family values. Of course Prime Minister Julia Gillard has to rebut this. Julia puts forward an alternate view. That women have a right to work without being made feel guilty. Julia argues that women working has brought greater income and opportunities to families. Julia argues that through work the talents and skills of women can be utilised for the greater benefit of the nation. On hearing this teenage sister, Kirsten, vents about what a sexist pig Tony is, “What’s sexist” asks Paul? And the family are off again in a spirited debate. Politics, values, work, tradition, gender roles and the fact that Tony should never become PM are important topics that are discussed. For little Paul it’s a first. For Kirsten she is learning to debate and respect differing points of view. Everyone learns and grows. Maturity is knocked up another notch. And all this from overhearing. But what if Paul was deaf?
And just how much overhearing happens everyday? In the play ground kids are discussing what they did last night. Paul is telling people that his Grandma’s friend died and she has gone to heaven. Katie says, “My dad says there is no heaven, we are all dust.” Peter says, “Your dads going to hell, he doesn’t believe in god.” Katie slaps Peter for saying nasty things about her dad. Peter holds his face and bawls. Miss Coggins comes over and asks what happened. All the kids talk at once. Miss Coggins takes hold of the situation and explains that violence is no way to settle a debate. She touches on issues of respect and understanding different values. All the kids are listening in and learning. Perhaps Miss Coggins sees an opportunity to expand on the issues by discussing religion in the classroom. Paul goes home and at dinner says “Today Katie hit Peter cos she said his dad is going to hell and Miss Coggins said ……” And the family are off again chatting sharing, learning and maturing. You can bet Katie and Peter are doing the same at home with their families. But what if one of them …Katie, Peter or Paul was deaf? Just how much would they be learning?
It is maturity that allows us to deal with life. When we become an adult and have to develop relationships with others maturity plays a part. Maturity gives us strategies to deal with different situations. Maturity allows us to respect others and discuss different points of view without resorting to violence. Maturity lets us deal with death, with tragedies and with crisis. Maturity is learnt behaviour that occurs from natural interaction with others and the environment, including the media. Maturity requires ACCESS to information through simple everyday tasks like dinner time conversations and classroom discussions. If the individual is deaf, just how much of this information do they miss?
Well the answer to this is A LOT. The consequence of this is that we have perfectly intelligent young deaf individuals, by virtue of lack of access to information through overhearing, who reach adulthood and are expected to deal with adult issues but in reality are still children. In reality the deaf 16 year old is often still 12. They may act, look and seemingly be well adapted individuals but if one looks deeper they will discover that they are lacking in the knowledge, skills and strategies to deal with adult situations. Of course this varies from individual to individual but the inability to overhear can and does mean many young deaf adults do not get enough information leaving them unprepared for the challenges of adult life. The result? STRESS and a higher incidence of mental health issues.
This is the a large part of the reason why research shows that young deaf people have much higher incidence of mental health issues than the general population.
“Deaf children and adolescents exhibit higher levels of behavioral and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorders then the general population (Haskins 2000 & Chritchfield, 2002) –
Parents in the present study, however, reported significantly more concerns on the social problem and thought problem scales than did Australian parents of hearing children and adolescents (The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry [2010, 44(4):351-7) –
Communication problems, family stresses, and societal prejudice that accompany it [hearing impairment] could lead to problems ranging from suicidal depression to substance abuse and violent behavior” (Steinberg, July 1998) –
Research indicates that deaf children and adolescents are experiencing significant mental health issues such as low self-esteem, poor self concept, isolation, loneliness, anxiety and depression. (Focus on Mental Health, 2010)
The list of research goes on. The findings are clear, BUT WHAT ARE WE DOING ABOUT IT?
The problems are nothing to do with how much people hear or do not hear. The problem is simply providing deaf kids with access to information and interaction.(although the answer is not simple) Hearing technology helps but does not fill all the gaps. Learning sign language helps but similarly doesn’t provide access when the bulk of people around you cannot sign. What deaf kids need is strategies to access information and learn from others and their environment.
How much access do deaf kids have to classroom and social interaction? How much support is given to families to make them aware of the dynamics of learning in the family and how it contributes to the child’s maturity? What programs do we have that focus on FILLING IN THE GAPS with knowledge that deaf kids clearly miss in their day to day interactions? In short these kids need KNOWLEDGE and INFORMATION far greater than they currently receive and this gap needs to be filled.
Clearly we are not doing this. We TALK, we RESEARCH but we do not do. The consequence of the lack of maturity in deaf kids can be dire. SUICIDE! It happens! DEPRESSION! It happens! LOW SELF ESTEEM! It happens. POOR ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT, It happens. Its time to stop talking about it and create programs to PREVENT and not DEAL with the problem after it has happened. A website wont do it, a conference wont do it, constantly talking abouit it wont do it. Hell even this article wont do it! What we need is action and one of the major strategies is to find ways to fill in the gaps that deaf kids miss through their everyday interactions. Help them mature through knowledge and from interaction – It’s not easy but it’s not rocket science either.