Deaf children need a dad* who can be a positive role model, who can play an important part within the family unit, who can make the adjustments that come with having a deaf child, and who is prepared to help their child make the most of their abilities.
The National Deaf Children's Society (NDCS) met with a number of fathers of deaf children over a period of several weeks. The aim was to get their views on the issues that concerned them and how they felt their needs as a father of a deaf child could be met. We have produced this booklet for other fathers of deaf children using their views. The booklet gives sources of further information and tips from fathers on being the dad of a deaf child.
"It was not as such a negative thing, as your initial reaction is you feel 'gosh this is an absolute change to family life and future relationship with my son', but that was dispelled very early on."
90% of deaf children are born to families with no previous experience of deafness. For many families it is normal to feel unprepared and overwhelmed. Fathers told us that they sometimes find it difficult to know where to fit in, or perhaps because of work or other commitments, they weren't always able to attend appointments and find out information for themselves.
Friends, family and parenting groups can all play their part in helping make sense of the situation. You can also ask your child's audiologist, teacher of the deaf or another professional to point you in the direction of local support. There are often opportunities to meet other families through your early intervention service or a parent support group in your area. You may also like to join our online forum for parents.
Fathers tell us that, having made a few changes, and with good support, they soon discover that fathering a deaf child is as rewarding as raising any other child!
"I have always tried to get involved in any way but it is difficult when you're going to work, seven in the morning and then you're coming back at six o'clock. I was trying to make an effort. I was bathing her every night, that kind of thing but the stuff during the day, the appointments and that, you are not feeling as if you are getting involved as much or if you're looking at what you should necessarily be putting in, plus you are feeling tired when you come home. It is sort of the experience of trying to kind of support your wife and listen to the problems when your head is already full of work and the rest of it"
"When we take the girls to bed we read with them and lay on the pillow. I personally think that is important to continue the bonding thing if you sit opposite them. It is great for development. I always make a point of going to bed with them and reading with them whilst lying on the bed next to them to continue the bonding. Don't give up on the treating them as a normal little child"
"She is mixing with other hearing impaired and deaf children. I think it is important for her to do this because when your child sees another child or another person with hearing aids, they run up to them and point and say "wow look, you've got hearing aids". I think it is such a nice thing that she's accepted in her mainstream school. There is a culture within deaf society, they own a kind of sub-culture, it is quite precious and it is nice for her to be involved in both I think"
When you have been told that your child is deaf, there is no doubt that the early days can be a steep learning curve while you get to grips with new information and ideas. Don't expect to understand everything immediately - you may need some time for everything to fall into place. You can ask your child's audiologist or teacher of the deaf to explain your child's hearing test results to you and what they mean in terms of what they can and cannot hear with and without their hearing aids. The Internet can also be a good source of information though caution should be used.
"As a new dad, use every source of information you can. Be aware, be open minded, remember that some people will say, 'this is the way to go' - don't take that on face value. Do your own research, you know what is best for your child. Be single minded about that"
"The most I have learned is from my children, because they reinforce - 'no it's like this, not like this'"
"I get inspiration from meeting the other parents, particularly the ones with older children so I know what the future looks like."
Developing good communication in the early years is vital for all children and their families. With good communication skills a child can influence and learn from others. This is necessary to develop emotional, personal and social skills. Deaf children are no different but sometimes may need to use different communication methods. This may mean the whole family has to adapt or learn some new communication skills themselves.
"My daughter came home with lots of leaflets about the different ways deaf children communicate, talking and signing. We just looked at each other. Then we both said together 'Let's try everything', after all my grandson was only six months old."
"He's a very cheeky boy, very argumentative, so I'm having arguments with him in the street in sign and people sort of stop and look, and they get embarrassed if you look and you say 'I'm just having an argument about chocolate and toys and playstation games and stuff."
"When we communicate now we generally use the oral approach with Jason, but sometimes we sign because we feel it is important to realise that Jason is a deaf child and when he gets older he has a choice"
"Almost immediately after Colin was diagnosed, we both agreed to learn to sign. We felt not only it was more than just communication, it felt as if we were doing something positive to begin the journey into learning what it is like to be deaf. We did both agree we would both do it, so we both did it on separate nights and attended evening classes. And we found that it was probably the single biggest thing that we ever did for communication purposes' because of that, our communication with Colin has been excellent throughout"
"My daughter and Leon both sat in front of the TV with their legs crossed doing all of the signs. She would say the word and he would do the sign and they got on very well that way."
It is important you feel part of your child's life. It is also important that both you and your partner feel able to support one another on an emotional as well as practical level. In the early days you may both struggle with the news that your child is deaf. There will be many appointments which can seem to be never ending. If you work full-time it is likely that you won't be able to attend all the appointments scheduled. You could ask the professionals involved to make an appointment at a more convenient time for you or you could call beforehand to find out what will happen at the appointment and decide which appointments you feel are most important for you to attend.
It is important to remember that as parents you are the most important member of the team that now supports your child. Any letters written by professionals about your child's hearing should be copied to you. If you are not getting the information you feel you need don't be afraid to ask. It is also important to have a chat with your employer and find out about your paternity rights in terms of time off work and annual leave. You could also find out if any of the appointments can be videotaped for you to watch later on.
"There is so much information coming at you and from your wife's point of view she probably felt completely swamped by it so it is really important that the both of you are there because then at least there are two of you with four ears to hear all this information; then afterwards you can go through it. Otherwise if she's having to take it all and then explain it to you, bits will get missed, and I think it is just really important that you get hold of the situation"
"I think it is important for children to see both parents being communicative and using language and being emotional with the children as well"
"I never feel happier than when I am in a room of parents of deaf children and so have benefited enormously over the last three years from going to lots of social events. Nothing formal, but Christmas parties and coffee mornings."
"The teacher of the deaf would say if I got there for four o'clock, we will go through the things that you might have missed in previous weeks and what they are doing is giving you a progress report on how James is doing. And at the implant centre which is usually a group session once a month, I am always there."
"I would say you need to develop a strategy as a couple or as a family early on as to how you will handle it and how you will approach it. Martin is 12 now so I think we have a strategy but we did not have one to begin with and we did not think it through. It has evolved. Looking back I realise that the appointments and managing that would be an issue, down to the point where we are taking notes now. We would never do that before. We never took a note pad and noted things down."
Fathers told us that having a deaf child sometimes means making changes to their life. However, they generally felt that when balanced against the rewards of parenting a deaf child, this was a small price to pay.
"I have gone back to university and have a part time job now so I am tending to cover the appointments. My wife has got a full-time job, so since then I have really got a lot more involved. I have got a much better relationship with my daughter because of it. I have always tried to get involved anyway I can but it is difficult when you're going to work."
"You need to adapt, and think about the way you're communicating with them and taking pride in your communication rather than being a tough figure that is not going to be supportive. You don't want to be a tough, moody father."
* The NDCS uses the term 'dad' or 'father' to represent an individual who has assumed the father role within a family or is a male carer. This may include biological fathers who either live with or away from their child, stepfathers, adoptive and foster fathers. Older brothers, uncles, grandfathers, may also be the 'lead adult male' in a child or young person's life.
12-Nov-2015 9:42 AM (AEST)