ASC ON THE COUCH
An Inspiration in Our Field: A warm congratulations goes out to Dr. Irene W. Leigh, who is this year’s recipient of the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Larry Stewart Award. Dr. Stewart was a well-known Deaf psychologist and professor. The award, presented every two years, honors an individual in the field of psychology, whose research, theory, or practice, reflect Dr. Stewart’s belief that all people share a psychology and humanity, no matter their hearing status.
A professor of clinical psychology at Gallaudet, Dr. Leigh is one of the hardest working Deaf professors we know. She is editor of Psychotherapy with Deaf Clients from Diverse Groups, a book that we often refer to in our research. A dynamic professor, she has a knack for engaging students in stimulating classroom discussions. Dr. Leigh was instrumental in facilitating Candace’s appointment to the APA Working Group on Same-Sex Families and Relationships. We admire and appreciate her dedication to mentoring Deaf professionals and students. Congratulations to a terrific role model!
A Different Take on Therapy: Not everyone is keen on sitting face-to-face with a therapist for a traditional therapy session and it’s not always necessary or helpful to do that. Other types of therapy such as art therapy, sand tray therapy, or play therapy can be very effective; so can playing a card game or taking a walk during a session. The more relaxed people are in session, the more likely they are to feel comfortable opening up and talking about intimate concerns. Making headlines these days is another spin on traditional therapy sessions: exercising during therapy.
The Mind-Body Connection: Some therapists conduct therapy sessions by standing next to a client who is jogging or walking on a treadmill. Other therapists actually get up on a second treadmill and jog alongside a client. The reasoning behind this approach to therapy is not just the idea that exercise reduces depressive symptoms, but also the belief that clients who see the weekly physical and mental benefits of exercise will be motivated to make changes in other areas of their lives. Research has shown that the brain changes that occur during exercise have positive effects on emotions.
How It Works: As Adam Cox writes in this monthï¿½s Psychotherapy Networker magazine (ï¿½Lost in Electronicaï¿½), even throwing a softball back and forth has a positive effect in therapy. The resulting increase in heart rate appears to intensify thinking and communication, which in turn helps the conversation stay in the clientï¿½s memory. Cox also points out that physical activity reduces feelings of vulnerability. The safer clients feel in therapy, the more they are able to participate and get something out of it.
ASC on Deaf Clients Exercising in Therapy: Some skeptics have cautioned about the slippery slope of the therapist-client relationship when therapy moves away from the traditional sit-and-talk format. As long as therapists take care to maintain appropriate boundaries during exercise sessions and clients feel they are benefitting, this type of therapy makes sense to us. We are often in favor of creative and alternative approaches to therapy. Obviously, exercising is not going to work if a Deaf client wants to hop onto a Nordic machine that involves coordinating oneï¿½s arms and legs though. Walking or cycling on a stationery bike would be better options for Deaf people.
Thinking about what exercises would/wouldnï¿½t work for Deaf clients in therapy makes us think about this semi-related topicï¿½some hearing people think Deaf people are lucky that we can chat and eat at the same time. Our hearing neighbor once came to one of our parties and afterwards commented, half-jokingly, that she thought Deaf people eat more because we can ï¿½talkï¿½ with our mouths full. Guess it works the other way around, that hearing people might be lucky they can throw softballs back and forth nonstop, during a therapy session, while continuing to talk with their hands full.
KODA Families: Following up on yesterday’s post on Deaf-hearing relationships, today we turn the spotlight onto KODA families. Short for Kids of Deaf Adults, KODAs are hearing children who have at least one Deaf parent. They may also have Deaf or hearing siblings and other relatives. Depending on their exposure to ASL and the Deaf community, KODAs grow up with varying levels of ASL fluency. How well they sign can have a profound long-lasting impact on their relationships with their parents. Ensuring that they learn to sign can be a challenging task for parents.
Chances are you have seen KODAs who could “pass” for Deaf, who sign and act like Deaf people. You have probably also seen KODAs who can hardly sign at all and who prefer to speak to their hearing parent, or Deaf parent who speaks or lipreads, if they happen to have either one. In between these two extremes are KODAs who sign enough to “get by”, KODAs who speak and sign at the same time, and even KODAs who refuse to sign at all. Needless to say, when a KODA and Deaf parent cannot communicate easily with each other, both lose out on the opportunity for a close parent-child relationship.
