How do deaf children develop in a hearing environment?

Deaf and hard-of-hearing youngsters often grow up in a hearing environment. Does this have consequences for their socio-emotional functioning? Maartje Kouwenberg (Developmental and Educational Psychology) concludes that there is no simple answer to this question. Her PhD defence was on 18 April 2013.

‘The group of deaf and hard-of-hearing youngsters is very heterogeneous’

Healthy socio-emotional development is important to be able to function well in everyday life. PhD candidate Kouwenberg concludes that this is more difficult to achieve for deaf and hard-of-hearing youngsters than for their hearing peers. This is however not true of all deaf and hard-of-hearing young people, nor is it true for all areas of socio-emotional development. Kouwenberg: ‘The group of deaf and hard-of-hearing youngsters is very heterogeneous. For instance, they differ from each other in the degree of loss of hearing, the type of hearing aid they wear and the kind of school they go to. This may have all sorts of consequences for their socio-emotional development.’ Kouwenberg’s research shows that deaf and hard-of-hearing youngsters in special needs education are the ones who most frequently experience problems in their socio-emotional functioning. ‘This does not of course mean that this result is the consequence of special needs education. There are often many reasons why these children end up in special needs education in the first place.’

Communication is not always easy

Communication between deaf and hard-of-hearing youngsters and their mostly hearing parents and environment is not always easy. As a result, these young people may have more trouble learning the how and why of emotions. They seem to have most trouble understanding how they are supposed to behave. Kouwenberg’s research shows that the friendships of deaf and hard-of-hearing youngsters are of lower quality and that they are less often able to respond with empathy to other people’s emotions than their hearing peers.

'Providing professionals with tools'

We should not indiscriminately lump all deaf and hard-of-hearing youngsters together, concludes Kouwenberg on the basis of her research. ‘It is very tempting to make black-and-white statements about how this group is doing at the moment, but that’s not possible. These youngsters differ too much from each other for that. And there are so many sub-areas within socio-emotional development and in some of these areas they are doing well, and in others less so.’ Kouwenberg emphasizes that deaf and hard-of-hearing youngsters should not only be compared to their hearing peers, but also to each other. In addition, she argues that we should not only look at functioning in general, but also at certain specific areas of functioning. ‘In which specific areas of socio-emotional development do the problems arise? What are the risk factors for these young people? Is it the type of hearing aid, or is it whether or not they use sign language? If we know the answers to these questions, we can provide the professionals who are working with this group with the right tools.’

PhD defence

Maartje Kouwenberg

Maartje Kouwenberg

'Social-emotional factors underlying internalizing problems & peer relations in deaf or hard hearing youth'
Maartje Kouwenberg
18 April 2013
Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences
Supervisor: Professor C. Rieffe
Co-psupervisor: Dr M. de Rooij

This PhD research was funded by an NWO VIDI grant awarded to Professor Carolien Rieffe, who also acted as Kouwenberg’s thesis supervisor.

(April 2013)

See also

Studying in Leiden


Child and Adolescent Psychology
Developmental Psychology (Research Master's)

Last Modified: 24-04-2013