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  • Writer's pictureOctavio C Maldonado

How to Reduce the Impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) on Adults Who are Deaf?

According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)” are "potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood (0-17), such as neglect, abuse, or witnessing violent behavior." ACEs can have a harmful impact on the physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral development beginning in early childhood into adulthood.

When compared to the general population of hearing children, children who are deaf or hard of hearing have a higher risk of experiencing ACEs. There are a large number of hearing parents who are unable to communicate with their deaf children, which obviously has a negative impact on hard of hearing/deaf children. The most prevalent causes of ACEs in this population are a lack of communication, language deprivation, isolation, emotional neglect, rejection, and bullying as described in the following statements:

1) Witnessing the parental grief when deaf diagnoses is discovered.

2) No or little access to healthcare providers who, for the most part, are unaware of the deaf culture and/or needs of children/people who are deaf.

3) Children who are deaf are isolated and do not have access to a full understanding of language, which then can cause language delays, as well as developmental and emotional delays. Data indicates that ninety percent of parents who have deaf children, do not use American sign language, indicating that the majority of hearing parents do not sign.

4) Deaf students are labeled as “disabled” and are more likely to be bullied in traditional school settings.

5) Deaf children often experience physical and emotional abuse from parents and caregivers.

6) Various additional negative experiences that deaf children have that are either unrecognized and/or unaddressed.

The trauma of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can have a long-term negative effect on deaf and hard of hearing children lasting into their adulthood. The results include anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation/attempts, drug and alcohol addiction, the inability to attend college, and other delays that contribute to significant delays and ability to achieve goals. Additionally, a child who is deaf is at an increased risk of acquiring a variety of illnesses, including obesity, diabetes, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) cancer, as well as other diseases and conditions.

The following strategies focus on modifying norms, creating positive educational, social and work environments, and shaping behaviors in such a way as to reduce the risk of adverse childhood experiences. These strategies could result in an increase in self-esteem, more inclusive educational environments, increased employment opportunities, as well as providing a template to overcome other barriers experienced by the deaf population.

There are multiple strategies to prevent Adverse Childhood Experiences, including the following:

1# Encouraged parent(s) to learn ASL to communicate with their child(ern) as a way to develop relationships.

#2: Find a deaf mentor to work one-on-one with the child to raise his or her self-esteem and adapt to his or her own deaf identity.

#3: Participation in deaf events that allow a deaf child to socialize with another deaf child, which can enhance their social skills and reduce the feeling of shame for being deaf.

#4: After-school activities (applicable deaf programs) that promote cognitive and academic development while also providing a positive environment that is supportive.

Bonus: Helping deaf children develop fundamental social-emotional skills such as connecting with others, which helps us control our emotions, create healthy relationships, and develop empathy. For example, if you see children who are frustrated, angry or behaving aggressively, they would best benefit from an adult who can see these emotions as expressing an actual need.

EG: In a situation where a deaf child is pointing to the highest shelf in the kitchen and their mother, who is not an experienced ASL user, is trying to understand what this deaf child is saying. Not being able to communicate, the child could start kicking, screaming, and crying and tantruming. It is important for parents to understand that this child’s “negative behavior” is actually the child attempting to communicate with the parent, not a child just acting out. Without a clear ability to communicate through language (ASL), children have no other choice but to communicate in non-verbal ways, which is often seen as negative behavior.

It is essential for parents and the general population to have a better knowledge of deaf child(ern) with adverse childhood experiences and how to lessen them in order to prevent harmful consequences in early childhood, which can lead to greater health outcomes later in adulthood.


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