November 8th, 2018
On October 31st, Evelien Dirks defended her research on social and emotional functioning in very young children with moderate hearing loss and was granted a well-deserved doctorate. Evelien faced some challenging questions, for example addressing the implications of this important and pioneering work for treatment, but she could easily and convincingly bridge this gap between scientific research and clinical practice in her responses. Congratulations Dr. Dirks, and we now welcome you as an alumnus of the Focus on Emotions lab!
Why are you interested in children with moderate hearing loss (MHL)?
“For decades, children with MHL were ‘forgotten children.” Most research focused on deaf children, and the needs of children with MHL were underestimated. However, children with MHL have inconsistent access to linguistic input and social-emotional experiences, placing them at risk for developmental difficulties.”
Are caregivers of children with MHL more stressed?
“Parents did not feel more stress than parents of toddlers without hearing loss. Actually, no risk factors were found in the affective domain between the toddlers and their parents. Toddlers with MHL were sensitive to the emotions of others; parents were emotionally available to their toddlers, but vice versa, children were also sensitive to their parents affect.”
You examined psychosocial functioning in the context of caregiving environment. What is the most challenging aspect for toddlers with MHL and their parents?
“Despite the good emotional bonding, challenges were found towards meaningful social interactions: Toddlers with MHL had more difficulties in understanding other people’s intentions, but also exchanged fewer communicative signals themselves. Moreover, episodes of joint engagement during parent-child interactions were briefer and parents used less rich language during these interactions than parents of toddlers without hearing loss. These patterns might cause children with MHL to develop a less well understanding of the social world around them”
What may parents do to overcome these challenges?
“Social participation is crucial, at all levels. To overcome the challenges in developing meaningful social interactions, parents could for example read extra storybooks with their children, discussing different perspective in different people. An interactive reading program for parents of toddlers with hearing loss has been shown to be effective in increasing joint engagement.”