Deaf People with cognitive challenges and their mental health – now and in future

Johannes Fellinger, M.D, P.D., is Head of the Institute of Neurology of Language and Senses at the Hospital of St. John of God in Linz and Head of the Research Institute for Developmental Medicine, Johannes Kepler University Linz, Austria.

After finishing his medical degree, he specialised in Neurology, Psychiatry and Neuropaediatrics. During his residency, he noticed a lack of medical services available for Deaf people and started an outpatient clinic for the Deaf.

This developed into the Institute of Neurology of Language and Senses including a neurological and linguistic clinic, a paedo-audiological centre with an early intervention program for deaf and hard of hearing children, a centre for autism spectrum disorder, an outpatient clinic for inclusive medicine and Lebenswelt – therapeutic living communities for Deaf people with multiple disabilities.

Additionally to his clinical work, Johannes Fellinger is involved in research, particularly in the field of developmental medicine, with a focus on Deafness. He teaches at the Johannes Kepler University, Linz as well as at the Medical University Vienna.

The presentation gives an overview about prevalence, aetiologies and specific developmental and living conditions of individuals who a prelingually deaf or hard of hearing and have mostly intellectual disabilities.

The term “Deaf+” is introduced, with respect to the presence of other disabilities, but also to highlight the positive potential.

Research data shows that this vulnerable population is large. 40% of children born deaf or hard of hearing have additional medical or developmental difficulties.

Today’s adult Deaf+ population has experienced severe communicative deprivation beginning in their early lives and show very heterogeneous developmental profiles.

Study data illustrate discrepancies between cognitive functioning and adaptive skills, especially in the social and communicative domain.

Furthermore, the issue of challenging behaviour is addressed by research data, which show that maladaptive behaviours were occurring two to three times more frequently in the Deaf+ population compared to data from general populations.

In Austria three therapeutic community programs were established because of the need to create a living environment for Deaf+ individuals with fully accessible sign language. The program will be introduced.

The right to life in a communicative accessible social environment as mentioned in the UN CRPD has to be realised for Deaf+ adults, which is also endorsed by a Position Paper of the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD).