Mental Health Problems of Deaf Dutch Children as Indicated by Parents' Responses to the Child Behavior Checklist

Article excerpt

EMOTIONAL/BEHAVIORAL PROBLEMS of 238 deaf Dutch children ages 4-18 years were studied. Parental reports indicated that 41% had emotional/behavioral problems, a rate nearly 2.6 times higher than the 16% reported by parents of a Dutch normative sample. Mental health problems seemed most prevalent in families with poor parent-child communication. Deaf children ages 12-18 showed more problems with anxiety and depression and more social problems than those ages 4-11. Deaf children with relatively low intelligence showed more social problems, thought problems, and attention problems than those with relatively high intelligence. The authors stress the need to get information on deaf children's mental health functioning not just from parents but from other informants such as teachers and the children themselves. An expansion assessment of deaf children, and of special services and treatments for deaf children and adolescents with emotional/behavioral problems, is recommended.

Van Eldik (1998) conducted a broad research study into mental health and family functioning among deaf Dutch children. The present article presents the results for the mental health section.

In order to ensure the optimal development of deaf children, research on the nature and extent of their emotional/behavioral problems is needed, including research on the factors that cause and sustain these problems. Even though there has been increased interest in the emotional/behavioral problems of deaf children since the 1970s, systematic research has produced few consistent data on prevalence. The best-known pioneer projects are the Isle of Wight studies (Rutter, Tizard, & Whitemore, 1970), a study by Schlesinger and Meadow (1972), the Vancouver study (Freeman, Malkin, & Hastings, 1975), and a study by Chess and Fernandez (1980). These studies, in which different samples were involved and various measures were used, suggested that 15% to 31% of deaf children had emotional/behavioral problems, with higher percentages among children deafened by rubella infection in utero. In a more recent British study, undertaken in 1993 by Hindley, 81 deaf children ages 11 to 16 years were assessed by means of behavioral checklists for parents and teachers (Parent/Teacher Checklist; Hindley, 1993) and psychiatric interviews with children and parents (Child/Parent Assessment Schedule; Hodges, 1987). The weighted overall prevalence of emotional/behavioral problems was between 43% and 50%, a rate approximately 1.5 times higher than that among the hearing control group. In contrast, other relatively recent studies found that the prevalence rate of emotional or behavioral problems in deaf children did not differ from the rate among hearing populations (Sinkkonen, 1994; Van Eldik, 1994), or was even lower (Kelly et al., 1993). In conclusion, deaf children generally show at least an equal level of emotional/behavioral problems relative to hearing children, and in most studies a higher level of such problems, regardless of who is acting as the informant.

Several studies of deaf children examined emotional/behavioral problems in relation to individual child factors and environmental factors. Concerning individual factors, it seemed that the links between emotional/behavioral problems in deaf children and characteristics such as sex (Hindley, 1993; Sinkkonen, 1994), age (Freeman, et al., 1975; Sinkkonen, 1994; Van Eldik, 1994), and educational background (Aplin, 1985; Hindley, 1993) were far from conclusive. In addition, several authors (Leigh, Robins, & Welkowitz, 1990; Sinkkonen, 1994) reported that children with low communicative competence had more problems than children with good communication skills. Further, the prevalence of emotional/behavioral problems did not vary between native-born and immigrant children (Hindley, 1993) or on the basis of the socioeconomic background of children's families (Van Eldik, 1994). Schlesinger and Meadow (1972) and Chess and Fernandez (1980) reported more problems in children with lower intelligence than in children with higher intelligence. …