A case study: the impact of the deaf milieu in treating autism like problems

Ruth Garcia-Rodriguez


Deaf children are more vulnerable to mental health problems and this includes the presence of Autism. However autism like symptoms can also been found in deaf children without fulfilling a whole diagnostic Autistic Spectrum Disorder category. Deaf children can show delays in theory of mind development due to early communication problems and this can manifest into deficits in social skills, anger, frustration and a need for routine. In this case study the author describes a young girl presenting with autistic traits. A referral to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) is initiated by her GP (General Practitioner) as a consequence of concerns voiced by her parents, and an educational psychologist. After a lengthy assessment including gold standard diagnostic instruments and input from two deaf aware members of the team, the conclusion was that this young person did not fulfil the criteria for a diagnosis of Autism. A combined plan with National Deaf Services was agreed to arrange therapeutic support for this young person with recognition of emotional vocabulary, social skills training, and behavioural management to be delivered from her new deaf boarding school. Further assessment indicated that some of the behaviours and difficulties described previously were greatly improved after gaining access to a deaf milieu in her new school. This case illustrates the importance of helping young deaf individuals to access peers, and how access to the milieu can increase deaf children self-esteem and social skills.

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