A Smile a Day Keeps Insecurity Away: Bonding without Spoken Language

A Smile a Day Keeps Insecurity Away: Bonding without Spoken Language

The propensity to make strong emotional bonds to particular individuals [is] a basic component of human nature.
– John Bowlby

Forming a healthy and enduring attachment with your child is a process that occurs over time and begins with unconditional love.  Providing a “no strings attached” kind of love, is not only the basis for a lasting bond, but is also central to a child’s behavioural, cognitive, and emotional development.

The first time you look at your baby and they gaze back at you, or the first time they hear your soothing voice, early bonding experiences are taking place.  Developmental psychologists agree that these experiences help children form an enduring and healthy attachment to their parents.

But what happens when a baby is unable to hear mother’s soothing voice or they are unable to hear more than a muffled sound?  Can a nurturing bond develop?

The diagnosis of profound hearing loss with a child is often a devastating reality for hearing parents.  It evokes a complex array of emotions including guilt, sadness, and anger.  Research by audiologist David Luterman shows that the grief experienced after learning your child is deaf is comparable to the grieving process experienced after other major losses, such as the death of a loved one.  Parents often struggle with the idea that they may never have a “normal” conversation with their child, and that because the child will grow up in a predominately hearing world, their child might always be limited.

The Trauma and Attachment Report had the opportunity to speak with Kelly, a hearing mother of a deaf child, who shared with us some challenges she faced while raising her daughter.  Kelly also commented on the important role parents have in the lives of their children.

Kelly:  When my husband and I learned that our 22 month old daughter was deaf it was an emotional and confusing time for us.  We didn’t understand why this happened.  We didn’t even understand what it meant to be deaf.  Did it mean that she would never hear?  Could this be fixed?  It was a long and difficult adjustment process, but we were willing to do everything possible to give our daughter the best future. 

According to professors Pat Hulsebosch and Lynda Myers of Gallaudet University, hearing parents spend the first few years of the child’s life attempting to understand what it means to be physically and culturally deaf and what it means to be only visually-able in a hearing world. Only once parental acceptance of deafness occurs, can the parent-child relationship finally begin to flourish.

Parents  not only face emotional challenges, but communication challenges as well when raising a deaf child.  Prior to diagnosis and learning that their child may be deaf, parents often have difficulty understanding the needs of their baby.  They usually manage to find ways to calm their child through facial expressiveness and touch, but begin to notice how ineffective talking and singing is when trying to soothe their child.  Continuous crying and the inability to find ways to vocally sooth their child send parents to the doctor’s office. 

Upon diagnosis, parents are faced with a tough decision:  whether their child should begin speech therapy or learn Sign Language.  While many professionals continue to argue the benefits of early speech therapy for deaf children, others argue that it can only go so far.  Sociologists Deborah  Henderson and Anne Hendershott, formerly at  the University of Hartford explained that oral methods of communication between parents and their deaf child result in unnatural family communication.

Kelly:  Parents need to realize that their child will probably never develop a spoken language equal to their hearing peers. Deaf children who only learn spoken language will be limited in their level of communication.  Parents will eventually notice their child’s limitations and decide to switch to teaching American Sign Language (ASL).  Parents and children who learn ASL will be able to communicate so much more. 

While deaf children are unable to completely appreciate their parents’ hearing culture or feel like a member of it, hearing parents can learn about Deaf culture and the Deaf community.  Parents who recognize the importance of the Deaf community are likely to develop a stronger relationship with their child.  These parents often decide to learn American Sign Language, and through this, are able to bridge the gap between themselves and their child.

Kelly:  All children, not only deaf children, need to feel like they belong.  The Deaf community has its own values, history and language, and by learning American Sign Language children will feel a part of something.  It is crucial for these children to have the chance to interact socially with other deaf children.  The Deaf community gives deaf people the opportunity to come together and learn from each other.  Parents need to understand the significant role the Deaf community will play in their child’s life, and play a key role in their child’s success.

Deaf children not only need to feel a part of a community, but also a part of their family.  Parents who learn American Sign Language and learn about Deaf culture often find the Deaf community a source of support and education for themselves and their child.  Families who integrate within the Deaf community and become bilingual families develop well, and this is exactly what a deaf child needs to succeed.

Tessie Mastorakos, Contributing Writer