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Dent, K.A. (1982). Two Daughters of a Deaf Mute Mother: Implications for Ego and Cognitive Development. J. Amer. Acad. Psychoanal., 10(3):427-441.
   

(1982). Journal of American Academy of Psychoanalysis, 10(3):427-441

Two Daughters of a Deaf Mute Mother: Implications for Ego and Cognitive Development

Katherine Ann Dent, M.D.

Our understanding of normality is often illuminated by examination of pathology and a search for contributory or possibly etiologic factors. Creation of a research design which includes deprivation of factors considered vital to health is repugnant. However, when such unfortunate situations occur due to the vicissitudes of society or of individual families, valuable insight can be gained. The maternal deprivation studies of Rene Spitz (1945, 1946) and John Bowlby (1960, 1973) are brilliant examples.

This paper presents my experience with two hearing daughters of a deaf mute mother. Work with these children raises important questions about the necessity of verbal stimulation for adequate ego and cognitive development.

For reasons of safety, the deaf mother must limit the motor activity of her toddlers. She cannot hear their cries or detect their mischief from afar. They must remain in her visual or tactile field to be in communication with her. What might be the effects of these limitations? In Piaget's schema (1967), the first stage of cognitive development is the sensorimotor stage, lasting from birth to eighteen months. Successful attainment of skills demands that the child be able to follow his or her natural curiosity by exploring the world. Can this be achieved within the stringent limits that may be imposed of necessity by the deaf parent?

The development of a symbiotic relationship between the mother and infant depends on the mother's ability to respond to the infant's needs and the infant's growing ability to communicate those needs.

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