Early social communication skills critically moderate mental health trajectories in deaf children

Daniel Holzinger is a clinical linguist and director of the Centre for Communication and Language at the Hospital of St. John of God offering diagnostic services and intervention for children and adults with deafness, speech-language disorders and autism spectrum disorders. He is deputy director of the Research Institute for Developmental Medicine at the Johannes Kepler University in Linz where he is involved in research about language and communication assessment and intervention including associations with mental health.

Madalena Dall graduated in public health and is currently involved in her PhD program investigating the impact of social communication on human development. She is research coordinator of the AChild study seeking to understand predictors of the development of deaf children and research administrator of the Research Institute for Developmental Medicine at the Johannes Kepler University in Linz.

Sabine Windisch (D) is a communication teacher and director of a multidisciplinary intervention team based at the School for the Deaf in Salzburg. In addition to her roles as parent-peer and Deaf Mentor she supports families (with typical hearing or deafness) in their development and everyday use of facilitative communication strategies that promote child social communication (SC) from very early on.

After introducing the definition, complexity and measurements of social communication (SC) we present data on links between SC skills and mental health outcomes based on total population studies. Subsequently, data from international research and particularly from the Austrian AChild study demonstrating SC diffiiculties and correlations with different aspects of mental health in deaf and hard-of-hearing children and in their families will be shown. Finally, we report feasible ways to measure and monitor the early development of SC and practical ways to specifically support and enhance SC skills independent of communciation modalities. Illustrations of interventions will include the support of parents in early parent-child interaction by use of the visual modality by a Deaf teacher. Overall, the presentation substantiates the mental health impact of early SC and its malleability via family centered early intervention.