Deafness and Education International (2001),
SELF ESTEEM AND COHESION TO FAMILY MEMBERS OF
DEAF CHILDREN IN RELATION TO THE HEARING STATUS
OF THEIR PARENTS AND SIBLINGS
Peter K Smith Goldsmiths College
examined whether for deaf children, the hearing
status of both parents and siblings would have
an effect on self esteem ratings and perceived
cohesion with family members. Forty five deaf
children (with Deaf Parents/Deaf Siblings; Deaf
Parents/Hearing Siblings; Hearing Parents/Deaf
Siblings and Hearing Parents/Hearing Siblings)
participated. Deaf children with deaf parents
had higher self esteem than those with hearing
parents. There was no main effect of sibling
hearing status. There were main effects of cohesion
scores for all family members; deaf children
felt closer to deaf parents and deaf siblings
than to hearing parents and hearing siblings.
The quantitative findings are discussed and
interpreted with the help of qualitative data
from interviews with the children.
Deafness, self esteem, cohesion, parents, siblings
effect of a child's deafness on the development
of cognition and self esteem, and on parental
behaviour, has been studied by a number of researchers
(e.g. Greenberg & Kusché, 1987; Meadow, 1980;
Peterson & Siegal, 1999). While much research
has focused on parental hearing status, little
attention has been given to whether the hearing
status of their siblings may also affect the
development of deaf children; relations with
siblings may in turn impact on friendships;
and this may have implications for the structuring
of school environments for deaf children.
child's deafness may impact negatively on the
hearing parent - deaf child dyad and on the
child's development. Hearing parents of deaf
children are more likely to become emotionally
detached in the interaction with their children
when a hearing loss is diagnosed (Luterman,
1987). Mothers of deaf children were found to
be almost three times more inclined than mothers
of hearing children to report feeling comfortable
when spanking (smacking) their children (Schlesinger
& Meadow, 1972). Rodda (1966) and Gregory (1976)
found that deaf children received fewer explanations
from parents about feelings, why things have
been done, their role expectations and the consequences
of certain behaviours.
studies have revealed significant differences
between deaf children of deaf parents and deaf
children of hearing parents. Deaf children of
hearing parents have been reported to be more
isolated, have lower acceptance, poorer communication,
and more psychological and behavioural disorders
than deaf children of deaf parents (Anderson
& Sisco, 1977). Deaf children of deaf parents
are more likely to have experienced consistent
parenting behaviour, effective communication
and more tolerant social environments (Greenberg
& Kusché, 1987). Barlow and Brill (1975) found
that deaf children of deaf parents were better
at the Stanford Achievement Tests, a measure
of general cognitive abilities. Brill (1969)
suggested that such findings are a result of
the early use of manual communication in the
deaf home. Deaf children of deaf parents have
also been found to be more advantaged at school
than deaf children of hearing parents (Meadow,
1967; Montgomery, 1966). Meadow (1980) argued
that deaf parents provide effective role models
for deaf children early in their development.
This may lead to a positive impact on the development
of identity and self-esteem.
these findings suggest an environmental explanation
in terms of parenting behaviour and child's
self-concept and self-esteem, genetic factors
might contribute (Jensema, 1975). Schildroth
(1976) reported better non-verbal intelligence
scores in children who were deaf due to an inherited
condition, rather than a non-hereditary aetiology
such as meningitis. However, Vernon and Koh
(1970) compared deaf children raised by deaf
or hearing parents, where all the children had
genetic related deafness. Participants were
matched for chronological age, non-verbal intelligence
scores, and hearing loss. Although the hearing
parents in this study were more intelligent
than the deaf parents, it was the deaf children
of deaf parents who were more successful in
educational achievement. This suggests that
even if genetic factors have some influence,
the immediate environment that the child grows
up in is an important factor.
