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Positive aspects of deaf parenting

Claire Ingham, Secretary of Children of Deaf Parents UK, talks about the challenges facing deaf parents, and the ethos and aspirations of a new organisation dedicated to providing support and promoting positive aspects of deaf parenting.

Children of Deaf Parents UK (CoDPuk) is a new organisation for deafparents who want the best for their children.

As a deaf parent:

  • do you walk into a playgroup for the first time, wondering whether to try and talk to other parents, knowing you should for your toddler's sake but fretting about whether you will be understood?
  • do you arrive at the school gates with your child for the first time, not knowing where to go, what to do and who to ask for help?
  • does your child refuse to sign to you and, while you don't want to force her to sign, you can't understand what she is trying to tell you?
  • do you get angry glares from your neighbours only to discover later that your teenager has been playing his music extremely loud late at night?

Feeling isolated

These are some of the experiences faced routinely by deaf parents. Even more frustratingly there has been no specific service available from deaf organisations for deaf parents to turn to for advice, support and information.

Furthermore, the deaf community is widespread geographically, making it more difficult for deaf parents to meet face to face. This means they don't get the day-to-day support that hearing parents do from their friends in the local community which can contribute to feelings of extreme isolation.

Although there are organisations offering support to families with deaf children, such as the National Deaf Children's Society, their support does not extend to deaf parents whose children are hearing. As 90% of deaf parents' children are hearing, this is a huge group which is excluded from mainstream support organisations.

Filling the gap

Frustrated at this lack of information and support – and finding there was no organisation specifically geared towards the needs of our families – a group of us decided to do something about it. The idea was first conceived at Runnymeade during the summer of 2004. That September, eight deaf parents gathered for the inaugural meeting where Children of Deaf Parents UK was born. We set ourselves a main aim. "To inform, mentor and work with deaf parents in the UK in broadening the horizons of and developing their children's self-esteem."

Support for parents

In meeting this aim, our first priority is to support deaf parents as parents. Initially, we plan to achieve this through a wide range of activities.

  • Family fun days where deaf parents can meet each other and so develop supportive networks and friendships.
  • Workshops to give deaf parents opportunities to develop knowledge of and skills in music and literacy so they are able to join in with and support their children's reading and music practice.
  • Developing local contacts for deaf parents to meet on a more regular basis and supporting deaf parents to avoid isolation.
  • Deaf parenting skills workshops to enable deaf parents to explore their experiences of parenthood and share ideas on how to tackle particular issues of concern. Deaf Parenting UK is running a pilot workshop in Bromley at the moment and we support them in this initiative.
  • Informing members through our website, e-mail and newsletter to maintain two-way contact and networking with deaf parents.
  • Responding to enquiries from deaf parents.

Sharing expertise

We work closely with Deaf Parenting UK and DPPi. We understand that Deaf Parenting UK and DPPi will support us on issues relating to childbirth and working with healthcare professionals.

Children of deaf adults

In addition, the needs of hearing children of deaf parents are also paramount.

A hearing child with deaf parents may be the only such child in their school. Children of deaf adults may be viewed as being `different', and can therefore be at risk of bullying.

This is a significant issue that the organisation decided to tackle: from the outset, we agreed to try and work towards promoting positive experiences for these children through events where hearing (and deaf) children of deaf parents can meet and, in doing so, can foster a sense of "I am not the only one with deaf parents". We work closely with children of deaf adults to ensure that we can provide the best programmes and support for them.

We plan to run workshops for older children, led by an older child of deaf parents, to explore and share their experiences of being brought up by deaf parents.

"... our children all communicated earlier than other children ... Could this be something to do with deaf parents being excellent communicators?"

From another angle

Bearing in mind the negativity and concerns typically expressed about

deaf parenting of hearing children – by some older children of deaf parents, by deaf parents themselves and by the general public – Children of Deaf Parents UK plans to explore the issue from another angle, by exploring the positive aspects of deaf parenting.

As deaf parents, we noticed that our children all communicated earlier than other children; this was remarked upon by my health visitor and by those of other deaf parents. Could this be something to do with deaf parents being excellent communicators? Could there be a lesson for hearing parents to learn here?

Perhaps there are other benefits reaped by children who are brought up by deaf parents. We believe it is high time that negative perceptions are swept away and deaf parenting is seen as a positive contribution to the overall myriad experiences of parenthood seen in society today.

Positive ethos

The most important aspect of Children of Deaf Parents UK is our positive ethos. Deaf parents, like all parents, face challenges in bringing up their children and we aim to be there to support them. Conversely, there are many joys to be experienced through deaf parenthood which we are delighted to share in and spread among deaf parents and their children.

Our first event – a treasure hunt, held in April – was successful. We received a lot of positive comments about the day and we will continue the good work to support deaf parents. We are, at the time of writing, looking forward to our first annual event in July, featuring a Harry Potter theme, with literacy and music workshops, and fun and games for children and deaf parents.

Getting in touch

Here are contact details for Children of Deaf Parents UK

PO Box 3272
Maidenhead
Berkshire
SL6 4WW
E-mail: contact@codpuk.org.uk
Website: www.codpuk.org.uk

First published in Disability, Pregnancy & Parenthood international, Issue 50, Summer 2005.

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