“A hearing child with Deaf parents grows up in a unique family situation.”
CODAs have the unique experience of being insiders, yet outsiders, in both the Deaf World and the Hearing world. We are often bicultural and bilingual members of the Deaf community and commonly serve as interpreters and cultural mediators thus often becoming the bridge between the two worlds.
This experience can have a wide range of both positive and negative impacts on CODA’s individual lived experiences. It can be linked to language development, roles in the family, relationships with wider family, societal attitudes, identity, culture, feelings of belonging and social groups.
CODAs can often feel very different from their hearing peers as they have a fundamentally different lived experience. This can influence their individual identity meaning that they feel that a big part of their identity is Deaf, while the other half is hearing. They can feel like they are stuck in the middle never fully belonging to either the Deaf or Hearing world.
This can lead to feelings that they have to be responsible for explaining and advocating for deaf people in hearing society and conversely explaining hearing culture and behaviour to their deaf parents. The lived experience is often one where the hearing society and individuals encourage them to rejected anything associated with deafness; based on the audist view that hearing attributes are superior. Conversely, CODAs can often feel drawn to deaf culture and community and reject their hearing identity as being associated with the oppression of deaf people and their parents.
“Having Deaf parents was never an issue for me. The problem was dealing with the world's perception of their deafness and how they reacted to them."
CODAs can often struggle with the impact of the legacies of the way society has treated their deaf parents. In particular, in relation to the discrimination, they face in terms of lack of access and communication support. They can struggle with the same discrimination that Deaf people face, for example:
“I remember standing with my parents in the bank queue and people behind us making remarks about them being ignorant because they did not respond when their number was called. I never told my parents, I sometimes felt like I wanted to get angry at the other people because they didn’t understand."
Deaf parents can often feel anxious about how it will affect their children, or how to best relate to them. They can feel anxious about teaching them to sign for fear they will be expected by society to become interpreters for them. Also, they can feel like they cannot support their children in navigating the hearing world, and struggle to understand their different hearing perspective. For example; some deaf parents grew up under oralism, their families were encouraged to not learn to sign.
Deaf parents were recommended by medical professionals, not to teach the child sign language, this then has a massive impact on the CODAs relationship with his parents; due to limited depth of communication without a shared first language, and so has a very direct impact on; development, identity and relationships. Being open and talking about this within the family can help build stronger bonds. Deaf culture and language can be a massively positive bond between Deaf parents and CODA’s.
“When I was younger, I didn’t understand why most of my family couldn't sign. At family parties and events, I would be asked to interpret so my parents could join in with the communication. Other family members would avoid talking to my parents because it was difficult, they would tell me things instead.”
"I always felt like my hearing family never really knew my parents. They would comment that they were quiet and reserved. But that was only with them because of difficulties around communication. When they are with other Deaf people, I would see their real personalities come alive."
CODA’s are commonly proud to be a part of the Deaf world and be able to use sign language. CODA’s can enjoy the richness associated with the knowledge of language and cultures of two worlds and report that maintaining this ‘special’ role in the family structure. It can help them gain responsibility, maturity and the ability to empathise with others. They can feel a strong bond to the Deaf community, be involved in the Deaf world, have positive Deaf role models, work in the Deaf world.
“I have always been proud to be a CODA, I have grown up in the Deaf world and feel a strong connection to Deaf people and the Deaf world, but I am always aware I am hearing. I have loads of Deaf friends and prefer to communicate in sign language, I always felt different from other hearing children, they thought I was rude for interrupting or being blunt, they never fully understood me, I have never felt like I belong with hearing people.”
We recently ran CODA Conferences with a 'Mental Health' and 'Wellbeing' theme.
See our Conference pack for some materials which may help if you are experiencing mental health issues. Keep an eye out for future events if you think you would benefit from meeting other CODAs who may have experienced similar experiences.
If you think you would benefit from further support with mental health we recommend contacting your GP or seeking advice from the NHS. We have also linked two organisations which may help adults and children respectively.
D4D is a team of Deaf focused therapists from different backgrounds. Our therapists are both hearing and Deaf. We specialise in working with: Children of Deaf Parents (CODA), Parents of Deaf Children (PODC) & Deaf people using Sign language. We apply for NHS funding or you can pay privately. We have a specialist CODA counsellor who grew up CODA. For more information visit www.deaf4deaf.com
This is an NHS service for D/deaf children and their families who live in England. There are 4 larger teams, with 3 regional offices (North – York, Newcastle, Manchester; Central – Nottingham, Dudley, Oxford; South West – Taunton; and South-East- Cambridge, London, Maidstone).
We work with children who are deaf, and with parents who are D/deaf with deaf or hearing children. The children whom we work with are generally struggling at home or school, and adults are concerned about their health and emotional well-being. We may not need to work directly with the young people or parents/carers if there are other services more local to the families that can do this. In our teams there are professionals who work in slightly different ways; we have Deaf family support workers, therapists, psychiatric nurses, psychologists and psychiatrists.