DEX’s views are not just founded on our personal or individual professional viewpoints, but backed up by research – both our own and international research, including a literature review.
Our research included visits to 34 schools in the UK and in Norway and Sweden, interviewing deaf and hearing children, parents and professionals, and observing deaf children in classrooms and at breaktimes. We found that a feeling of belonging is absolutely vital to human development, and although deaf children with hearing parents do feel part of their families, it can never be as complete as for hearing children, since communication with hearing people is affected. Having Deaf adults and deaf peers in addition to hearing families and peers enables deaf children to have the best of both worlds. Deaf adults are found in schools which have specialist resources for deaf children, sometimes called units or bases in mainstream schools, or in Deaf Schools.
Since language is also a key factor in shaping children’s identity, sign languages are an important indicator. A Deaf child signed to us in our travels :
“I am happy because other deaf children are there signing and I am confident with hearing children.”
Another deaf child told us:
“ I sign because I am Deaf . I am Deaf because I sign”.
Without this feeling of belonging to your own group, it is hard to know who you are. A deaf member of DEX said :
“How can you be yourself, when you do not know who you are?”
Identity is a complex issue, but generally speaking, research has found that those who are in marginalised groups, i.e. disabled people or those from BME groups, benefit from the support of others who share the same experiences, i.e.are in the “same boat”:
“Identification with one’s marginalised group is an asset to one’s psychological well-being”: Michaelieu 1997; Walters and Simoni, 1993.
This is particularly relevant for deaf children as communication is also a barrier with hearing people (whether in groups or with individuals):
“Those with stronger deaf identities (culturally deaf and bicultural individuals) have a somewhat higher self-esteem than those with weaker deaf identities (culturally hearing and negative identities)”. : Bat-Chava, 2000.
DEX found mainstreamed deaf children tend to have a “think-hearing identity”. This is where deaf people identify with their hearing communities, since this is all they know. All humans need to identify with their families, school environment and then their work and general cultural environments in order to feel that they belong. If deaf children only have one option, which is spoken language, then they will naturally identify with the hearing mainstream. This can leave deaf children with a feeling that they do not fully belong and that they do not have a whole identity.
DEXperience’s definition of “deaf” is wholly or partially without hearing, so means any loss from mild to profound.
This is a list of things to look out for when you visit your deaf child’s new mainstream school, or to consider if your deaf child is already attending school, based on the recommendations DEXperience has made from its Best Value Review (see web pages on this) and findings since then.
PARENTS’ CHECKLIST: what to look for in schools for your deaf child here