As we minister to the Deaf, we need to also consider how we can minister to their families as well. These families face all the pressures and stresses your family has to face, but they also have additional issues surrounding the family member's deafness, including educational choices, employment issues, public accommodations, difficulties of communication within the family, and so forth.
90 to 95% of deaf children have hearing parents. Learning that their precious child is deaf can be a very serious shock to hearing parents. (Note: the same news is most often received by Deaf parents with joy!) As brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to extend our support and love to these families.
These hearing parents are often overwhelmed when raising their deaf child. Just the normal day-to-day communication can be an enormous challenge. The majority of the parents do not know sign language when their child was born, so they have to acquire a whole new language. Sadly, surveys have shown that only 1 parent in 10 can communicate with their child through sign language.
Many parents deal with many emotions, including inadequacy, guilt, fear, and frustration. They often spend much time visiting doctor's offices, clinics and professionals in trying to equip the child so he/she can fit in the hearing world. Additionally, they have to make hard decisions about the child's education.
Like many homes with a special needs child, relationships within the home are often strained. Parents may communicate less with each other. Siblings may resent the deaf child for a variety of reasons. The deaf child may be frustrated with the lack of adequate communication within the home.
In the midst of all this, somehow they are to raise their deaf child to love Jesus and commit his/her life to Him, as if training up a child to love God in the best of circumstances isn't challenging enough. We all need to be sensitive to the needs of such families in our churches and do what we can to share the love of Jesus with them.
Often, when members are near deaf children they experience feelings of inadequacy and awkwardness due to the inability to communicate. Also, Deaf children often appear to be unruly and problematic, thus many shy away from what seems to be a difficult situation. We must work to overcome these fears and take notice of how much of a blessing a Deaf child really is. One way to do so is to look through their eyes. Deaf children see the world much differently than hearing children and they do take notice of those who demonstrate God's love to them.
Generally, parents or other family members provide all of the interaction the child receives in the church setting, including teaching and interpreting. Consider ways to help alleviate the family's burden so the family is provided with relief and the child develops relationships with others in the church.
This may surprise you, but most Deaf couples have hearing children. These children find that they have their very own acronym, CODA (Children of Deaf Adults). CODAs are very special and they have unique experiences. These children are frequently bilingual, knowing both English (or the locally spoken language) and sign language. CODAs have the privilege of living in two vastly different worlds, the hearing and the Deaf, and can fully participate in both worlds and enjoy their benefits. CODAs frequently favor one culture over the other. Some have a difficult time deciphering which one they truly belong to as both worlds tug at them.
One thing to always keep in mind is that young CODAs are kids and we need to let them remain kids. Do not expect them (or siblings of Deaf children, for that matter) to interpret. Too many find these kids to be convenient interpreters, but remember, CODAs are not on call at all times to serve as such.
Some CODAs are embarrassed of their Deaf parents because they are different. As they try to fit into the hearing world, they can see that their parents do not always follow its norms. This may lead to feelings of awkwardness and embarrassment. Plus, adults and peers frequently ask them questions about their parents; some of these questions are unintentionally demeaning. These children and youth may not necessarily want to be singled out as being a CODA and we need to be mindful of that. We need to avoid adding to the child's stress of living in between worlds. Treat CODAs as if they were any other child. They want to be themselves, not just a Deaf person's child, a ready-made interpreter, or an ASL instructor.
Another thing to note is that Deaf people rely on their eyes extensively to take in information. Since they keep their eyes focused on the interpreter or Deaf speaker, they may not always know what their children are doing. If they keep an eye on their children, they miss much of what is being said. Often, Deaf parents end up feeling self-conscious about their children's behavior. Discuss some options and ideas with the Deaf parents, such as having someone hearing sit with them during services.
We need to embrace the uniqueness of Deaf families and learn how we can improve our ministry to them. There is something for every member to do.