Fathers of Young Deaf or Hard of Hearing Children

The issue

Few published studies have examined the perceptions and experiences of fathers raising young deaf or hard of hearing (DHH) children. To better understand these, we conducted a review spanning 50 years.

What we know

This literature is sparse – just 37 publications met the criteria for inclusion. Most studies focused on fathers with typical hearing and compared fathers’ and mothers’ experiences. Few studies involved only fathers. The experiences of fathers and mothers of DHH children can vary substantially across the 13 countries where these studies were conducted. While it is positive that this work is from different cultural contexts, the results may be less generalizable given the important role that cultural expectations, gender roles, types of services/supports available to children and families, etc., can have on outcomes. Thus, what we know must be understood in the context of those limitations.

Our review found that fathers’ experiences and perceptions could be grouped according to six broad themes:

Parental Stress and Coping – Fathers and mothers tend to report similar levels of stress, although the “emotional responses” that they experience differ (e.g., fathers and mothers may respond differently to identification of hearing levels, cochlear implantation, and the presence/absence of social support). Higher levels of acceptance of the child are related to lower parental stress levels for fathers and mothers.

Parent-Child Interaction – Children seem equally capable of forming attachment relationships with their fathers and mothers. When fathers are able to communicate well with their DHH child, this has a positive influence on the parent-child interaction and bond.

Involvement in Early Intervention – Fathers’ acceptance of their child (i.e., embracing who the child truly is and committing to learning about their needs) is related to increased involvement in early intervention. Culture and families’ access to financial and other resources can influence the extent to which fathers are involved; however, the number of hours fathers work does not necessarily predict fathers’ level of involvement.

Parental Self-Efficacy – Fathers who have higher levels of parental self-efficacy or sense of competence as a parent exhibit greater acceptance of the child. Fathers who rate their self-efficacy higher tend to be more engaged with their children – both in playing with the children and assisting with daily routines.

Benefits of Fathers’ Inclusion – Active participation of fathers in the early life of their DHH children seems to foster the children’s turn-taking and reciprocal play interactions, and has been linked with children’s higher academic and language outcomes. Included fathers report greater awareness of the responsibilities of raising their DHH children, more readily identify the joys associated with their children, and describe being closer to their DHH children.

What we don’t know

From the general literature on children and families in recent years, we know that fathers’ involvement has increased over time in many places across the globe and that traditional gender roles in parenting are less rigid than in the past. It is known that fathers influence many important child outcomes, including mental and physical health, along with social, cognitive and academic achievement.

Yet, studies of families and fathers of children who are DHH have not explored these dimensions. There are many things we do not know, including: 1) the unique role that father-child communication may have on DHH children’s development; 2).  the extent to which fathers’ ability to match a child’s communication needs may influence their own self-efficacy or influence the child’s developmental outcomes; 3) the factors that predict fathers’ level of involvement/engagement; 4) fathers’ perceptions of the positive and joyful aspects of their relationships with their DHH children, including those who are DHH and have disabilities; and 5) how to effectively/best engage fathers in early intervention. As a field, we have much to learn. 

Implications

Researchers need to be mindful that “families” can be comprised of many different individuals, not always father, mother, and child or children. Care should be taken to avoid assumptions about who is included in families, and in describing the population being studied (e.g., who are the fathers included in a study – biological fathers, stepfathers, multiple fathers, father figures, etc.?). In order to understand fathers’ experiences, researchers must actively recruit fathers and differentially analyze fathers’ and mothers’ responses to learn more about the unique contributions of fathers. Recognizing the bidirectional influences of fathers and children, along with considering “bigger questions” about how father-child interactions can influence outcomes (beyond descriptive studies) will also help to advance the field and our understanding, and potentially lead to improved interventions and supports for families.

 

Posted on April 20, 2021 by
Amy Szarkowski
Center for Children’s Communication/Beverly School for the Deaf
Boston Children’s Hospital, & Harvard Medical School
amyszarkowski{at}cccbsd.org

Evelien Dirks
Dutch Foundation for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Utrecht University
edirks{at}nsdsk.nl

Further reading