Bat-Chava (1993) carried out a meta-analysis
of 42 studies relevant to levels of self-esteem
in deaf people; many of these were unpublished
(32 were Master's or Doctoral theses). The constructs
analysed included type of school attended, communication
mode used in classroom (no effects), group identification
(positive effect on self-esteem), and parent's
hearing status, and communication mode used
at home. Use of sign language rather than oral
communication by parents was associated with
higher self-esteem (a finding subsequently confirmed
by Desselle, 1994). Twelve of these studies
included parental hearing status as a variable.
Deaf children with deaf parents had higher self
esteem than deaf children with hearing parents
(effect size d=.24, p<.001). This finding was
consistent, regardless of what test or method
of administration was used. However, these studies
(and all the studies in Bat-Chava's review)
are from North American populations, where most
research has been carried out.
impact of parental hearing status is also evident
from personal reports of deaf people. Corker
(1996) reported interviews with eight deaf people,
whose childhood years and reports of obstacles
had been quite similar in some aspects, as illustrated
in this memory of a man of the time when his
deafness was diagnosed when he was a little
repeated the same kinds of tests that
my mother and father had tried and eventually
announced that I was deaf. My parents
were broken apart. My mother and father
were crying - I'd never seen them do that
before. .... I remember feeling that awful
sinking feeling inside because I didn't
know what I had done as I had just been
playing with them while the tests were
done. I wanted to know what was going
on - I didn't understand. I thought I
was responsible for their tears and I
was very worried" (op.cit, p.69)
This experience can be contrasted with some
deaf parents (but not all) who express joy in
having given birth to deaf children because
of a shared identity, and a shared culture and
most plausibly the ease of communication.
research has focused on the impact of parents
on deaf children's development. Yet, siblings
also have a large impact on a child's development,
generating strong emotions of love, rivalry,
jealousy and competition (Dunn & Kendrick, 1982;
Klagsburn, 1992). There has been research into
families where one sibling has a disability,
but most focus on the impact on the sibling(s)
without a disability (Fernell, Gillberg & von
Wendt, 1992; Klagsburn, 1992; Harvey & Greenway,
1984; Carandang, Fulkins-Carlyle, Hines & Steward,
1979). For example, Harvey and Greenway (1984)
found an adverse effect on the normal children's
measured self-concept if they had .a sibling
with a physical handicap. Bank and Kahn (1982)
looked at disturbed siblings and their 'well'
siblings, and concluded that the disturbed child
usually has been the focus of most of the attention
from the family for many years; and the disturbed
sibling's difficulties are always seen as much
more serious than the 'well' sibling's. This
study primarily addressed how the 'well' sibling
could be adversely affected by having a disturbed
sibling, but in addition the researchers concluded
that "...the disturbed sibling also derives
a distinct identity, albeit an unhappy one,
from the contrast with a well brother and sister"
(op.cit, p.233) (Bank & Kahn, 1982).
(1996) briefly gave attention to the sibling
relationship in relation to emotional development
in some of the adults interviewed. Sibling rivalry
was reported where a deaf child from a hearing
family thought that the hearing sibling had
and Peter, for example, both felt a degree
of sibling rivalry, suggesting that their
hearing sibling was loved more or received
more attention than they did, and both
struggled with negative feelings of shame
at the jealousy they felt. "I can remember
very clearly my feelings of shame. I always
felt my parents loved my sister more than
they loved me, but as soon as I felt jealous,
I began to feel that was wrong and more
shameful" (Karen); "I still wish I had
more information when I was young. I needed
more understanding. I always felt my hearing
brother had more attention. But he was
much younger, and I was jealous of him,
I think" (Peter)." (op.cit, p.79)
Kusché, Greenberg and Garfield (1983) compared
three groups of children; deaf children with
deaf parents; deaf children with deaf siblings
and hearing parents; and deaf children with
hearing siblings and hearing parents. The first
two groups had a genetic aetiology of deafness,
and the third had non-inherited deafness. In
the areas of intelligence, vocabulary, comprehension,
language and achievement scores, the deaf children
with deaf parents scored highest (in line with
previous findings), but in addition those deaf
children of hearing parents who had a deaf sibling(s)
scored higher than those who had a hearing sibling.
