The school and the emotional development of the deaf adolescent

John D. Rainer, Kenneth Z. Altshuler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Our presentation discusses the emotional problems of the deaf adolescent as he leaves school and emphasizes particularly the role of the school in anticipating and helping to prevent the more serious of them. It is our thesis that like so many of the emotional problems of the deaf child, adolescent, and adult, these are caused as much by the isolation and interpersonal barriers set up by deafness from the cradle onward, as they are by the particular problems of language and thought process. The problems of young deaf people settling into life situations may be considered in the frameworks of family adjustment, vocational adjustment, group adjustment, and adjustment to the larger society. These adjustments cannot suddenly take place on the day the deaf student leaves the school. In a retrospective study of deaf adults that we did some years ago, less than 20 percent during their school years had had the experience of dating other than in group situations. Their vocational preparation was marked by the fact that more than 16 percent of our population had left school before the age of 16 without graduating. Thirty percent of those interviewed had had no vocational plans at all at the time they left school and only 40 percent felt that their school training had been helpful in obtaining employment. After leaving school, the vast majority, almost 90 percent, performed some kind of manual labour; more than one half of them were skilled workers, but the rest were in the unskilled category. During the years from three, four, five, or six, to sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, or nineteen, the schools have the task of repairing some of the psychological difficulties with which the deaf youngster goes through childhood, largely developing out of lack of communication in the earliest years. Anxiety and withdrawal result from feelings of abandonment and loneliness while destructive behaviour stems from the lack of outlets for restlessness and impulsive needs. These traits lead to further alienation of parents and other adults and the vicious cycle carries into the school years. Such a development may typically lead to important deficiencies by the later school years in the areas of social sense and feeling for others, as well as in the sense of self. Ordinarily, in adolescence, the hearing teenager revises and reintegrates his childhood problems by means of his increased cognitive capacities. These capacities may not be equally available to the deaf child and therefore he continues to have problems of handling power and strength, problems of conscience, problems of control and self-control. All of these considerations bear upon the self image of the deaf youngster and adolescent so that entry into the adult world is often marred by degraded self image, poor motivation, unrealistic aspirations - not only aspirations which are unrealistically high, but perhaps more damaging, aspirations which are unrealistically low. There are a number of ways in which this state of confusion and unprepared-ness can be prevented during the school years. In our mental health program for the deaf in New York State, we have emphasized the school's role in working with parents, the place of cottage parents in the residential school, and the task of teachers. In the context of the need for paying particular attention to the social, sexual, and emotional development of the pupil, psychological and psychiatric consultations, and individual and group therapy may be used to spot trouble in the deviant cases and to develop group awareness, empathy, and social interaction in all of the students. Other needs that should be met are preparation for family living, for emerging from the nuclear family into a new family, and a smooth transition from the school to society. The roles of clubs, vocational rehabilitation agencies, and other helping groups, as well as the need for special schools for the severely disturbed and multiple handicapped are also be considered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)435-441
Number of pages7
JournalInternational Journal of Audiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1969

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing


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