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A Pilot Study of Deaf Trauma Survivors’ Experiences: Early Traumas Unique to Being Deaf in a Hearing World


Conducting semi-structured American Sign Language interviews with 17 Deaf trauma survivors, this pilot study explored Deaf individuals’ trauma experiences and whether these experiences generally align with trauma in the hearing population. Most commonly reported traumas were physical assault, sudden unexpected deaths, and “other” very stressful events. Although some “other” events overlap with traumas in the general population, many are unique to Deaf people (e.g., corporal punishment at oral/aural school if caught using sign language, utter lack of communication with hearing parents). These findings suggest that Deaf individuals may experience developmental traumas distinct to being raised in a hearing world. Such traumas are not captured by available trauma assessments, nor are they considered in evidence-based trauma treatments.

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Fig. 1


  1. The U.S. Deaf community is a sociolinguistic minority group of approximately 500,000 persons who communicate primarily using American Sign Language. Members of this community are unique from other individuals with hearing loss in their identification as a cultural – not disability – group and are delineated by use of the capital “D” in “Deaf.”

  2. Data regarding age of hearing loss (i.e., congenital, acquired) was not collected as part of the current investigation. However, the majority of individuals who self-identify as Deaf or hard-of-hearing and claim American Sign Language as their primary communication mode are either born with hearing loss or experience hearing loss before the age of three years (Mitchell et al. 2006).


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We would like to acknowledge the members of the Deaf & Allied Clinicians Consult Group for their consultation and guidance on this project: Gloria Farr, LICSW; Susan Jones, LMHC; Lisa Mistler, MD; and Gregory Spera. We would also like to thank Robert Goldberg, PhD, for his feedback during the preparation of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Melissa L. Anderson.

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Disclosure of Interest/Funding

This work was partially supported by the National Center for Research Resources and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, National Institutes of Health, through Grant KL2TR000160. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH.

Ethical Approval

All procedures followed were in accordance with the ethical standards of the responsible committee on human experimentation (institutional and national) and with the Helsinki Declaration of 1975, as revised in 2000.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants for being included in the study.

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Anderson, M.L., Wolf Craig, K.S., Hall, W.C. et al. A Pilot Study of Deaf Trauma Survivors’ Experiences: Early Traumas Unique to Being Deaf in a Hearing World. Journ Child Adol Trauma 9, 353–358 (2016).

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  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • PTSD
  • Life Events Checklist
  • Deaf and hard-of-hearing community
  • Developmental trauma