Hearing impairment is a multifaceted condition with medical and social aspects. If the neuropsychiatric impact of deafness on children has been investigated by researchers from a variety of fields and backgrounds, their conclusion is that children with hearing impairment follow many different developmental pathways. The aim of this paper is to examine the relationships between hearing impairment and mental health and the effect of impaired communication on family development.
From a review of the literature, the authors examine the relationships between hearing impairment and mental disorders in children and adolescents in terms of prevalence, clinical features and etiological factors. The fami-ly dynamics and the parents-child interactions were also explored.
The assessment of psychiatric disorders in hearing-impaired children sets some methodological pro-blems. Accurate evaluation is hampered by the immature language exhi-bited by many hearing-impaired children and by the difficulties that may be encountered in establishing rapport if the child does not understand the examiner's verbal exchanges. Several authors point out the lack of communication skills and experiences with hearing-impaired children on the part of many examiners. In addition, delays have been observed for the development of social maturity in hearing-impaired children and the parents' descriptions may reflect their own worries, rather than the emotional-behavioral functioning of the child. The measurement of psychiatric symptoms is then compromised insofar as many of the assessment procedures are highly verbal and were standardized for normal-hearing children. These difficulties may explain that the pre-valence rates of mental disorders in hearing-impaired children and adolescents found in the literature vary from 15% to 60%. If autism and deafness may both confound each others' dia-gnosis, several studies also point out the high comorbidity observed between these 2 conditions. The significance of this association remains unclear. Many of the authors conclude that hearing impairment is unlikely to be an etiological factor in autism. However, auditory impairment may be a marker for brain damage in autism. Although some studies showed high rates of depression and anxiety disorders, particularly social phobias, in deaf and hard-of-hearing children and adolescents, most of the studies conclude that the prevalence of affective disorders in hearing-impaired children and adolescents is comparable with estimates of prevalence for hearing young people. A number of studies have suggested that deaf children show greater degrees of impulsivity than hearing children. However, it seems that this background of greater impulsivity does not lead to higher rates of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) among deaf children. Using standardized instruments to estimate the prevalence of ADHD in this population, recent studies conclude that deaf children with hereditary deafness are not at greater risk of developing ADHD but that children with acquired deafness are, and that this difference is probably related to the medical conditions and family climates distinguishing these two groups. Psychotic disorders are no more common among hearing-impaired young people than among young people with normal hearing. However, some recent studies showed that the presentation of schizophrenia can differ in deaf people because of the high frequency of visual hallucinations observed in them. Lastly, if primitive personality has been described as being more prevalent among hearing-impaired children and adolescents, most of the studies found a normal range of emotional-behavioral functioning in them. In summary, if varying incidences of emotional disturbances and behavioral problems have been reported for hearing-impaired children and adolescents, except autism, it seems that children with hearing impairment experience the same range of mental health problems as hearing children. A variety of demographic, medical and educational factors were investigated as possible etiological factors for the psychiatric disorders observed in hearing-impaired children. Factors such as medical conditions, degree of deafness, communication ability and social deprivation may play a role. However, many studies also emphasize that a number of other variables, including educational methods, parental adaptation and parental support, may have an impact, positive or negative, on the development of the hearing-impaired child. By this way, numerous investigations have shown that deaf children of deaf parents attain better emotional and cognitive development than do deaf children of hearing parents.
A number of questions remain about the neuropsychiatric and psychosocial aspects of hearing-impairment in children. For instance, few studies have been conducted to examine the impact of the different methods of communication and education on the psychosocial adjustment of deaf children. However, this review clearly show that appropriate and effective management can occur only when the mental health professionals are know-ledgeable and sensitive to the unique characteristics and experiences of hearing-impaired children and adolescents.