Fear of Speech Therapy: In KODA families with children who sign fluently, the parents are likely to communicate using ASL almost all the time – with each other and with their children. In other KODA families with children who do not sign fluently, the parents usually switch back and forth between speaking and signing to their children, depending on the situation. Some Deaf parents may find it easier or less frustrating to speak, either because their KODAs do not understand their signing or because it is more convenient to speak to KODAs in the next room, rather than walk over to the room to sign to them.
Some Deaf parents express concern about their KODAs’ ability to learn how to speak. Fearing their children may fall behind their peers and end up in speech therapy or remedial English classes, they decide to speak to them instead of sign, in hopes of exposing them to English and speech early on. In still other KODA families, one parent may speak to the KODAs, “forcing” the other parent to speak as well, because the KODAs develop a “preference” for speaking instead of signing. In some families, one KODA, usually the oldest, takes on the role of interpreting between the Deaf parents and the younger KODAs, making it less likely that the younger KODAs will ever sign fluently.
Our Perspective: So, what are parents of KODAs to do? As therapists, our bias obviously leans toward clear and effective communication in families. Just as in Deaf-hearing relationships, the more Deaf-centered the family, the more opportunity there will be for the the KODAs to sign and become comfortable with Deaf culture. Parents of KODAs may not always realize the long-term effects that can result when their children do not learn to sign fluently. When they are young, it may not seem like such a big deal if they prefer to speak or use an older sibling to interpret. When they are older, however, and dealing with curfews, dating, and other issues of adolescent angst, there is a lot more at stake if the parents and KODAs cannot communicate comfortably in sign. If KODAs don’t learn to sign in a natural signing environment when they are young, it becomes more and more difficult for them to pick it up later on.
Fears of speech therapy should not drive Deaf parents to choose speaking over signing with their KODAs. The potential loss of communication with their children is much too high a price to pay. If it so happens that a KODA does need speech therapy, it is not the end of the world. Any speech-related issues can be addressed and remedied in speech therapy. Signing skills, in contrast, cannot as easily be improved – ASL therapy, anyone? Parents who pass on Deaf culture and ASL to their KODAs give them a wonderful gift of bilingualism and biculturalism (or in some cases, when other languages and cultures exist in the family, multilingualism and multiculturalism). It is heart-breaking to see Deaf parents and KODAs need interpreters to be able to communicate with each other. Instead of parents’ worst fear being speech therapy, their worst fear should be losing out on their relationship with their children. Resources: Two organizations that offer great experiences for KODAs and their families are Metro Maryland KODA and Camp Mark 7. For grown-up KODAs, CODA-International provides a supportive community of peers.
An Old Question: Once again up for debate is the seemingly age-old question: Can Deaf-hearing relationships work? Bloggers, including this one, have been weighing in with their opinions lately. A Deaf-hearing relationship can refer to a number of possible scenarios. It could be a signing, culturally Deaf person partnered with a fluent-signing CODA or hearing interpreter, or the same Deaf person partnered with a moderately fluent hearing person or with a nonsigning hearing person. It might be an oral Deaf person with a nonsigning hearing person, or any other combination of partner backgrounds.
The Communication Factor: Most people will say that the success of a Deaf-hearing relationship comes down to communication, just like it does in any other relationship. Communication, of course, is an extremely complicated matter for any couple. When it comes to listening and talking, couples may have differences based on gender (see Debra Tannen’s You Just Don’t Understand: Men and Women in Conversation or John Gray’s Men Are from Mars, Women Are From Venus), personality styles, or what they learned growing up in different families, each with their own unique communication dynamics. These differences in communication styles are difficult enough for most couples to deal with; when you have two different languages, and perhaps two different cultures, in a relationship, things can get even more complicated. In cases in which one partner is Deaf and the other hearing, what we have observed in our therapy work, is that the more “Deaf-centered” the relationship, the better the relationship seems to work.
Deaf-Centered vs. Hearing-Centered: A Deaf-centered relationship basically means that both partners sign to each other, take equal responsibility for communication issues, and are active members of the Deaf community. Couples with Deaf-centered relationships tend to socialize mostly with other Deaf and signing hearing friends, minimizing the number of social situations in which the hearing partner ends up interpreting for the Deaf partner. Hearing-centered relationships, in contrast, often find the Deaf person dependent upon the hearing partner for communication with nonsigning hearing friends, a situation that can create feelings of stress and frustration for both. A listing of characteristics of Deaf-centered versus hearing-centered relationships clearly shows the differences.