This points to a beneficial effect of having
a deaf sibling rather than a hearing sibling,
for the deaf child's development.
esteem was not measured in Kusché et al's (1983)
study, and we know of no previous quantitative
studies that have looked specifically at the
effect of siblings on deaf children's self esteem,
or quality of family relationships. This led
to the design of the present study
hypothesised that a four group design would
yield a significant hierarchical pattern in
the relationship between self esteem and the
hearing status of parents and siblings. Those
who had deaf parents and deaf siblings (DP/DS)
would report highest self esteem, followed by
those who had deaf parents and hearing siblings
(DP/HS), then those who had hearing parents
and deaf siblings (HP/DS) and finally those
with hearing parents and hearing siblings (HP/HS).
to the frequent anecdotal reports of a lack
of good communication and empathy experienced
by deaf children in hearing families, we also
predicted that they would perceive lower cohesion
to other members of their family, with deaf
children from deaf families producing a more
cohesive representation. A further specific
prediction was that there would be closer cohesion
between a deaf child and a deaf sibling, than
a hearing sibling.
two way within participants design was used;
the first independent variable was the parents'
hearing status, with two levels: both deaf or
both hearing. For simplicity of analysis and
interpretation, we decided not to include parents
of mixed hearing status (who in addition are
a less frequent group). The second independent
variable was the siblings' hearing status, with
two levels: deaf or hearing (most children had
only one sibling; for those who had two, they
were asked to focus on the oldest child). There
were 4 dependent variables; the deaf child's
self esteem score, and his/her cohesion scores
to mother, father and (oldest) sibling.
were 45 deaf children (age range 10 to 14 years).
There were 10 children with deaf parents and
deaf siblings (DP/DS); 4 with deaf parents and
hearing siblings (DP/HS); 11 with hearing parents
and deaf siblings (HP/DS); and 20 with hearing
parents and hearing siblings (HP/HS). Participants
were recruited by visiting schools or families
in various sites in England, that had deaf children;
although considerable efforts were made to increase
the numbers of children with DP/HS, these were
hard to find, possibly because of likely genetic
influences within families were both parents
The Battle "Self Esteem" Inventory (Form A:
Battle, 1981) was used. It has been factor analysed
into five components, two of which, General
and Social, were selected as appropriate to
this study; This reduced the test from 50 items
to 30. These 30 yes/no items were amended slightly
to match the general expected standard of English
in the participants. For example, 'I spend a
lot of time daydreaming' was amended to 'I do
a lot of daydreaming'; 'I often feel ashamed
of myself' was amended to 'Many times I feel
I have done wrong things'. These changes were
necessary to obtain reliable responses from
these deaf children, whose reading abilities
were generally expected to be below that of
their hearing peers (Marschark, 1993). A total
self-esteem score was calculated from all the
responses (maximum score 30). While most of
the children were able to read and understand
the items, sign language interpretation was
readily available at all times. There is no
equivalent test of self esteem in British Sign
cohesion: the Family Systems Test (FAST; Gehring
& Wyler, 1986; Gehring, Debry & Smith, in press)
was used. Wooden figures are placed on a chequer
board to show how close individuals feel towards
their family members. The process is similar
to 'family sculpting', a family therapy technique.
