DALLAS, TEXAS — A new study from researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) indicates that children and adolescents with hearing loss experience higher rates of peer victimization, or bullying, than children with normal hearing.
The study, published in the journal Exceptional Children, showed the type of bullying experienced by children hearing loss mimics patterns in children with other special needs, including significantly higher rates of social exclusion.
Approximately 50 percent of adolescents with hearing loss said they were bullied over the past year, compared to 28 percent of adolescents in the general population.
“I thought more children and adolescents with hearing loss would report getting picked on, but I did not expect the rates to be twice as high as the general population”
–Dr. Andrea Warner-Czyz, UTD Assistant Professor and Researcher
The survey was conducted with 87 youth and adolescents with hearing loss (ages 7 to 18 years) and compared with published national data from peers in the general population. All participants wore auditory technology (i.e., hearing aids or cochlear implants), communicated orally, and participated in mainstream education.
Hearing Loss and Bullying
According to the study, more than twenty five percent of adolescents with hearing loss indicated they felt left out of social activities–compared with only 5 percent of the general population reporting exclusion. The findings support previously published reports of lower quantity and quality of friendships, less frequent social invites, and higher loneliness among children with hearing loss.
Of the children who indicated they had been bullied, nearly half said they did not know why, 20 percent said it was due to their hearing loss or cochlear implant, and 20 percent said it was because of how they looked or how they acted.
Based on previous research and information provided by the children’s parents, Dr. Warner-Czyz said the problems with peers might reflect communication difficulties related to auditory skills. “Sometimes they miss puns or a play on words, or other cues that have to do with humor. Or when something is said very quietly or in a noisy location, the student with hearing loss might miss it. And that can make them feel like an outcast, or it can make them look like an outcast,” she said. “Friendships are important to most young people, but I believe they are especially important for children with hearing loss. Anything parents can do to facilitate social interaction and friendship and letting them learn how to be a friend and who is a friend is critical.”
The research is part of a larger study exploring the quality of life in children and adolescents with cochlear implants. Future research will more closely examine “the reasons behind differences in friendship quality and peer victimization in children and adolescents with hearing loss to guide evidence-based, targeted therapeutic intervention and potentially contribute to effective anti-bullying programs geared toward children with special needs.”