Creating social connections for young deaf people
Creating connections for deaf and hard of hearing young (DHH) people can be an important part of forming deaf identity and community.
Having access to the culture and language of the Deaf community can contribute to better social outcomes, and this can further support DHH young people in building resilience and in creating strong social connections.
Approximately 95% of DHH young people are born into hearing families, and 83% attend mainstream schools where they are often the sole student in their class or school who is deaf (Mitchell & Karchmer, 2004).
This makes establishing a sense of self and community difficult.
Mechanisms supporting social connection
The purpose of Deaf Children Australia’s Get Connected workshop, which launched in 2020, is for participants to gain access to the Deaf community, develop skills in self advocacy, learn how to speak up, build lasting relationships with peers and create stronger connections.
We wanted participants to be socially connected to a group of peers who are DHH and to connect with a deaf role model. Both in literature and based on feedback and conversations with participants and their families, is the feeling of being socially isolated, which has been exacerbated under COVID.
The feeling of loneliness and ‘being the only one who is different’ is quite common for young DHH people. For some children, the only person they know in their community with hearing aids, are older people, often causing a negative association with hearing aids.
Sharing experiences with peers
Hence the importance for young people to meet their peers to share experiences with, and to build a sense of relatedness. Also important is having a deaf mentor or role model in their life, someone who has travelled a similar path and can offer their knowledge, ways to manage situations, feelings and so much more.
Research suggests that for DHH young people, often identification with the wider Deaf community was a strong predictor of self-esteem (Jambor & Elliott, 2005).
The Get Connected program is based on the principles of positive psychology and offers an evidence-based wellbeing program with the focus of building those positive relationships and creating a sense of connectedness.
Supporting positive psychology
Among other principles of positive psychology such as: positive emotions, engagement, meaning, and accomplishment, we believe building relationships is the most essential for DHH young people who are more prevalent of experiencing social isolation.
The aim of the Get Connected program is to create an opportunity for young people to meet with peers and role models to build that sense of understanding, by sharing common experiences, exploring similarities and differences, and have guided discussions in a psychologically safe environment.
We have two Get Connected workshops, one for ages 12 – 15 years, commencing 3rd March and one for ages 8 to 11 years, starting on the 4th of May.
Get Connected feedback
The workshop is attracting young people from around Australia. This is what participants are saying about Get Connected:
“[The mentors] were great, they listened, and they knew what it is like in a Deaf world.”
“I learnt about the deaf community and making new friends.”
“[I realised] other people are going through the same thing.”
We are working on creating opportunities for face-to-face connections. In the meantime, we will continue to bring young DHH people across Australia together online to connect them with a supportive community that gets them.
You can read more about our how our Get Connected online workshops support young DHH people, by clicking the link to our Get Connected Event Page.