This test was specifically chosen because its
visual way of showing individual perspectives
which is most appropriate to deaf children,
who often have a limited level of English production
and comprehension. The FAST has good psychometric
properties (Gehring & Feldman, 1988). The materials
were a wooden board 45cm x 45cm divided into
81 squares each 5cm x 5cm, eight large wooden
figures (four "men" and four "women" as indicated
by shape), and twelve smaller wooden figures
(six "boys" and six "girls" as indicated by
shape). Cohesion scores were calculated by measuring
diagonal distances between the deaf child and
other figures. The minimum distance score was
1, and the maximum possible distance between
two figures would be 11.3. A high score indicates
a distant relationship, whereas a low score
implies a close relationship.
interviews were done on an individual basis
at the school the child attended, in a private
room, with the exception of two children who
were interviewed in their homes. Participants
were asked if they would fill in a questionnaire
that would last about five minutes; a number
rather than their name was used to emphasise
that the whole interview would be confidential.
They were asked to be as honest as possible,
and when in doubt, to ask the interviewer. Whatever
method of communication the participant required
(speech/lip-reading, Signed Supported English
or British Sign Language) was used. After the
questionnaire, and having checked if the participant
was satisfied with his/her answers, the FAST
test was carried out. First a hypothetical family
was presented to the participant, to illustrate
how placement of the figures could be used to
show closeness (cohesion). Then the participant
was asked to show his/her own family, placing
him/herself first, anywhere on the grid. Next,
s/he was asked to place the sibling (if they
had more than one sibling, we asked them to
focus on the oldest sibling), the Mother and
finally, the Father. The participant was reminded
that the grid was to show how close he/she felt
towards his/her family. Once the participant
indicated s/he was happy with his/her lay-out,
this was recorded. The participant was then
asked to explain why s/he had placed them in
that way. One or more of the following questions
were then used, according to the participant's
initial explanation, to prompt more detail:
interesting, Mummy is over here and Daddy
is over there. Would you like to tell me more?"
"That's interesting, your brother/sister is
here, and you are there, why is that?" "Do
you understand everything your parents say
to one another?" "If your family were all
hearing/deaf, would it be any different? Show
me" (if the parents were deaf, asked "if all
hearing". If the parents were hearing, asked
"if all deaf"). The interviewer made notes
of responses and for the last question, any
changes to the grid were recorded.
independent groups Anovas were carried out (factors:
hearing status of parents; hearing status of
There was a main effect of parents' hearing
status, F(1,41)=15.54, p<0.001. Children with
deaf parents had higher self-esteem than those
with hearing parents, 23.4 vs. 17.2. Siblings'
hearing status did not have a significant effect
on self esteem scores (F(1,41)=0.86. n.s. There
was no interaction between parents and siblings
hearing status, F(1,41)=0.27, n.s. See Figure
1. Self-esteem scores of deaf children, by deaf/hearing
status of parents and sibling.
to father: There was a main effect of parents'
hearing status on cohesion scores, F(1,41)=16.61,
p<0.001. Children with deaf parents were closer
to father than those with hearing parents, 1.36
vs. 3.02. Siblings' hearing status did not have
a significant main effect on cohesion scores,
F(1,41)=0.37, n.s. There was no interaction
between parents and siblings hearing status,
F(1,41)=0.01, n.s. See Figure 2.
Figure 2. Distances from deaf children to father,
by deaf/hearing status of parents and sibling.
to mother: There was a main effect of parents'
hearing status on cohesion scores, F(1,41)=11.77,
p<0.002. Children with deaf parents were closer
to mother than those with hearing parents, 1.17
vs. 2.39. Siblings' hearing status did not have
a significant main effect on cohesion scores,
(F(1,41)=0.24, n.s. There was no interaction
between parents and siblings hearing status,
(F(1,41)=0.36, n.s. See Figure 3.
3. Distances from deaf children to mother, by
deaf/hearing status of parents and sibling.
to (oldest) sibling: There was no main effect
of parents' hearing status on cohesion scores,
F(1,41)=0.00, n.s. Siblings' hearing status
had a significant main effect on cohesion scores,
(F(1,41)=14.61, p<0.001. Children with a deaf
sibling were closer to that sibling than those
with a hearing sibling, 1.08 vs. 2.30. There
was no interaction between parent's and sibling's
hearing status, (F(1,41)=0.23, n.s. See Figure
4. Distances from deaf children to sibling,
by deaf/hearing status of parents and sibling.
your family ...?: when asked how their family
would be different on the FAST display, if their
parents were deaf (if hearing), or hearing (if
deaf), most of the children (39/45) made changes.
