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Maintaining young people's deaf identity

Photo: Exploring identity and how we perceive ourselves is a natural part of growing up.

“Embrace your deafness. Don’t dare try and push it down. Wear your hair up. If you need to say ‘what?’ more than once then do it! We were all made to be different and being deaf is one of those things that makes you unique and cool.”

Danielle (23)

Adolescence is one of the most rapid phases of development, bringing with it huge physical, mental, social and emotional change. As they grow, deaf young people may become more self-conscious about their deafness. For example, they might become reluctant to use sign language or to wear their hearing technology.

It's common for us to begin to question our identities at this age and there is nothing wrong with exploring who we are, and who we want to be. For deaf young people, this may involve thinking more independently about their own deaf identity. Below are just a few ways you can help them to do this.

Explore Deaf culture

"I'm not scared to be who I am now. Meeting other people has helped me to find out about who I am and what I like."

Zain (16)

90% of deaf children are born to hearing families, which can mean they grow up with limited experience of Deaf culture and the Deaf community. Not all deaf people feel that they identify with the Deaf community, but as deaf young people begin to form their own identities, it's important that they are given the option to explore this culture if they want to. Finding out about deaf clubs in your area is a great place to start. 

Meet other deaf young people

"It’s so important for deaf people to meet other deaf children their age. It’s way easier to figure out your deafness with friends and much less isolating."

Ella (15)

Having friends we can relate to is an important part of growing up. Although many deaf young people thrive in mainstream education, it can be helpful for them to get to know deaf people their own age outside of school. There are lots of ways for deaf young people to meet one another, for example through deaf sports, local groups, or through a National Deaf Children's Society residential weekend

Keep communication options open

“I’d seen sign language on CBeebies but I didn’t know it was for deaf people! I didn’t know anything about the Deaf community or deaf communication. I was very lonely as a kid; I thought being deaf was something wrong.”

Anwyn (15)

Young children rely on their parents to make big decisions for them, such as what hearing technology they will use and how they will communicate. As a parent, you know your child best, and have to trust your own ability to choose the right options for your child.

However, as deaf children grow up, it's important that they are aware that there is no right or wrong way of being deaf, and that there are lots of different ways to communicate. For example, a deaf young person who has grown up speaking English might become interested in learning British Sign Language (BSL). Alternatively, someone who attended a deaf primary school might want to try moving to a mainstream secondary school or sixth form. Making your child aware of all the options and encouraging them to be involved in these decisions as early as possible will enable them to develop a positive deaf identity.