Children of deaf adults (CODA): growing up with unique communication challenges

What does it mean to be CODA?
CODA as communicators and its impact on mental health
Take-home message
References
Further reading


Children of deaf adults (CODA) refer to hearing children who are born to deaf parents. More than 90% of deaf adults are known to have children with normal hearing ability. These children often experience communication, social, and cultural challenges because of the unique difference between the deaf and hearing worlds.

Image Credit: fizkes/Shutterstock.com

Image Credit: fizkes/Shutterstock.com

What does it mean to be CODA?

CODA are commonly referred to as “mother-father deaf” in the society they live. These children grow up in unique circumstances where they are constantly exposed to two culturally, socially, and linguistically distinct communities, namely the deaf community and the hearing community. Despite having a functional hearing system, they experience the ambiguity of being “culturally deaf.”    

Communication is one of the major challenges in CODA’s life. Most deaf people use sign language to communicate. Thus, their hearing children also grow up learning sign language in a natural way, similar to hearing children who learn spoken language from their hearing parents.

Besides sign language, CODAs learn spoken language when exposed to the hearing community later in life. This makes these children bilingual and bicultural. In some cases, however, deaf parents choose not to communicate with their hearing children through sign language. They prefer to use spoken language instead. This can lead to restricted parent-child communication, inappropriate learning of spoken language, and a lack of knowledge about sign language.

CODA as communicators and its impact on mental health

CODA often bridge the gap between the deaf and hearing community. They act as an interpreter or a communicator for their families. They also help their parents understand the culture of hearing community. This added responsibility helps them to be mature and independent and maintain a close relationship with their parents.

Experiences gathered by CODA as communicators help build their ability to socialize and empathize others. They also feel socially more responsible and enjoy learning different languages and cultures. According to available literature, CODA who learn to understand the hearing community independently develop many positive behaviors, including adaptiveness, resourcefulness, curiosity, and worldliness.   

Some major disadvantages of using CODA as interpreters are inappropriate or biased communication and violation of deaf parents’ right to privacy. If the parents’ role is misunderstood and the interpretation is not kept to appropriate contexts, this can lead to parentification or parent-child role reversal.

Serving as interpreters since childhood could be very tiring for CODA. They may also feel traumatized and embarrassed while interpreting their parents’ experiences that are not appropriate for their age.    

Exposure to inappropriate contexts can put unwanted burdens and pressure on CODA, making them emotionally vulnerable. CODA sometimes prefer not to interpret insensitive comments from hearing people to their parents to protect them from embarrassment. Such situations are also very challenging and stressful for CODA as they feel trapped between two completely opposite worlds.

In many cases, CODA experience spoken language delay because of the lack of verbal communication at home. They often seek help from other hearing family members to learn spoken language. Some CODA even prefer to use sign language over spoken language, and some identify themselves as late speakers.

Image Credit: fizkes/Shutterstock.com

Image Credit: fizkes/Shutterstock.com

Unacceptance of parents’ deafness is another problem commonly experienced by CODA. They tend to develop feelings of embarrassment, shame, and stigma. A complete dependence of deaf parents makes it harder for CODA to leave home for their own life ventures.

CODA mostly depend on their hearing family members and friends for educational purposes. Their deaf parents occasionally attend school meetings to be informed about their children's educational progress. This fact exerts both positive and negative impacts on CODA’s life.

Parents’ absence at school is mostly positively regarded by teachers who understand the toughness of CODA’s life and try to help them out with school activities. Similar support CODA get from their hearing peers as well. However, CODA sometimes take advantage of the situation to get special attention at school or bypassing their parents on school issues. These facts indicate CODA’s authoritarian attitudes over their parents.           

Take-home message

CODA develop both positive and negative attributes through their bilingual, bimodal, and bicultural life experiences.

Stressful situations experienced by CODA as interpreters can be avoided by implementing social, psychological, and educational support services for deaf-parented families. Professional sign language interpreters can be appointed to interpret inappropriate situations for children.

BSL signed: Stories from children of deaf adults - BBC World Service

Various technologies such as video phones, short message service, and telecommunication devices for deaf people can be used to reduce the dependence of deaf parents on hearing children.  

Educational training courses designed for deaf parents should be implemented to improve their knowledge of raising a hearing child.

References

Further Reading

Last Updated: Apr 11, 2023

Dr. Sanchari Sinha Dutta

Written by

Dr. Sanchari Sinha Dutta

Dr. Sanchari Sinha Dutta is a science communicator who believes in spreading the power of science in every corner of the world. She has a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) degree and a Master's of Science (M.Sc.) in biology and human physiology. Following her Master's degree, Sanchari went on to study a Ph.D. in human physiology. She has authored more than 10 original research articles, all of which have been published in world renowned international journals.

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