All 14 children of deaf parents moved the family
figures outwards (less cohesion) if asked to
imagine their parents were hearing. Of the 31
children of hearing parents, 6 made no changes
if asked to imagine their parents were deaf,
but 25 moved the figures closer (greater cohesion).
The difference in response was highly significant,
number codes (1-45) are given in parentheses
at the end of quotes used. Quotes were interpreted
into English by the interviewer if given in
sign language syntax.
Parents and Deaf Siblings
held with these children provided supported
the quantitative findings of relatively high
self esteem, and close family structure (often
a 2x2 placement of figures together). These
children appeared to be more competent in describing
their feelings than children in the other groups.
There were many comments of how similar the
children felt to their immediate family members.
are all close, never left out .... If I have
problems I always tell my Mum and Dad who
often understand my view" (6). "We are all
close, we are the only 'all Deaf unit' in
the entire family. When we go out we feel
the same, our (hearing) grandparents are speaking
with the rest of the family, but we feel the
same, and understand one another" (12).
importance of accessing parents' conversations
was also commonly reported. "I understand
all of my Mum and Dad's conversations" (11).
"I know what Mum and Dad say to each other
and what their friends say too" (28).
availability of role models and access to adults'
conversations can be seen to encourage a good
sense of self and high self esteem.
relationships were reported to be more positive
than in the other groups. Children saw their
sibling as a role model if they were older,
and reported ease of communication with them.
"My brother is Deaf and I like him, he is always
showing me different things and tells me how
to cope with problems. I feel he is like my
future as he is Deaf too" (6). "My sister can
empathise with me because she is Deaf. We can
help each other out in times of need" (11).
like my brother, we play, talk and he is kind
to me. We have a few fights! Its easy to understand
my brother, and easy to relate to him" (28).
Parents and Hearing Siblings
has to be noted that only four children were
found and interviewed for this category, this
is a rare type of family. Comments about parents
were often similar to the previous group discussed,
where children had access to their parents'
own conversations, and could easily identify
themselves with them, but some anxieties were
revealed when sibling relationships were discussed:
understand everything my parents say to one
another. My sister's signing is not too bad
because she is hearing. I sometimes understand
her. She doesn't talk to me much because I am
with accessing parents' dialogues with their
siblings were reported: "When my parents speak
to my brother, I don't understand what they
are actually saying, which is frustrating, as
they don't sign to him. My brother's level of
signing is not bad, because he is hearing" (7).
The immediate availability of local hearing
friends for their siblings as opposed to distant
deaf friends for themselves was mentioned: "Adrian
is always out with his friends, partying. My
parents stay at home looking after me. My Mum
and Dad sign and I understand everything they
say. I think I am the closest to Mum and Dad
as I am Deaf" (7).
The hearing sibling's ability to interpret from
spoken speech to sign language can be a barrier
to the development of a normal sibling relationship,
where the deaf child relies on the sibling to
and I may share a hearing friend, only if the
friend can sign, but if the friend can't, I
will use Amy to interpret for me" (8).
network of immediate accessible hearing friends
for their siblings might add to the child's
awareness of his/her own limitations and hence
act to reduce his/her self esteem. With a hearing
sibling rather than a deaf sibling, one is more
acutely aware of being unique within a limited
population of friends. However, the consequent
closeness to deaf parents might buffer this
possible effect on self-esteem, although closeness
to sibling would still be affected.
