While perusing adoption Facebook groups, I regularly come across a particular type of post.
“My husband and I are starting the adoption process, we are looking for a young, minor needs girl ages 0-3. What are some minor needs that you would recommend that don’t require surgery or life long care.”
Inevitably someone will ALWAYS mention deafness as a “minor, correctable need.”
Ears are Correctable, Language Deprivation is Not
Ears are absolutely minor and sometimes, somewhat correctable. I use the word “somewhat” because most causes of deafness are not correctable. Of course there are medical devices such as hearing aids and cochlear implants that provide access to sound but are not always a perfect fix. Nor is every adopted child a candidate for these devices. Furthermore, do not underestimate the impacts of even mild to moderate losses on language learning, speech and education. Moderate losses can be significant in many learning environments.
I am not going to get into the debate about implants. I believe implants have their place and I know that they help many children. Especially children whose parents have the access, finances, time, education, etc. to devote to proper training. However, they still do not “correct” deafness. Nor are they minor. There is surgery, appointments, listening training, etc. Hearing Aids and Cochlear Implant devices are very expensive to purchase and maintain. Please consider this as your child grows up and is responsible for their own finances. Also, hearing aids and implants do not just happen overnight. You can prepare for a 6 to 12 month process once home.
But It wasn’t on the MCC!
Language deprivation is NOT on your MCC. Nowhere do you get to check a box that says, “hey, give me the kid that is literally like a small wild animal.” Deafness is the one disability that every training technique suggested will NOT work because they have zero communication skills. You can’t have the guide “just explain” to them that you are a new Mama and Baba and you are going to take them someplace great and love them and keep them safe. Nope. None of that. Your first few months will seem like never ending games of charades.
You can’t soothe them with your sweet mama voice or play familiar Chinese songs. You can’t tell them that you will feed them or ask them if they want more. You can’t prepare them for the next part of the journey or even tell them their own name. Plus, if you have studied any of the Connected Child information on trauma, they may be so shut down, so petrified of you that they can’t even process the few signs you do know through the trauma.
You also may find the opposite happens. This child may be so painfully hungry for language that they are lapping every sign up like it is the last water on a hot day and you just can’t keep up with their hunger for communication access.
Language Deprivation is Trauma
Language deprivation is one of the most painful, difficult and horrible abuses children with deafness experience. It is neither minor or easily correctable. Depending on the age of the child, there can be significant long term impacts on all aspects of their cognitive, emotional and behavioral well being. A child that has been kept from all abstract thought, from all connection to other people will likely have developed coping mechanisms in order to survive. Even young children, will have learned to head butt, scream, stiffen up, bite, kick and try to escape. These are not survival skills that will go away easily.
Learning language does not happen over night. Even children who are not spoken to or “taught” language have access to words, sounds, noises. Their brains began to form neurological pathways allowing them the ability to start putting basic language skills together. Deaf children will either be significantly delayed in this area or lacking those neural pathways all together.
Children who have moderate to profound hearing loss are not stimulating those parts of their brain and the effects of language deprivation can be critical and lifelong. Research shows us that children who are deprived language during the early years can have significant memory organization, problem solving abilities and number manipulation even after learning a primary language. Couple that with the effects of trauma on the brain, you are definitely not looking at a minor need much less one that is easily correctable.
Language Connects the Family
In addition to being deprived language in their home country, once the adoption has taken place, are you and your entire immediate family prepared to use sign language ALL THE TIME? Is everyone in your family committed to making this child part of your family? If you are the mother reading this, I am going to tell you. Being the ONLY person committed to learning sign language will be very difficult. It will be a painful one sided life that is unfair to both of you.
Not Minor. Not Correctable.
I do understand that many families adopt children believing they will “just implant them” and it will all be better. It might be. The question you have to ask yourself is what if it isn’t? What about the six month hearing aid trial that will required by insurance? What about the time to schedule the surgery, the healing time and then the mapping? It will probably be close to 9-12 months before a child is at the point of regular therapies to help them learn to use their listening skills. That is one more year that your deaf child will have to live in survival mode. Are you willing to sit by for an entire year with your now 4 or 5 year old only using infant level language?
Plus this plan is only good if a) the child is a candidate for a cochlear implant and b) if he/she responds well to them. I know many families that have brought children home from China, with the intention of using CI’s and instead found themselves several years down the road with a child who was not a candidate, did not respond the implant or was deemed a failure by the CI team.
What can you do?
First, be prepared to learn sign language. Second, understand that children with hearing loss will most likely have significant language deficits that have nothing to do with what is wrong with their ears. Most importantly, be prepared for the worst case scenario and have multiple plans ready to meet the language development needs of your child.
Should I Adopt a Deaf Child?
Now I know there are some people reading this and thinking, “Ughh, Melanie, isn’t it more important that a child get’s a home.”
Absolutely! Unequivocally YES!
I want to see every deaf child coming home to a loving prepared family. A family that understands that ears are not what causes the long term educational and social-emotion struggles that adopted children with hearing loss will experience. I want parents to know that deafness is not necessarily a minor correctable need.
This post isn’t to dissuade you from adopting a child with hearing loss. On the contrary, this post is written to help you understand the reality of adopting children with language deprivation.
This is a go into the adoption of your language deprived child with your EYES WIDE OPEN post. It is a find a mentor, an ASL using family, more deaf adopted families. Ask questions about deafness, hearing loss, genetics, educational programs. Be open to answers that you might not like or want to hear. Listen to these families that are walking your path. Be open to hearing from real Deaf adults on what it feels like being “left out” of their families, even families with good intentions.
Most importantly be open to the idea that this may be the hardest need no one told you about.
Treean River says
I wanted to congratulate to you for a new family and adoptee parents. I read through your article. I respect your opinion and your perspective.
I can share you a long story but I just share MY experience as an adopted.
Well, I guess I have to blunt you simple word. Please feel free to disagree or ageee with me. My life was NOT EASY!!!
If you want to discuss with me about your Deaf adopted child. I would happy to tell you about my life and good resources.
Treean, Bogota Colombia
Great post! I haven’t had the experience of meeting deaf people but I’ve met people who have other types of disabilities