Dinner Table Syndrome and Deaf or Hard of Hearing

dinner table syndrome Deaf Hard of HearingDeaf individuals grow up with many barriers to language and communication.  This results in a dinner table syndrome commonly occurring in households with Deaf or Hard of Hearing family members.  To understand what Deaf children experience, read our blog about Deaf and hard of hearing children’s upbringing and lifestyles.

Limited Access to Language

Many Deaf and Hard of Hearing children or consumers do not have access to effective communication or are not given the opportunity to learn accurate American Sign Language (ASL).  Some may develop home signs or gestures in response to not having language.  Others may not develop much language at all.

When there is a lack of language, we start to see the tone set for dinner table syndrome because parents, siblings, peers, and teachers cannot interact with Deaf and Hard of Hearing children. We need to consider what happens at the dinner table in order to best understand the dinner table syndrome. Think of your favorite cliché TV show.  A family sits around the table talking about their day.  They discuss positive and negative experiences, tell jokes, or have light-hearted conversations.  All of these interactions at the dinner table are opportunities to learn language, appropriate social etiquette, and behaviors.  This is where a child first learns how to interact with people.

Children Miss Out

Deaf and Hard of Hearing children or consumers miss out on this dinner table discourse in a variety of ways.

  1. They cannot hear the family’s interaction. This means they do not have access to learning vital social behaviors.
  2. Family members tend to bounce back and forth between who’s talking. They talk over each other resulting in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing family member feeling lost. Most of their time is spent trying to figure out what is going on if they do not have a common language with their family. Perhaps they do not participate in the conversation at all.  (Read More: Large Setting Lip-Reading)
  3. If the Deaf child is trying to follow along, eventually they miss something. Confusion sets in. Since they deeply want to be a part of the interaction, they tap Mom, Dad, or sibling on the shoulder and ask, “What is everyone laughing about?”  It is time consuming to repeat what just occurred. Sometimes the second time around the information does not hold as much influence as it did the first time.  Many times the mother, father, or sibling will filter details when they repeat a joke or story.  Often the Deaf or Hard of Hearing child is told, “Oh, it’s no big deal,” or, “Never mind,” or, “I will tell you later.”

As a Result

The Deaf family member or consumer wonders what was shared, and often parents or coworkers are too busy to brief them on what was missed.  The entire message ends up being lost!  Read more about the impact of Dinner Table Syndrome.


Additional Resources:

Deaf Thanksgiving: A New Tradition

What Kids Learn at the Dinner Table


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