Cleft Lip and Palate

Social interaction and public awareness of cleft

A child or adult born with a cleft lip and/or palate may be the subject of attention and may experience comments and sometimes negative attitudes from others. These comments may be a response to the way somebody with a cleft lip looks or a response to differences in speech and the hearing difficulties associated with having a cleft palate (see ‘Speech, language and hearing’). 

Parents were aware of comments about cleft lip and/or palate even before the baby was born or soon after the baby was born and when they went out in public for the first time. Most parents we spoke to found that the best way with dealing with comments is to be open and honest and explain what a cleft is and how it can be treated. Because most of the parents we spoke to had had little experience of cleft until their own child was born with the condition, this made them more understanding of the comments and behaviours of others (see ‘Telling other people’). Some spoke about celebrities they were aware of who had been born with a cleft (such as the actor Joaquin Phoenix).
Most of the new parents we spoke to had experienced negative comments from members of the public both before a cleft lip was closed or following surgery for lip closure. Most families believed that the negative comments were partly due to a lack of awareness of cleft related issues rather than targeted bullying. All of the parents we spoke with believed that the closure of a cleft lip and other surgical interventions that can alter a child’s cosmetic appearance (see also ‘Cleft treatment pathway’) should be pursued because they felt society puts a high value on looks. They believed that such values could determine future interactions with others as well as the child’s development and opportunities throughout life.
Young children tend to be inquisitive: they may ask a child with a visible cleft why they look different and they might stare at a baby in a pram. Some parents said that they would prefer to be asked outright about the cleft rather than have their child stared at because they look or sound different.
The individuals we spoke to who were born with a cleft and also parents were aware of negative comments from members of the public at all stages of life. Most of the parents we spoke to had children who had experienced bullying, particularly at secondary school. 
Last reviewed June 2017.

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