Friends of the Nonverbal Communication Blog, this week we present the paper “Communicatie deficits associated with maladaptive behavior in individuals with deafness and special needs”, by Fellinger, J.; Dall, M.; Weber, C. and Holzinger, D. (2022), in which the authors carry out a study to know whether a relationship between being deaf and having a maladaptive social behavior exists, considering quality communication deficits as another factor.

Prevalence rates of hearing loss range from 15-25% of the adult population. Hearing loss that begins before language acquisition can have a tremendous impact on communication and socioemotional and cognitive development.

The early years of life are critical for language and general development. If a child does not have sufficient access to spoken or signed language during this period, it can have lasting negative effects on his or her future ability to learn language, and this language deprivation can lead to social isolation, which in turn severely affects mental health throughout life. 

Approximately 33-50% of people with prelingual deafness or hearing difficulties in general have additional disabilities, for example, neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorders or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or other neurological disorders. 

This fact makes communication and mental health difficulties even more pronounced. The combination of deafness and intellectual disabilities is a double risk and has a much greater impact on people’s lives. 

In a Danish study, children with deafness and special needs were three times more likely to suffer from psychosocial problems compared to children with deafness but no additional needs. 

The emotional and behavioral problems of deaf children and how these relate to language are, in general, well documented in the literature, but it is true that these two elements associated with social communication and maladaptive behavior are not as popular, which is why the authors opted for the convergence of these issues. 

Communication, with its verbal and nonverbal elements, plays an essential role in our lives, as we have already pointed out on many occasions, but also in neurocognitive processes, including attention, learning, social norms…. 

In the literature, when we speak of maladaptive behavior, we refer to behavior that interferes with an individual’s daily life activities or with his/her ability to adapt and participate in environments. Using this definition, the authors conducted an analysis about the prevalence of maladaptive behavior and how it is associated with verbal and nonverbal language skills and social communication in adults with deafness and special needs. 

The sample consisted of 61 participants with deafness and intellectual disability and/or other neurodevelopmental disorders. All participants had in common that, before the age of 6 years, when they were enrolled in a school for children with deafness, they had had almost no access to sign language. They grew up without adequate access to language and with only minimal expressive language. In most families only a limited number of simple signs and gestures were used, leading to severe language deprivation during childhood. 

The findings showed that there was a prevalence rate of high maladaptive behavior of 41% and a particularly high score in 18% of the participants. This is quite a high rate, considering that the participants were living in an environment that had been adapted to their needs.

Language delays, especially in sign language, were found to be significantly more pronounced the more intense the patient’s neurological difficulty. 

Language and social communication skills were shown to explain 14% of the variance in the tendency to have more or less maladaptive behaviors, confirming the authors’ hypothesis that it has a fairly strong influence. 

The results emphasize the importance of early access to language, whatever the child’s circumstances, and the constant promotion of verbal and nonverbal communication skills, as those with better language and social communication skills demonstrated lower levels of maladaptive behavior. 

In addition, the findings highlight the need to foster the development of social communication in all individuals, regardless of cognitive functioning. 

If you want to know more about nonverbal behavior and how it affects personal relationships, visit our Master of Science in Nonverbal and Deceptive Behavior, which you can take in English or Spanish, with special grants for readers of the Nonverbal Communication Blog.

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