On opportunities to socialise

I am Dr Jim Cromwell MA(Hons) PsychD CPsychol AFBPsS and I am a Chartered Clinical Psychologist at the Exeter Royal Academy for Deaf Education and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. I have been a Trustee and Chair of the British Society for Mental Health and Deafness, am a Level 4 signer and qualified BSL/English Sign Language Interpreter. I have worked with deaf people since 1988. 

I have been asked to provide an expert opinion on the role of valid opportunities for true socialisation for deaf children and young people. 

In addition to academic success, the critical variable contributing to developing into a well-adjusted adult is identity formation during adolescence, and for deaf people (particularly those born to hearing parents) that involves progressing through the following stages: 1) Culturally Hearing, 2) Culturally Marginal, 3) Immersion in the Deaf World, and 4) Biculturalism. Adolescence in particular is a trial at the best of times, as young people have to negotiate the complex soap opera of adolescent social lives and networks. Communication difficulties can be an enormous barrier to this development and even subtle communication difficulties can make this development extremely difficult. The only way in which this development, this maturity, can proceed is in the context of deaf peers. Age-peers with similar struggles and conflicts, experiences and solutions. 

Deaf young people require a social context in which they feel they belong, and not where they are merely included and presumed to be equal. For deaf adolescents, whose eyes are unproblematic and whose ears are not, that belonging is amongst people who communicate visually (British Sign Language) and who have experienced similar difficulties commonly experienced by deaf people – being a linguistic minority, struggling with day-to-day communication barriers, not sharing a common language with one’s parents, isolation, a distorted and sometimes negative perception of their future, extremely limited knowledge of things that hearing young people pick up incidentally on TV, overheard conversation, and gossip and so on. 

Direct teaching and PSHE, and parental advice, goes some way towards preparing young people for adult life, but that only provides the seeds of knowledge which only becomes deeper and more finessed on a day-to-day basis rubbing shoulders with, and sharing one’s concerns with, like-minded individuals in similar circumstances. That cannot and does not happen for deaf young people deprived of the opportunity to mix with their peers to a comparable level as hearing adolescents can with theirs. 

Deprived of such an opportunity, deaf people often fail to develop an integrated sense of self. They often fail to develop a meaningful and significant sense of belonging in society and gain only a poor understanding of social rules, mores, and responsibilities. They feel isolated, oppressed (albeit perhaps tacitly), and disenfranchised. This combination leads to a highly increased probability of mental health problems, poverty, and civil and criminal offences. Compounding this problem, prosecutions of deaf people are often not followed through for minor offences – because of the technical difficulties of booking PACE interpreters and a desire not to disadvantage the disabled person. No deterrent effect is therefore in place, offending increases until it cannot be ignored, and the deaf person ends up in prison where they cannot access the rehabilitative programmes that they must complete to be considered for parole. 

This is a highly damaging cycle for the deaf person as well as, of course, for society at large. However there is a preventive solution, and that is to absolutely maximise the deaf young person’s opportunities for social development and maturity in a context of like-minded individuals with visual language.

Jim CromwellComment