You'll find hundreds of files on cleft lip, cleft palate here on widesmiles.org.
This one is about: Development of the Cleft-Affected Self
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The Development of the Cleft-Affected Self.
In answer to the question, "When do you start talking to your child about the cleft?", one parent said:
I started discussing my son's cleft with him when I started discussing his belly button, his cute little legs, his dimpled hands, his big, blue eyes, his little tummy... you know what I mean. At least with us it's "no big deal." I have brown hair, blue eyes, a dog, 2 fish and a repaired cleft lip and palate. . .
And a 29 yr old Cleft-Affected adult responded:
Bellybuttons = clefts -- both totally natural things! Love the "naming everything" part of that, too . .
That's it in a NUTSHELL! Now, as for adolescent issues, I have not much of a clue, but I suspect that if this early, basic foundation work is done, there may be the usual body image stuff, accentuated some (especially for girls), but the child's basic sense of OK-ness will be in place . . .From personal experience, it will be much easier (though not always possible) if these are the same kids, in adolescence, who have thought your child's cleft was no biggie from the very beginning . . if not, at least your child will have a solid identity to work from, with no "elephants in the room" that aren't safe to talk about . . It all seems to build on that early stuff, BECAUSE -- and the psychosocial research people have known this for awhile -- if things DON'T go well, what happens is a giant feed-back loop, where
1. Child is teased (which pretty much all CA kids can expect at least a little of, unless they live in utopia.)
2. Child gets angry, which is very healthy and normal.
3. Child projects negative, victimized self out into the world with nothing to stop him/her from internalizing the negative vibes s/he gets in return.
4. Child attracts MORE teasing, and by this time, child's personality and basic sense of self is MUCH altered in a very negative way.
Something has to stop that feedback loop, or it will continue into adulthood, no matter how good the surgical result, and so no matter how little their problems out in the Real World still have to do with the ORIGINAL issue, which was a slightly different appearance/voice. By that time, the pattern is set and is much harder (but not impossible) to change. (been there, done that . . . ouch)
That something that stops the loop HAS to be a loving, accepting parent who is able to both HEAR and help the child process the healthy anger, and, where age appropriate, protect the child (and better, teach them to do it for themselves in a healthy way) and repair with LOTS of love what damage to the child's self-esteem happens in the natural course of things.
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