How to parent deaf children

Bianca Birdsey is a medical doctor with an interest in paediatric neurodevelopment. As a mother of three deaf children and founder of THRIVE parents support group, Bianca enjoys supporting families journeying similarly, writes Omeshnie Naidoo.

It’s never to late to make a good start. 

Most families in South Africa discover their child has a hearing loss when he or she is a toddler. That’s because newborn hearing screening is not routine here and hearing loss is invisible. 

The earlier the better for identifying and intervening, but even if you’ve missed it initially, dust off the guilt, take up the reins and move on. The brain is extraordinary, and with the right intervention and continued effort, every moment of parenting purposefully counts!

Follow your child. 

Initially we as parents make the first set of choices depending on what we primary hope for our child. There’s danger in keeping our gaze on our goals rather than on our child’s progress and what they are showing us works best for them. Keep working hard as a parent, but not to the detriment of missing what works best for your unique child. This journey meanders enormously as one deciphers their child’s needs along the way. That’s ok! It’s not a performance destination we’re after – it’s holistic progress that should be the goal. 

Check your lenses. When starting off on this journey, because we’re initially immersed in the medical world of developmental delays and various "losses" we tend to view the journey with quite a negative lens. There is no shame in having a child with special needs, in fact there are significant gifts that this journey brings. Look for these gifts, identify and celebrate them. The way you view the journey impacts how your child views themselves and sets the bar for how others will view your child.

Find role models for your child. Find other deaf or hard of hearing adults to learn from. They’ve walked many a road that your child will walk, and will have so much wisdom and insight that you can learn from. It’s also a super idea to have your child meet adult versions of themselves for their own self acceptance and also for them to witness their family embracing others like them. This is scary at first, but one thing the special needs journey teaches us- comfort zones are overrated!

Look after yourself. The parent journey is intense and constant in nature. It’s really important to invest in your own well being so that you are maximally emotionally, mentally and physically available for your child. Meeting other parents also really helps for perspective and encouragement that tops one up emotionally. An empty cup cannot pour out.

Bianca Birdsey is a medical doctor with an interest in paediatric neurodevelopment. As a mother of three deaf children, and founder of THRIVE parents support group, Bianca enjoys supporting families journeying similarly. 

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