How to Help Frustrated Deaf Children

Communication Problems Are Usually at the Core of Tantrums, Outbursts

When deaf and hard-of-hearing children cannot understand what is going on around them, or cannot communicate, it can lead to frustration and inappropriate emotional behavior by the child. I know this from personal experience growing up. So it was not surprising when an reader sent me this email:

I have a nine-year old son with severe hearing loss in both ears. He is very intelligent, very friendly, very outgoing and very sweet. But we are having a really big problem in our family and it seems to be getting worse not better...He has temper tantrums all the time! I know he is just a young boy, but he has a brother one year older than him and a brother one year younger than him and they were all raised the same and they do not act this way.

All kids (and adults) get angry and have outbursts sometimes, but this one does it all the time. The fits are very dramatic, and they last a long time and they are usually triggered by something very small and unimportant.

I do know several deaf people and their families and they all say this is a normal problem for deaf and hard-of-hearing people. I know that my son lives in a world I can't possibly understand and I want to help him, but I have tried all I know to do and now need outside help. What I want to know can we find a support group with deaf and hard-of-hearing children and for families of hard of hearing children so we can learn to help him communicate more appropriately and us to help him more? I know he is special, but I do not think he should be allowed to act uncontrollably and blame it on the fact that he can't hear well. Do we need to go to counseling or will a support group help or do you have any other suggestions? If so, how do we find the right place to go in our area?

I asked the reader if he or she was using sign language with the boy, and wondered if the boy was frustrated. I also referred the reader to the American Society for Deaf Children and Hearing Loss Association of America. However, I felt that readers might have more insights or suggestions, and so I posted the question to the blog. Almost all of the readers who responded, agreed with my question about sign language. What follows is an edited sampling of reader responses:

"I was extremely frustrated with my family as a child because they didn’t learn sign language. Today we are learning to get to know each other but still distant." - Joseph

"When I read this article, I felt for the little boy. I get the same way all of the time; angry and pitch fits over little things. Perhaps not knowing sign language is what makes us this way. Not being able to hear is stressing, especially when you have to strain to understand everything being said to you because you don’t know how to sign, and the people around you don’t either."
- Jennifer (high school student)

"As a hard of hearing/deaf person myself, I believe that your answer was right on the money. I believe that the child is frustrated. He sees his hearing brothers communicate fully with parents and he does not have that. He does not have communication except at school. He cannot talk with siblings or parents in HIS language, but is forced to communicate as well as possible in a foreign language (spoken English).

I hope the parents recognize this and as a family take ASL classes to enhance communication with their beautiful Deaf child."
- Eileen

Although I did not learn sign language until my later years, as I said before, I can understand the child's frustration. My own frustrations at not being able to communicate with family members are expressed in the article Growing Up Deaf - Family Holidays, and another article, Nonsigning Parents, looks at why parents do not learn sign language. Furthermore, the book You and Your Deaf Child cautions that "early communication difficulties between hearing parents and their deaf child impede future interaction."

In other words, if a deaf child's communication frustrations are not addressed, the end result can be a lack of closer relationships with family members. In fact, You and Your Deaf Child cites the example of how hearing siblings have reported that they seek close relationships with others outside of the family because they cannot communicate with their deaf and hard-of-hearing siblings.


Adams, John W. You and Your Deaf Child: A Self-Help Guide for Parents of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children. Clerc Books, 1997.

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