Parents and Deaf Siblings
children gave more heterogeneous information,
because of varying levels in parents' communication
methods and fluency as well as in the siblings'
level of hearing. Overall, the lower level of
self esteem in this group was found to be tied
in within the complex dynamics of this type
some children, there was a strong sense of a
deaf identity helped by the presence of a deaf
sibling, but only as long as communication was
fluent between them: "My sister is deaf and
signs well, helps me to understand a lot. It's
interesting. She can speak and helps me to pronounce
words properly" (20).
can be contrasted with another child who said:
is Deaf like me. Parents hearing. I understand
a little of what they say to each other. Brother
signs less than me" (37).
of the children were evidently aware of the
impact of having a deaf sibling: "If my brother
hearing [moves dyad to far corner] because of
no communication" (47).
hearing status of parents is not the only factor
that prevents a strong bond with them, this
was for one child amplified by not sharing a
speak to one another in a foreign language,
I don't understand my native language. My sister
is next to me [in the FAST plot] because we
both are Deaf and sign, its easy to relate to
each other" (24).
frustrations of language fluency at home can
be related to the generally lower levels of
self esteem found in this group. The presence
of older deaf siblings can also increase the
anxiety and frustrations towards hearing parents:
don't respect my Mother as she does not respect
me, doesn't help me enough. My Deaf brother
hates my Dad, for not helping [communicating]
enough. My younger [hearing] sister would be
next to me because she signs and copies me"
A greater level of spoken competence in the
deaf sibling can lead to sibling rivalry: "My
brother is the favourite of my parents, he ignores
me, and my parents ignore me too. My brother
has better speech than me and hears more than
My parents talk a lot, I don't understand, and
they tell me to mind my own business. They talk
to my brother more" (24).
issue of friends was also raised in this group:
hearing friends don't sign, they are siblings
of my Deaf friends. I prefer to be with Deaf
friends, there is more sign language and empathy.
Hearing people can't understand why we use BSL.
If all are Deaf, means we can understand and
have good times" (20).
all Deaf, it would be more cohesive, but I will
still have my own friends and my sister, her
own friends. This is because there are better
conversations, and understanding. I don't have
any Deaf friends as they live far from here.
I do go to a Deaf youth club in [X] sometimes,
and have some deaf friends there, but the hearing
friends in the grid are those who live near
Parents and Hearing Siblings
interviews revealed anxieties and ambivalent
and sometimes hostile feelings, which may be
related to the relatively low self esteem found
in the quantitative analyses, and the lower
cohesion to family members (in which the child
often placed him/herself away from the rest
of the family). There were many comments of
difficulties in communication and of how different
they felt to their immediate family members:
never understand what my parents say to each
other. I tend to ignore this now" (36).
don't understand my parents' conversations,
I feel left out. My family often talk amongst
themselves, its making me worried and frustrated"
and Dad talk a lot to each other, and I don't
understand which makes me feel angry. I wish
Mum and Dad could sign" (42).
have a nice family, my parents do not sign.
My family are all hearing. No-one signs. My
parents talk a lot, I don't understand what
they say, I just daydream. My brother is at
boarding school. I understand very little, if
they all signed I would understand a lot more"
don't understand them, no-one signs. My parents
talk to my brother more than me. I am jealous
as they can hear, I don't have subtitles. My
family watches T.V. and don't tell me what it
is saying. They only slow down when they talk
to me. At dinner, they all talk too fast, I
feel horrible" (33).
The sibling relationship in these families was
often found to be strained or distant. Communication
was a large factor here, with attitude towards
sign language often important: "My brother can't
sign at all, he doesn't like sign language.
My brother's friends are nervous of me" (16).
brother wont let me join his friends because
he is embarrassed. He has his own friends, my
friends are Deaf. My brother won't learn to
sign, my Mum is trying to teach him" (49).
