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Siver, J. (1988). Clinical Note: Notes on the Early Development of the Deaf Infant. Psychoanal. Rev., 75(3):469-471.

(1988). Psychoanalytic Review, 75(3):469-471

Clinical Note: Notes on the Early Development of the Deaf Infant

Jane Siver

In my therapeutic practice with deaf patients and their families, I have noted that two characteristics appear consistently in the early development of most of my patients: (1) The deaf infant is usually born into a family whose members can hear; and (2) the deafness is not confirmed until the child is approximately 15 months old. This means that the deaf infant is treated “as if hearing and normal until the discovery of the hearing loss. So we have an infant who cannot hear in an environment where everyone else is able to hear and takes it for granted that the infant hears as well.

The mother is unaware of her infant's auditory deprivation; therefore, she does not realize, when she leaves her baby alone in a room or at night to sleep, that the infant does not hear her or other family members in the home. For the deaf infant, seeing the mother or seeing other people means not being alone. When no one is visibly present for the deaf infant, there is isolation and the feeling of abandonment until someone can be seen again. The normal infant continues to hear on some level while sleeping; the deaf infant sleeps in total isolation of the hearing world.

Since aural cues are not available to the deaf infant, the child must wait for the satisfaction of needs, relying only on visual cues — a circumstance that creates the build-up of intense anxiety and frustration. In contrast, the hearing infant can anticipate being fed when hungry or comforted when under stress by noting the mother's voice or her approaching footsteps. But the deaf infant waits in a silent, quiet world of its own.

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