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Helping Students who are DHH Navigate Teenage Years-Paula Zalcberg

Skip Navigation LinksVictorian Deaf Education Institute > News and Events > Helping Students who are DHH Navigate Teenage Years-Paula Zalcberg


  1. What is Family Therapy?

  2. Some deaf or hard of hearing (D/HH) teenagers find it difficult to accept their own deafness.

  3. The impact of  diverse cultures on deafness

  4. Transition from primary school to secondary school.

  5. Identity.

What is Family Therapy?

  • Family Therapy is related to "Attachment Theory" - how the child develops a meaningful relationship with his/her parents. The child attains physical and psychological safety through proximity to a parent who is available, and is sensitive and responsive to the child's various needs, while repairing any relationship breaks that might threaten that safety.

  • Attachment security enables the child to regulate fears in order to be free to learn from objects and events in his environment.

  • In therapy the counsellor becomes the "secure base". At school it is the teachers who need to take this role and build a relationship with students that is based on acceptance and empathy and in so doing, provides a place where students do not feel judged.

  • Some parents need a long time to grieve and understand the impact of hearing loss on the future of their baby.

Some Deaf Teenagers find it Difficult to accept their own Deafness

  • Adolescents who are D/HH and their families need to understand the emotional aspects of deafness. Parents and teachers need to validate what the adolescent who is D/HH is feeling, especially when they articulate that they hate being deaf.

  • Parents and teachers need to communicate openly and honestly with adolescents who are D/HH about their deafness.

  • It is essential to teach students of any age who are D/HH "emotional" concepts so they learn to articulate their fears and frustrations.

  • My goals when working with children of any age who are D/HH, is that, by the time they complete their schooling, they can feel comfortable about being deaf, that they feel acceptable and that they can advocate for themselves.

  • Teachers need to understand the significance of the emotional and social development of the child who is D/HH.

  • Students who are D/HH need to understand their deafness, how deaf they are, how to read an audiogram...- this is part of them.

  • Primary and secondary students who are D/HH often feel ashamed because they are deaf. They feel judged by hearing people, especially their peers. They often feel that they are not "good enough" or acceptable.

  • Many students get very frustrated and angry and can exhibit overt behaviours or conversely become depressed and unmotivated.

  • Teenagers want to fit in and be the same as their peers. This is very difficult for some adolescents who are D/HH.

  • 40% of people who are D/HH have mental health problems. 1 in 5 children and adolescents who are D/HH have mental health issues.

  • Many children and adolescents who are D/HH have some degree of language delay; for many the delay is severe. The impact of deafness is influenced by various factors such as: the quality of family environment, parental adaptation to and coping with deafness, the nature of the school and community resources, and the characteristics of the child and adolescent and his/her environment.

The Impact of Diverse Culture on Deafness

Cultural differences and low socio-economic status can also have an impact on the child who is D/HH. Some children who are D/HH do not speak the "home" language, which means at home they feel isolated and left out. They feel that they are always the last one to know anything that goes on. 

​Transition from Primary School to Secondary School

  • ​Transition from primary school to secondary school and from secondary school to tertiary education or work, can be difficult for many students. For children and adolescents who are D/HH this can be a very stressful time. Many primary children who are D/HH, especially those that have been in a deaf facility feel secure, they know their routines, their teachers, and most of the hearing students know who the deaf students are. They are the ones that go to the deaf facility and they are used to teachers of the deaf  in their classroom. All of a sudden at the end of Year 6 most of these students are going off to a new school; some that have a deaf facility, and some students are going to a regular secondary school with visiting teacher support.  For students who are D/HH this can be quite frightening.  They are going to a new school where no one knows them. This brings up the issues that I previously talked about. Will the hearing students accept them? Will they judge them? Will they think less of them? How will they make friends?​

  • Children who are D/HH need to be resilient and need to accept themselves as a deaf person for this transition to go smoothly.


  • Most of my work with adolescents is with those who use spoken language. I find that most of the teenagers I work with who use spoken language don't identify with the Deaf Community. Often when hearing students find out they are deaf they ask them if they know sign language and they say "no", these adolescents often experience the look of disappointment on the hearing student's face!

  • It's cool to know a different language - especially the swear words but not so cool to be a deaf student who uses spoken language and doesn't know Auslan.

  • Many children and adolescents who are D/HH and use spoken language these days speak well and one would never know from their speech that they are deaf, but they are NOT hearing. When they meet signing deaf people they often feel intimidated and are reluctant to communicate with them. So how do children and adolescents who are D/HH and use spoken language have a sense of who they are or how they fit in? Often deaf children and adolescents who use spoken language experience identity confusion. They do not identify with their deaf peers yet they feel alienated from their hearing peers. For most of the children and adolescents who are D/HH who use spoken language that I have described they see their deafness and hearing loss primarily as a disability, an impairment and a physical disorder. For many deaf children who have grown up using Auslan being deaf means being part of a unique culture with its own language, traditions and values.

  • ​I encourage all of my students who use spoken language to learn Auslan to find a place where they feel accepted and acceptable just because they are deaf, to learn about deaf culture and its rich history.  I feel sad that still the Deaf Community is divided into the "oral" deaf and signing deaf.