Second Major





Webster, Kathleen

Advisor Department





Developmental Psychology; Early Childhood Development; Cochlear Implants; Social Learning Theory; Hearing Loss; Deafness


According to the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (2016), approximately 3 of every 1000 infants are born with a detectable level of hearing loss in one or both ears: with 90% of these infants being born to hearing parents. Immediately following the birth of a deaf child, parents are often bombarded with decisions regarding interventions to “fix” their child’s “disability”. This decision can impact how their child will experience the world and others. The situation is a very different stressor when a hearing child is born to deaf parents. Embracing one’s deaf identity and engaging in “deaf culture” can be an important source of belongingness for those experiencing hearing loss. These dynamics will be examined and contrasted in this study.

I have the opportunity to engage in an ethnographic dive into two cultures (hearing and deaf) through observations of fraternal twin boys, L and J. Shortly after birth, L was diagnosed with genetic profound sensorineural hearing loss in both ears. L is deaf while his parents, twin brother and extended family are all hearing individuals. After much deliberation, L’s parents decided to minimize the stigma and challenges associated with being deaf in a hearing world and opted to have L undergo a medical intervention to correct his deafness. L received a cochlear implant at 13-months of age.

This project captures L and J’s development regarding their social learning, interpersonal/intrapersonal interactions, language expression, bonding and identity development as they grow into toddlerhood. It also captures L and J’s parents honoring the needs of both their hearing and deaf child’s identity. These broader observations include coping strategies and decision-making processes that attempt to balance the unique needs of their twins.

Observing L pre-cochlear implant as compared to his growth post-cochlear implant has offered insights into the development of both twins. L is attempting to navigate new ways of acquiring language and social expression, while J attempts to adapt to new ways of interacting and experiencing his brother as a “hearing” twin. As their two cultures converge, this project will continue to examine the challenges that L will face as he feels the need to “catch up” to J in expected developmental milestones and J seeks to integrate a new way of communicating and relating to his twin.