Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Social-Emotional Development in Children and Youth Who Are Deafblind

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Social-Emotional Development in Children and Youth Who Are Deafblind

Article excerpt

Little has been written about the socialemotional development of children who are deafblind. Yet this is a particularly important topic, as dual sensory impairment limits access to social information. Young children with developmental disabilities have, in general, been found to have significantly delayed social-emotional development relative to their peers, particularly in terms of social interaction, independence, and engagement (Merrell & Holland, 1997). Deafblindness creates additional barriers.

As Murdoch (2004) notes, all areas of development are affected in children who are deafblind, including the acquisition of information from the environment, the development of communication, and social-emotional growth. These children rarely experience incidental learning, and must be given specific instruction in how to manage their interactions with their environment. Because much of socialemotional development (for children without disabilities) occurs through incidental learning in interaction with family and peers, children who are deafblind are at a significant disadvantage.

Because it is a rare disorder, there is limited research on deafblindness. In the present article, we summarize what is known about the social-emotional development of children and youth who are deafblind.

Typical Social-Emotional Development

"Social-emotional development is a term used to describe growing children's ability to form close, secure reTIMOTHY lationships and to use their emotions productively in interactions with others" (T. S. Hartshorne & SalemHartshorne, 2011, p. 205). Three factors that have an impact on social-emotional development are attachment (as infant attachment can influence all kinds of relationships throughout life; Khaleque, 2003), empathy (the capacity to understand the experience of another), and friendships.


Building social connections is important for everybody; however, it can be especially important for individuals who are deafblind, as they may be particularly required to depend on others' eyes and ears. Network orientation is a term used to describe the likelihood of tapping into social resources when they are needed (Tolsdorf, 1976). Some people see the benefit of obtaining support from their network of family and friends, while others believe it is unwise to trust in the support of others. There is evidence that secure attachment is associated with the development of a positive network orientation (Wallace & Vaux, 1993), and that a positive network orientation is associated with psychological health.

Andrew (1989) summarizes many of the challenges experienced by an infant who is deafblind and its parents. The child may not be tuned in to the immediate environment, and may become startled and fuss when the mother comes into the room and picks the child up. This may, in turn, upset the mother because it seems she cannot comfort her baby. Eye-to-eye contact may not exist; in fact, some babies who are deafblind have only peripheral vision, and so even while looking at their mother may appear to be looking elsewhere. In addition, many infants who are deafblind have other serious medical conditions that keep them in the hospital after birth or require frequent return visits, all of which impede attachment to parents.

Reda and T S. Hartshorne (2008) studied attachment and bonding between children with CHARGE syndrome and their parents. Twenty-five parents participated in the study. Twelve of the children were classified as deaf, and no association was found between deafness and attachment. However, only one of the seven children identified as visually impaired was classified as securely attached, and none of the three children identified as deafblind were classified as securely attached.

The importance of attachment has been well documented in the literature. Sroufe (2005) summarizes its importance to the development of self-reliance, emotion regulation, and social competence. …

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