Some children reported an element of jealousy
with their sibling: "I am sad when they [the
family] speak amongst themselves. I am jealous
of brother, if only he could sign more. I have
no conversation with my father, my mum is boring
and watches T.V. a lot" (40).
other children were proud of their siblings:
"My brother can sign more than my parents. I
wish they would sign" (40). The issue of friends
was again prominent in the interviews: "Sometimes
my hearing friends chat away with my brother
and I don't understand everything they say to
each other, I wait until the end and then ask"
(13). "Lots of my hearing friends talk to my
sister more" (35).
Being left out of conversations between one's
own friends and his sibling would be likely
to be detrimental to one's self image. Nevertheless,
other deaf children had a strong concept of
how deaf friends were different to hearing ones:
"The best is deaf friends because I am with
them all the time, can sign and there is more
fun. If they can't sign, it means boring and
not fun. My brother's friends rarely sign. Our
friends can sign more than his friends, I teach
on the interviews
interviews with the children revealed a lot
of interesting detail that can only be partially
presented here, but which do tend to support,
and give further insight into, the quantitative
results obtained. One problem towards the analysis
of friends in deaf children was their perspective
of what a friend constituted. Many children
in the last two groups did not consider their
deaf friends at school as real friends, they
saw friends as being people you saw at home.
A common finding in hearing families of deaf
children is that they expect their deaf child
to find it dangerous to travel on their own.
Therefore a circumscribed life could have been
enforced on these deaf children which may have
had an effect on their perspective on identity
findings partly supported the hypothesised relationship
between participants' measured self esteem and
the hearing status of the parents and siblings.
Deaf children of deaf parents had higher self
esteem scores than deaf children of hearing
parents. This pattern held regardless of whether
the sibling was deaf or hearing. There was a
tendency for those with deaf siblings to have
slightly higher self esteem scores than those
with hearing siblings, and parents of the same
hearing status. However neither the main effect
of sibling hearing status nor the interaction
between parents and siblings was significant.
Parental hearing status is clearly the more
influential factor with regard to deaf children's
self esteem, at this age range. The finding
regarding effect of parent's hearing status
is not new (Bat-Chava, 1993), but this is the
first report we know of in a non-USA (English)
The results from the FAST measurements gave
support to the hypotheses regarding cohesion
of deaf children towards family members according
to hearing status. For cohesion to both fathers
and mothers, there was a similar pattern to
that for self esteem ratings. There was a closer
relationship between deaf children and deaf
fathers, than deaf children with hearing fathers;
and between deaf children and deaf mothers,
than deaf children with hearing mothers. The
absence of an interaction between parents and
sibling hearing status shows that parental hearing
status is more important in this respect.
The findings from both the quantitative and
qualitative data support Meadow's (1980) claim
that deaf parents are an effective role model
for deaf children; and that the early use of
manual communication by parents is appreciated.
The lower self esteem of deaf children with
hearing parents, and their anxieties and ambivalent
feelings as seen in the qualitative data, reiterate
the findings of Rodda (1966) and Gregory (1976)
about the negative consequences for identity
and self-image if communication with parents
and understanding from parents is, or is perceived
to be, poor.
The hearing status of parents, and ease of communication
and understanding, may have impact in other
areas than self-esteem; including theory of
mind abilities - being able to understand that
others have their own mental states. There has
been some evidence that native signers (often
deaf children with deaf parents) demonstrated
theory of mind on a par with hearing counterparts,
whereas late signers (often deaf children of
hearing parents) were significantly delayed
in theory of mind (Peterson & Siegal, 1999).
Having access to others' conversations may allow
an insight to others' perspectives and hence
small but consistent trend was found for sibling
hearing status to relate negatively to self-esteem.
This was not statistically significant, but
may deserve further examination with a larger
sample. Deaf children did feel closer to their
siblings if the sibling was also deaf. In the
analysis of sibling cohesion, sibling hearing
status was the main effect, and parent hearing
status was not. There was no interaction between
these two variables. This is an important new
finding that deserves further exploration. The
interviews revealed many instances of sibling
rivalry, accentuated when the sibling was hearing;
as in Corker's (1996) discussion about sibling
rivalry in two deaf interviewees.
study was clearly limited in its methodology.
