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You and your grandchild

grandparents and granddaughter

You and your grandchild

'Having a deaf granddaughter has been one of the most rewarding and challenging experiences of my life. I always wanted to be a grandparent but I was in no way prepared for having a grandchild who is deaf. Initially I felt out of my depth and unsure how to support my daughter and son-in-law. Now I know more I feel more confident and determined to be there for my granddaughter, after all I’m her grandma.' Grandmother

‘At the initial diagnosis I had a terrible fear of feeling powerless. Sadness lingers, yet since the diagnosis, as a family we’ve grown stronger and are committed to ensuring only the best for the child.’ Grandmother

‘Altogether I would say that her arrival, diagnosis and treatment united the entire family. As a grandmother, it has been such a challenging but yet so rewarding experience. It has opened up a world I never knew existed.' Grandmother

‘When we told my parents, they were very upset and still are. Sometimes for me and my husband to be ‘upset’ about anything will then also upset my parents.’ Mother

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Granddad feeding grandson

'Grandparenting' a deaf child

The relationship a child has with a grandparent is a special one. This is no different for deaf children. You will play an important role in your grandchild’s life.

‘When I am away from the family, I feel angry and upset about what has happened. Knowing that he will never be like us, never experience things the way we can and not talk as we can. Of course, I can’t talk about any of this to my son, I have to remain positive.’ Grandfather

‘Initially I felt very upset and angry. I couldn’t understand why it had happened to us. Now two years on, I am fully involved with everything that can enrich all our lives.’ Grandfather

‘I felt confused and helpless. I had been a nursery nurse and also worked at a school but had never encountered deafness except in the elderly. I joined the local signing class and local deaf club and haven’t looked back.’ Grandmother

‘I would say once you get over the shock, and it’s a terrible shock, the biggest tip I would give is just love and support your children and grandchildren because they need it and they need to see you’re a part of it. Make the disability an ability because there is so much they’re able to do.’ Grandfather

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Finding information and support

When you first find out that your grandchild is deaf you may find it a shock or be upset. There is no right or wrong way to feel.

Over 90% of deaf children are born to families with little or no experience of deafness. So it’s no surprise that many grandparents are not prepared and are unsure of how to support their grandchild. There are lots of different sources of support available to help you learn more about deafness and what this means for your grandchild.

Support can come from

  • your family and friends
  • your local community
  • services for deaf children (eg audiology, early intervention)
  • parent organisations such as Parents of Deaf Children

‘Meeting other families was great, the worry was taken away. If I had been in contact with families in similar situations from the beginning, that would have been helpful.’ Grandmother The following hints and tips were given by grandparents about what they found helpful

Find out about deafness for yourself. There are lots of sources of information available. Your son or daughter may have been given information that you can look at too. Although this may be aimed at parents, it can still be useful.

  • Encourage your son or daughter to talk to you. Find out when your grandchild has an appointment (for example, a visit to the audiology clinic) and see if you can go with them. If you can’t go, ask them how it went.
  • Find out if there are any groups in your area for families of deaf children. There may also be other families or grandparents who live near to you and have a deaf child or grandchild. It’s good to be able to meet and talk with other families and other grandparents. There may be groups set up for grandparents where you can share your experiences.
  • Listening to your son or daughter and asking questions shows that you are interested. Try and make sure that you ask questions at appropriate times and that your questions are sensitive and help you to understand your grandchild’s deafness.

‘It was good for my parents as in our area they had a grandparents’ group set up. This meant that they could share any worries or concerns that they did not want to share with us.’ Mother

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A deaf child in your family

Fishing with granddadHaving a deaf child in your family probably means that there are new things for you to learn and do to support your grandchild. Understanding your grandchild’s needs and developing good communication within your family are important for your grandchild’s development. Here are some tips from grandparents about what they have done, together with sources of other information.

