In the second and final part of this series, Shaun Fitzgerald, Co-Founder of Deaf Minds Education, shares how being deaf can impact on children’s mental health, as we move into Mental Health Awareness week.
The most recent study of mental health in deaf children in England showed that approximately 26% in a sample of 144 signing deaf children and young people not currently accessing child mental health services had a probable mental health problem, and about 57% had a possible mental health problem. This is much higher than the general population of 11–16-year-olds, where approximately 14% are thought to have a mental disorder.
When we consider the stressors that different groups of deaf children are placed under and why it is that deaf children have higher rates of mental health problems, it may give us a much richer understanding of the multiple routes to mental health problems.
What is it like to be a deaf child in a hearing community? We know from research that deaf children are more likely to be isolated, bullied or abused, which can impact upon mental health. There is a large literature on prejudice towards deaf children and their families and experiences of feeling stigmatised.
Over 90% of deaf children are born within hearing families and most of them are not expecting a deaf child. This leads to difficulties in adjusting to the new challenges of parenting and educational choices. Parents are almost always dedicated to their children but may also struggle with anxiety and depression. All of these have mental health consequences for the child.
We also know that the Government’s inclusion policy means that most deaf children are in mainstream schools and they are often the only deaf child in their class. This makes the likelihood of them having a deaf peer group in any meaningful day-to-day way very limited. It also means that large numbers of mainstream teachers, often with limited training, have to make sure that the curriculum is available to those children. It is quite possible that the education system may struggle to fully meet the needs of many deaf children.
Another factor relates to communication. Some deaf children communicate through spoken English, especially those who are mildly deaf. Some children communicate completely in British Sign Language (BSL) with no spoken English.
BSL has a different word order, grammar and syntax to spoken English and does not map easily onto spoken or written English. This creates a number of challenges for deaf children and their families that include high levels of stress, communication problems and social and emotional challenges. Some children are being educated in bilingual ways and are being taught spoken and written English, as well as BSL or sign-supported English (using English word order).
What is it that we do that can possibly change how deaf children are taught?
Our educational training at Deaf Minds Education aims to promote deaf awareness and, more specifically, deaf mental health awareness, within educational settings.
We launched to support the needs of Deaf learners in mainstream education. Deaf Minds Education is an easy-to-access resource which aims to empower parents/carers and school/college communities to support Deaf learners, whatever challenges they face.
We facilitate the education of school and college leaders, staff and parents on how to best support the mental health and wellbeing of Deaf students. We give educational leaders the tools they need to tackle issues surrounding mental health and wellbeing using online courses, resources and webinars.
Our courses provide interventions to highlight the importance of promoting good mental health and wellbeing. Providing more than reactive services, we aim to give all Deaf children the social and emotional bedrock they need to succeed educationally by pre-empting causes of mental health issues and creating strategies to improve both mental health and wellbeing.
With this in mind, it is hoped that, by using resources like the ones mentioned, we can possibly have an effect on how Deaf children and their parents can receive a better understanding and receive a better education. The aim is to ensure that the educational providers feel more at ease, resulting in stress levels being lowered.
Reader offer. Deaf Minds Education are offering readers of My Family, Our Needs a 20% discount on the price of any course or membership plan. CLICK HERE to download the details.
Shaun Fitzgerald is co-founder of Deaf Minds Education. Deaf Minds Education is a Deaf-led organisation based in the UK. Their mission is to improve the mental health of Deaf children all over the UK by using early intervention training courses in schools.