Finding DP/HS participants was not easy, hence
the small number in this group. Assessments
were also not done blind to condition. However
the interviewer (TW) was hearing impaired himself,
which may have assisted the ease of communication,
in both production and comprehension, with the
The self-esteem measure, while widely used for
hearing children, had limitations in this study.
This was not so much due to the question structure
(which was amended where necessary), but to
the context that some questions refer to. Deaf
children generally have two communities, deaf
and hearing. When they are asked whether e.g.
"Children pick on me very often", this does
not segregate the two worlds, which leaves them
in a more uncertain position than hearing children,
when asked to respond simply 'yes' or 'no'.
the FAST test was found to be an appropriate
measure to use with the deaf children. It was
evident that the children found this task to
be fun, and it was easy to administer and record.
It is a visual way of getting information from
deaf children without levels of English being
a barrier, as is commonly found in such assessments.
In addition it formed a useful adjunct to the
interviews, as children often referred to the
figures or moved them about as they answered
level of deafness in each participant was not
recorded. Some participants used sign language
and others used speech. Some went to residential
schools, others went to day schools. There may
have been some hearing parents who used sign
language fluently, and some deaf children who
lip-read well, hence making the selection rather
diversified. However, this variety of participants
may mean greater generalisability of the main
are other factors which should be controlled
for, such as parents' income, communication,
reading age levels and intelligence. It would
be important to control for intelligence in
a replication because it has been found that
DC/DP and DC/HP differ on cognitive scores (MacSweeney,
1998). It would also be desirable to measure
the parents' self esteem and see how it relates
to their children's self esteem.
research might use the Locus Of Control (LOC)
measure described by Rotter (1966). It assesses
the degree of responsibility which people take
for themselves. Those who have a stronger internal
LOC take responsibility for their own behaviour
and views, are more self-confident in their
decisions and seldom seek authority for guidance.
Thus the LOC may be a good measure of personal
adequacy. Bodner and Johns (1977) have suggested
that deaf people tend to be more external in
their LOC than hearing people.
findings from this study may have important
implications for the parenting and education
of deaf children. Hearing parents and siblings
could help the deaf child by making more effort
in sign language, and generally by being more
aware of the deaf child's feelings and tendency
to lower self esteem and feelings of marginalisation
in the family. Friendship with other deaf children
may be important. If a deaf environment appears
to stimulate a high sense of self, security,
and enough cognitive, social and emotional growth,
it may (depending on the amount of hearing the
child has) be wrong to put deaf children into
large classrooms of hearing peers such as mainstream
school environments,unless there are sufficient
deaf peers that they can form their own group
identity (Bat-Chava, 1993). It would be interesting
to look at the wider social network of the deaf
child; and in particular the availability of
deaf friends, both near home, and within the
school setting, and the extent to which such
friends are welcome in the home environment.
conclusion, this study has shown that self esteem
ratings given by 45 young deaf children aged
between 10 and 14, are strongly influenced by
parental hearing status; as is their perception
of cohesion with parents. Their perceived cohesion
towards siblings was found to be significantly
dependent on sibling hearing status. Qualitative
interviews revealed that ease of communication
and understanding between parents and siblings,
and relations with friends and friends of siblings,
were important salient factors in the deaf child's
world. This seems to be the first study to examine
the relationship of sibling hearing status with
deaf children's self esteem and sibling relationships.
More research is needed into the social networks
of deaf children, both within and outside the
family, to identify the key areas of importance
fort self-esteem and social and cognitive growth,
and to inform future child-rearing, and sibling
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wish to thank all the children interviewed and
staff for their time and input. We also wish
to thank Dr M. MacSweeney for invaluable advice,
Roz Dixon and Shu Shu for assistance.