Would you want your child to be born deaf? Some would

It’s been a while since the piece appeared, but it seemed like I should comment on the article “I hoped our baby would be deaf“.

I began it expecting that I’d disagree strongly with them. Having a deaf child is hard work. It’s not just all the books you have to read. It’s the constant appointments: social services (who are helpful), the hospital’s audiology appointment (fortnightly, but really needs to be weekly because infant ears grow so quickly), the cochlear implant team (for assessments that seem to go on for ever). And it’s all slightly more complex in terms of thinking what you have to do than with a hearing child.

“When I was pregnant I did hope the baby would be deaf. Obviously, I would have loved a hearing baby equally, but inside, I really hoped she would be deaf like me.”

So I started it feeling more than a little sceptical. But actually it’s a great piece (tribute to Rebecca Atkinson, who wrote it, and got inside all the ins and outs of the deaf community. Well, at least as far as I understand it.) And they make their point. If you’re a deaf parent and you have a deaf child, then you understand what the challenges are; you can bring them up on equal terms.

Being deaf is not about being disabled, or medically incomplete – it’s about being part of a linguistic minority. We’re proud, not of the medical aspect of deafness, but of the language we use and the community we live in.

At this point I was going to come up with all sorts of very bad similes; about what if we all had X-ray vision but some children were born without it. You’d say “But isn’t it awful not being able to see what’s through that brick wall?” and they’d reply “It’s fine as it is.” But it doesn’t quite work. The simile isn’t precise.

However I finished it agreeing with them. They’ve got their position and they’re happy with it, and their baby seems pretty happy too. (Tomato – great name.)


  1. Hi

    This started up all sorts of contention in the deaf-hearing worlds again. Nobody seems tobe looking atwhat would have occured had the child been born hearing ? Endless social worker involvement, go-betweens,lack of perhaps real speech input, a culture where hearing take little or no part, all that WILL reflect on the child too.

    What happens in real time as ALL deaf people know is extended HEARING family take over to alarge degree. The issues with hearing people deaf cultural people have, Do get applied to the children too. For every example where a hearing child has no issues with deaf parents, there are a dozen who do. The inter-action takes place via proxy, and children soon see this, OK they love parents and the parents love them,but there IS a huge divide there,which grows as theyget older.

    Will, deaf parents instill in their child they are NOT a part of the mainstream world,but of a deaf one ? would this impact on future aspirations too ? again yes it does. With the best will in thre world, the deaf community is NOT an effective replacement or viable alternative to the mainsteam one. Bad experience to parents gets instilled in their children, then and us becomes an accepted NORM. 9 out of 10 deaf parents have HEARING children,not deaf ones.


  2. Charles

    Thursday 30 March 2006 at 1:57 pm

    If the child had been hearing, I think she would have gained twice over. She would have had early access to sign language; and would have picked up language from all around, because she would be in the aural world too.

    I’ll take your point on the divide. Perhaps my point about X-ray vision is sort of true: what if your children had it and you didn’t? That stuff where they see into buildings could become frustrating for you, and they’d find you.. different.

    Though the 9/10 figure for deaf parents and babies seems out of line. I’d have thought it was less.

  3. i was born profoundly deaf have a hearing daughter. my first language is BSL, i am a single parent. my daughter has and never had any language problems as i made sure from birth she had access to hearing and deaf friends. as my daughter has grown up she has continued that and now as a teenager still has both hearing and deaf peers. if she had been born deaf that would have been fine too. i am very wary of this rush by medical professionals and parents alike to implant their babies as soon as possible to ‘fix’ something that isn’t life threating and costs a huge amount. if the hearing world bothered to get to know and understand the deaf maybe they would realise it is possible to grow up deaf, have a good fulfilled life same eduction as hearing good jobs marriages everything else.

  4. Charles

    Thursday 4 October 2007 at 10:27 pm

    @4: it’s really complicated. But acquiring language – spoken, visual, written – is very, very important to a child’s development. The more, the better. Visual language is good, and helps children hugely in their early years when they find it difficult to say words. But then spoken becomes easier for those with hearing, and then written takes the whole language thing onto a different level – like an aircraft taking off.

    Implants give children access to spoken language – and to all the other elements that adding another sense gives you. And the reality is still that people who are deaf have lower earnings on average and are more prone to depression. (See this page from the National Association of Deafened People, in a submission to NICE.)

    Of course you’re wary of the “rush”. Except it is not a “fix”. Such children aren’t broken. They have a condition that can be sorted out with medicine and technology.

    I suspect though that the deaf community feels threatened by CIs.

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