Universiteit Leiden

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The link between hearing loss, language, and social functioning in childhood

The aim of this thesis was to study the link between hearing loss, language skills, and social functioning in deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) children. Sufficient language skills are an essential prerequisite to develop appropriate communication skills, in order to join in conversations with others. Both their hearing loss and their diminished communication skills prevent DHH children from learning by observing their surroundings (incidental learning). As a result, DHH children showed more difficulty in understanding others’ thoughts and wishes (Theory of Mind or ToM). DHH teenagers reported to have difficulties with understanding others’ emotions and showed lower levels of prosocial behavior. Higher communication skills, but not language skills, were related to better ToM development and higher empathic abilities. Second, the role of early identification and intervention of hearing loss on the social-emotional development of DHH children was studied. This was illustrated in a longitudinal study showing that early cochlear implantation resulted in higher language and communication skills. In turn, these improved skills prevented the development of early signs of psychopathology. To conclude, this thesis shows that in order to stimulate the social-emotional development of DHH children, their opportunities for incidental learning have to be increased.

Anouk Netten
12 April 2017
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