Parents raising a hearing impaired child: the stresses, management strategies, and support services.

Some families may experience an increase in stress after their child is initially diagnosed with a hearing loss. This stress can often result in feelings of denial, anxiety, helplessness, anger and many other emotions. These stresses may be due to lack of information or support and uncertainty in the future. To function and successfully manage with the challenge of a child with a hearing impairment, it would be beneficial for the family to accept the child as he or she is and move on to the next step of treatment. This paper will help introduce ways to manage this situation. At first, the news may cause a state of shock for the parent or parents and, therefore, a counselor may be needed to educate and assist the family with the process of treatment. Likewise, this paper does not discount that a child with special needs may not always be seen as a challenge. The "challenge" can be considered an opportunity for a family to bond and for personal growth for each individual member. If you are a parent in this situation presented, you are encouraged to maintain a positive mentality. This information is for parents and/or families that may need some extra help initiating management skills and support services.

A number of managing strategies are available to help the parents deal with the emotional stresses of having a deaf baby. One strategy that has proved to be most beneficial to parents and families is creating social networks (Hintermair, 2000). Joining social groups or simply talking with another family in a similar situation can be relieving and educational. Support services for families exist in many different forms. Three services will be reviewed: the Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP), social networking and the Deaf Mentor Project. Families, themselves, are the only ones that can create an environment which allows these services to become effective for the child. Every child and every family is unique; consequently, a professional cannot give specific instructions for raising a child. This paper reviews recent research pertaining to parents managing strategies and support services available.

According to Luterman and Maxon (2002), there are four basic managing strategies parents may employ when initially learning of their childs hearing impairment. The first is not as much of a strategy but an option: flight. Some parents may not feel competent enough to raise a child with such special needs, therefore, they flee. This type of parent, who actually chooses to run from the situation, most likely had various problems before the special child came into the picture. The parents previous problem(s) would possibly hinder the family relationship later, so flight may be beneficial for the family despite its harsh sound. A different attempt parents may choose would be to minimize or modify the childs hearing impairment. This may be through amplification or other means to minimize the handicapping effects of the impairment. Even though the child will never hear normally, these efforts will be beneficial to the childs social and linguistic development. The trick is to know what can and cannot be modified. Parents can accept the aspects of the child that cannot be changed and do their best not to become frustrated. A third strategy parents may choose is to cognitively neutralize the stressor, in other words, change their perspective. Parents can look at the positive aspects that their child can bring to the family. The child can create opportunities for family bonding and growth for each individual member (Turnbull, Turnbull, Erwin, & Soodak, 2006).

Most parents eventually learn how to deal with the stresses in their own personal way. Some might exercise, knit, write in a journal, etc, whatever is relaxing to them. Some parents may choose one or more of these strategies. It is important to note that any managing strategy should be employed after a healthy grieving process.Once parents find a strategy that works for them and they choose a communication style for their child, their life as parents of a child with special needs can proceed. However, they may have additional children that further their demands and responsibilities. Parents can collaborate with a professional to adjust and balance the family routines with the weight of their childs special needs, (Moores, Jatho, & Dunn 2001). All of the information and decision to be made definitely can be overwhelming to any parent and family. Support groups can be helpful for a family seeking advice in every domain of raising hearing or hard-of-hearing children. Parents can share experiences with one another, recommend helpful doctors or useful programs, and learn different managing strategies. The amount of help parents can provide each other is endless. Parents have shown to be the best resource for other parents when looking for advice and reaffirmation of competency (Moores, Jatho and Dunn, 2001). According to Moores, Jatho and Dunn (2001), most parents were found to be resilient. They made the best decisions for their children despite their feelings of uncertainty at the time.

Support services come into effect after you decide the intervention path for the your child. In other words, the parents need to decide whether to introduce the child into the Deaf community or the oral society. This is a big decision; you may want to wait awhile before deciding. Professional(s) familiar with your child and with your family can help you in this process by providing information and their expert option. The professional(s) can also refer you to other specialists in the area in which you may need assistance. Before you make this choice, you are encouraged seek all the information you want about the outcomes and implications of the various communication methods. An interest in the Deaf community, oral society, or any other related topic can be accessed and researched through the internet, local library, or professionals. You can introduce yourself to the area before any professional referral or guidance. Your decision should be based on the needs of your whole family and of your child. Without regard to any specific intervention, it would be valuable if the parents created opportunities for their children with hearing impairments just the same as their hearing children (Rosen, 2000). Families have found many different services to be successful; this is only a review of one of the most common initial approaches and one of the most current and effective. The Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) is mandated by law for early intervention (ages: birth to three) for children who qualify. The IFSP is a common starting point for families to become introduced and accustomed to services and goals appropriate for their child with special needs (Schow & Nerbonne, 2002). The plan is guided by a team of interdisciplinary professionals (speech therapist, special education teacher, any other necessary professional). The families, however, make the decisions pertaining to the goals and objectives for their child. This approach is extremely effective because the family spends more time with the child than the teacher; the family is the best teacher for their child. Furthermore, if the family has created the goal(s) they may be more apt to work to achieve those goals. This plan can be changed and revised over time to accommodate for the childs growing strengths or set backs (Schow & Nerbonne, 2002).

