Mental Health and Self-Image among Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children

Article excerpt

MENTAL HEALTH and self-image among deaf and hard of hearing children (ages 11-18 years) in southern Sweden was investigated. The children (N = 111) attended special schools for the deaf (n = 28), special schools for the hard of hearing (n = 23), and regular schools where hard of hearing children were mainstreamed (n = 60). The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (Goodman, 1997) was used to screen mental health and the "I Think I Am" questionnaire Ouvinen-Birgerstam (1982, 1984) to measure self-esteem. The study shows that hard of hearing children seem to do as well, as a group, as other children in Swedish society. Mean SDQ and ITIA scores indicated that the mainstreamed students and the students in special schools for the hard of hearing had higher levels of rated mental health and self-image than the students in schools for the deaf.

There is a lack of Swedish studies concerning deaf and hard of hearing children's mental health and self-image. Inventories in special schools for the deaf have shown that a large proportion of students (about 30%) have learning difficulties and behavior problems (Östervångskolan, 1999; Swedish National Agency for Special Schools, 2001). Mainstreamed hard of hearing students have also often experienced difficulties in social relations with hearing peers of the same age, especially at the senior high school level (Tvingstedt, 1993). Additional disabilities have been diagnosed in approximately 25% of deaf and hard of hearing students (Heiling, 1995; Norden, Tvingstedt, & Äng, 1990).

Internationally, only a handful of studies have been published that focus on mental health problems among deaf and hard of hearing students. Schlesinger and Meadow (1972) compared teacher's ratings of deaf children at a residential school with ratings from teachers of hearing children attending regular schools in Los Angeles. A total of 512 deaf children, 5 to 16 years of age, were involved; the prevalence of mental health problems among the deaf students was 31%, and 10% among the hearing students. In a study in the Vancouver, Canada, area (Freeman, Malkin, & Hastings, 1975), teachers and parents rated the whole population of deaf children (N =120) 5 to 15 years of age and found that 23% had mental health problems. In a study in the Isle of Wight, England, teacher ratings of children 5 to 14 years old revealed that 15% of the deaf children (only 13 deaf children were identified) had a psychiatric disorder (Rutter, Tizard, & Whitemore, 1970).

The Rutter-B questionnaire (Rutter et al., 1970), a questionnaire with 26 statements on child behavior, has also been used for teacher ratings (Aplin, 1987; Fundudis, Kolvin, & Garside, 1979). The children in the studies by Alpin and by Fundudis and colleagues included deaf children and children with mild or moderate hearing loss. Fundudis and colleagues found a prevalence of problems among 54% of the deaf children, compared to 28% of the hard of hearing children (ages 7-10 years). The corresponding figures in the study presented by Aplin (1987) were 36% and 17% respectively (children ages 7-16 years). Hindley Hill, McGuigan, and Kitson (1994), when comparing students in units for children with hearing loss in Great Britain with students in a school for the deaf, estimated the prevalence of psychiatric disorders among the children (ages 11-16 years) to be 42% and 6l% respectively; the difference between the groups was not statistically significant. The prevalence rate for the whole group was 50%. Hindley and colleagues used and stressed the use of a questionnaire validated in the deaf population, and also did interviews with the children.

A recent Dutch study (Van Eldik, Treffers, Veer man, & Verhulst, 2004) showed a prevalence rate of 4l% for mental health problems among deaf children (238 children ages 4-18 years) compared to 16% in a normative sample, using the Child Behavior Checklist (Achenbach, 1991) with parents. When using an adjusted version of the Youth Self-Report questionnaire (Achenbach, 1991), Van Eldik (2005) found the prevalence of mental health problems to be 2 to 3 times greater among 202 deaf children (ages 11-18 years) than in a normative sample. …