Adopting Children With Hearing Loss

The decision to adopt a child is a big one. Not only does one have to prepare to care for another human being, but they also need to jump through innumerable hoops to officially grow their family. When someone makes the decision to adopt a child with hearing loss, things become even more complicated as the newly formed family now has to learn to navigate the world of hearing loss in addition to working through the adoption process.
While adopting a child with hearing loss may seem like an infrequent event, it turns out that over 90% of international adoptions from countries such as China, Ethiopia, and South Korea, are of children with “special needs”. Thus, information and support for parents adopting children with different needs are critical for the long-term well being of these new families.
That being said, researchers from Columbia University found that little support information is available to the general public when it comes to adopting children with hearing loss. In response to this resounding lack of resources, the researchers conducted a study to investigate the experiences, challenges, needs, and perspectives of parents with adopted children with hearing loss to best support these children as they learn and grow.
The Study
This study from Columbia University focused on the different needs and situations of families that had adopted children with hearing loss. The researchers recruited families through social media and professional networks and asked them to complete a variety of surveys.
Forty-nine families filled out a survey with quantitative data about their children, such as their age when adopted, their degree of hearing loss, their use of hearing technology, and their communication method(s). Twenty-two of these families completed a secondary qualitative interview with the researchers to discuss different aspects of adopting a child with hearing loss.
Through the interview process, the researchers identified trends in a number of different aspects of adopting a child with hearing loss. Here are some of their findings:

  • Motivation: While every family has a different motivation for adopting, researchers noticed that only a few parents in this study specifically chose to adopt a child with hearing loss. Other parents were open to adopting children with a variety of special needs and were matched with a child with hearing loss by chance. Some parents even adopted a child that they thought had normal hearing but were later diagnosed with hearing loss months or years after adoption.
  • Hearing Loss Diagnosis: Many of the families in the study stated that they were given unclear, partial, or incorrect information regarding their adopted child’s hearing loss. Much of this difficulty in diagnosis comes from the lack of reliable medical care in some countries, which makes it challenging to accurately convey the severity of a child’s hearing loss to adopting parents. Parents who learn of a child’s hearing loss after adoption exhibit a range of emotions, from relief (as their child’s lack of social response is from a sensory and not intellectual difference) to grief (over the diagnosis or over the pre-diagnosis difficulties).
  • Socio-emotional Aspects: Although some of the families in the study had professional or personal experience with hearing loss, many of them still found parenting a child with hearing loss to be particularly challenging. Moreover, many of the adopted children had other disabilities, in addition to hearing loss, which added to the challenge. While parents in the study were committed to their children, they often had to fight back against insensitive remarks from family members, friends, or medical professionals as they sought to create the best life for their child.

Future Implications
As the study shows us, adopting a child with hearing loss isn’t always a decision that’s made ahead of time. While some parents choose to specifically adopt a child with additional support needs, other parents learn of their children’s hearing loss months or years after the initial adoption.
This uncertainty, combined with the lack of readily available resources for these families, makes adopting and caring for a child with hearing loss a particularly acute challenge. Moving forward, it is clear that more resources are needed to adequately support parents and adopted children with hearing loss.


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