Social networks have been found to be empowering and educational for children and parents. According to Hintermair (2000), "Social support is to be regarded as a cornerstone of psychosocial intervention and has to play as great a role as possible in institutional programs" (p. 41). In Germany, Hintermair (2001) studied the socialization of parents within social networks all having children with hearing impairments and compared them to other parents whom did not have consistent social networks. Hintermair (2000) found the parents who had more contact with other parents developed stronger emotional bonds with their children and dealt with stressful situations in a more open-minded way. These parents displayed warm, accepting, trusting relationships with their children and also portrayed a stronger sense of competency in raising their child with special needs. Parents also perceived their child and their impairments in a more realistic way; they were better able to understand their situation with a newly gained perspective. The new perspective gained from social networks also proved to help with stress. This was measured by the Parent Stress Index and found that the parents who had developed higher-level personal skills (interpersonal skills) tackled stressful situations in a more open-minded and sophisticated way, further, they continued on to better utilize available programs for problem solving. Support services can also be apart of the intervention plan.

The Deaf Mentor Project is a specific intervention in which the child with a hearing impairment is emerged in the Deaf community and receives help in developing aural/oral communication. Watkins, Pittman and Walden (1998) investigated the effectiveness of the Deaf mentor services compared to a three year program at the SKI-HI institute, where one mode of communication is chosen (either oral or ASL). The Deaf mentors shared American Sign Language (ASL), Deaf culture, and their personal knowledge and experiences with deafness with the child and family. Most importantly, they served as a role model for the child. The program also incorporates a hearing parent advisor to help the parents promote listening skills. Results showed the children in the Deaf Mentor Project made receptive and expressive language gains six months ahead of the children in the SKI-HI program. Consistent results showed the children had larger vocabularies and better English grammar. Parents reported that their child was communicating more effectively a greater percentage of the time. These experiences lessened frustrations between parent and child because they shared a more consistent means of communication. In general, the parents and children of the Deaf Mentor Project were satisfied with the program and the results. In the beginning, parents may have overwhelming emotions toward their child with special needs. However, this paper introduces information to families that may help in finding options and affirming a positive outlook. Families can to be their own advocates in their process of raising their child with a hearing impairment. Only a family, not a professional, can make the most appropriate decisions regarding their child. Additionally, families are able to seek out the resources or programs necessary to carry out the objectives or goals regarding their child. The managing strategies and support services covered in this paper are only a few among the many available. There are a few ideas families can consider when faced with raising a child with a hearing impairment. After a period of grieving, a positive adaptation to the impairment(s) of your child is important for the family, and the child. Your involvement, as a family--within all domains of your childs life--not only improves the education and social development but it shows the child that you love them and you care about his/her well being. The standards you set for your child will push him/her toward success. These goals need to be attainable yet, just above the childs reach to encourage them to strive towards their familys expectations. These goals may be laid out in an IFSP; these are goals that you can implement, monitor, and negotiate to any degree that you deem necessary. The Deaf Mentor Project is a successful program that some families may choose for their child. Although, it does focus on the childs involvement in the Deaf community. Some families may decline this option for their child and another intervention may be applied. Once again, the family can research services, themselves, to find what best fits their child.

Families are resilient; more than often, they do make the best decisions for their children because they have the childs best interests in mind and most importantly, families love their children.


Hintermair, M. (2000). Hearing impairment, social networks, and coping: the need for families with hearing-impaired children to relate to other parents and to hearing-impaired adults. American Annals of the Deaf, 145(1), 41-54.

Luterman, D. M. & Maxon, A. B. (2002).When Your Child is Deaf (2nd ed.).Baltimore MA: New York Press.

Moores, D. F., Jatho, J., & Dunn, C. (2001). Families with deaf members: American annals of the deaf, 1996 to 2000. American Annals of the Deaf, 146(3), 245-231.

Rosen, R. G. (2000). Identification and intervention: a case for diversity and partnerships. American Annals of the Deaf, 145(3), 327-334.

Schow, R. L. & Nerbonne, M. A. (2002). Introduction to Audiologic Rehabilitation (4th ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Turnbull, A., Turnbull, R., Erwin, E., & Soodak, L. (2006). Families, professionals, and exceptionality: positive outcomes through partnerships and trust. 5th edition Upper Saddle, NJ: Merrill.

Watkins, S., Pittman, P., & Walden, B. (1998). The deaf mentor experimental project for young children who are deaf and their families. American Annals of the Deaf, 143(1), 29-35.

About The Author

Kathryn is a senior studying Communication Sciences and Disorders. at Western Washington University.

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