Overslaan en naar de inhoud gaan

Results of studies on mental health of deaf people

The 13th European Congress of Mental Health in Intellectual Disability (EAMHID) was held in Berlin, Germany, September 23 - 25, 2021. The central theme was 'From Science to Practice'. To kick off sharing the knowledge we have interviewed some of the keynote speakers. This is an interview with Johannes Fellinger, Head of the Institute for Neurology of Senses and Language, Hospital of St. John of God Linz in Austria.


Research, intellectual disabilities, and mental health (or challenging behaviour). What comes to mind reading these key words? 

Research findings on the mental health of people with intellectual disabilities show increased rates of challenging behaviours and psychiatric disorders. In my view the reverse question is particularly important: ‘What contributes to positive mental health and high quality of life in people with intellectual disabilities?’. Having this in mind, we need to specifically consider people who have difficulties making themselves understood, such as people who are deaf or have other communication problems.


What is the main research objective/theme/focus of the study you will be presenting?

Basic support and care are being provided to deaf people with intellectual disabilities at many places. Nevertheless, their needs for communication in a wider social context are frequently not met.

The main objectives of the presented studies are as follows:

  • the specific developmental profiles of deaf people with intellectual disabilities
  • development of social and adaptive skills in a communicative accessible environment
  • quality of life and correlates based on self-reported and proxy perspectives
  • various aspects of mental health and mental health disorders (autism)
What are the main results from your study?

Developmental profiles show dramatic deficits in language development and related social dimensions. In a therapeutic community, an increase in adaptive skills could be shown in a case series. Self-reported quality of life can be assessed by using an easy-to-understand sign language version of EUROHIS-QOL 8. Self-reported ratings are higher than those from proxies. In deaf participants with intellectual disabilities self rated high quality of life is related to personal strengths, for instance: social and communication skills, self-care, cognition, spirituality, and self-determination. Proxy ratings show correlations between low quality of life and experiences of depression as well as behaviour problems.


Can you give some examples of topics or outcomes which have (positively or negatively) surprised you?

I was impressed to see how easy-to-understand sign language could be used to assess self-reported quality of life in deaf individuals with intellectual disabilities. 


How might outcomes of your (previous) studies affect daily practice in the support of persons with intellectual disabilities and mental health disorders and/or challenging behaviour?

High quality of life was reported from participants in three therapeutic communities, which guarantee accessible communication and focus on supporting communication needs and the development of social relationships. Furthermore, these therapeutic communities are characterised by an ongoing effort to support those who show challenging behaviours in order to increase their ability to communicate and to deal with stress phenomenon. Resolution of conflicts and work satisfaction are important elements for a climate of positive mental health.


How can daily care improve their support based on your study/work?

It is evident that deaf people with intellectual disabilities need special services which address their communication and social needs; not only on a one-to-one basis, but also by including the social environment which allows them to participate as fully as possible. These findings are also a call for reconsidering the placement of deaf people who are currently in facilities for people with intellectual disabilities but not in an environment with constant use of sign language. 


Can you suggest topics for future studies you will be working on?  

Future studies must focus on how communication abilities can be increased and reinforced in deaf people with intellectual disabilities. Future studies should differentiate psychiatric symptoms, such as autism or ‘pseudo autism’ due to deprivation, among people with severe sensory impairments and intellectual disabilities. Future studies should also address the developmental achievements of those who are transitioning from a hearing and speaking environment to specific units which are communicatively accessible and designed for deaf people with ID.


With whom would you like to do a study in the future? And why?

We would be interested in cooperating with different stakeholders who are serving deaf people with intellectual disabilities and those who are starting programs where deaf people with intellectual disabilities are transitioning from a hearing and speaking environment to a signing environment.

Differentiated single case studies could contribute to a significant improvement of scientific background for observations made frequently in practice.


How can we better implement scientific findings in daily practices?

By linking researchers with providers who serve deaf people with intellectual disabilities, research findings can be incorporated and implemented into daily practice.