‘Don’t be frightened of their equipment – I was. I’m not good with the equipment. The first time putting the hearing aid in, you’re scared of hurting them.’ Grandfather

‘I went with my daughter on an initial consultation with the doctor, who explained everything and assured me that my grandchild would get all the support she needed.’ Grandmother

‘When you take them away on holiday, you have to think of everything so much more, like have we got the batteries etc.’ Grandmother

‘My father and stepfather both had to wear hearing aids at the time, and they both made a point of showing our oldest that they too wore hearing aids and would wear them in front of him when perhaps they hadn’t before to show solidarity.’ Mother

  • Understand how to communicate with your grandchild. Your son or daughter will be able to show you how you can do this and, as your grandchild gets older, they will be able to tell you what communication works best for them.
  • Learn about your grandchild’s hearing aids or cochlear implant. Find out how to look after them and do the practical things such as changing batteries.
  • Think about how to make your home more suitable for your grandchild. You could do things such as having subtitles or signing on television programmes.
  • Have fun. Play games, do activities together and do general household jobs (such as shopping) together.

‘My mother and I made a calendar for her to look at. We took pictures of activities like the park with the ducks and the library. We put these on the calendar using magnets so she could learn what the programme was for the day.’ Mother

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Supporting your family

‘I was very upset when we found out and didn’t know what to do. Over time we united as a family. We shared experiences and did everything together when possible.’ Grandfather

‘My daughter-in-law lets me know about all the appointments and about going to the deaf centre for children and deaf play groups which help my granddaughter very much. I’m not able to go with them as I live too far away but it’s important that I keep in contact.’ Grandmother

Here are some hints and tips from other families about what they found helpful.

  • Offer practical help. Parents sometimes have contact with many different professionals and go to a lot of different appointments. Offer to help with phone calls, letters and going to appointments.
  • Gardening with granddadBabysitting and looking after your grandchild will give you time with your grandchild as well as giving parents some time to themselves.
  • When it comes to supporting and caring for a child, it is important to be consistent. So take the lead from your son or daughter, even if you don’t have the same ideas about ‘parenting’ your grandchild.
  • Develop your own support networks of people you can talk to and organisations you can contact.
  • Make time for your other grandchildren, as they need quality time with you too.
  • Try not to be overprotective: your grandchild needs to develop independence and confidence.
  • Enjoy your grandchild: you will have a special and unique relationship with them.
Tips from other grandparents
  • Make sure all grandchildren mix together.
  • Try and get the full information, including the sadder news that they (your children) do not want to give you.
  • Find out what methods of communication will be best and, where necessary, find out more information. For example, if sign language is the preferred method, find out where sign language classes take place.
  • Make sure that you have eye contact with your grandchild before speaking.
  • Be aware of any background noise which may distract them and interfere with their listening.
  • Have fun and enjoy activities with them. Children will always be children, whether they are hearing or deaf.
  • Where possible, by discussing and talking with friends, family and other people, ensure that they get an accurate perception of deafness. We saw this as indirect support to our family.

‘I always ensure that each grandchild has quality time. I’ve found at times it was easy to spend more time with the deaf grandchild than their hearing siblings but it’s important this time is equal.’ Grandmother

‘My family have high expectations of both my children, we enjoy spending time with them both and when things need to be challenged, we all pitch in together and see things through.’ Father

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Kissing grandma

A final word...

‘The opportunity of meeting a deaf adult and learning about what they had achieved gave me hope for my grandchild.’ Grandfather

‘My parents have realised that there sometimes isn’t a lot they can do for the child, but there is a lot that they can do for both my wife and me in terms of support and being there.’ Father

‘The thing is the support; you know they have taken an interest. Just that alone is a lot, you know, that someone else has taken an interest.’ Mother

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NDCS use the term 'deaf' to mean all types of deafness, including temporary deafness such as glue ear.

Information provided by the National Deaf Children's Society. Reproduced with permission.

08-Dec-2015 5:01 AM (AEST)