Global Educators Cohort Program - Teacher Education

Click here for Site Map
Jump to Main Content

Deaf College Students Perceptions of their Social-Emotional Adjustment

  • Dr. Jennifer Lukomski, School of Psychology, Rochester Institute was available from 2/25/08 to 2/29/08 & 3/9/08 to 3/16/08 to answer questions and share ideas concerning her research and its implications for parents of children who are deaf/hard of hearing, their teachers and other professionals who work with them.
  • You are encouraged to read the research summary below and review the attached discussion.

Abstract: This study examined differences between deaf and hearing students’ perceptions of their social emotional adjustment as they transition to college. The results showed that deaf students rated themselves as experiencing significantly higher home life difficulties than hearing students, and deaf students rated themselves as having fewer coping difficulties than hearing students. Results also revealed that deaf females rated themselves significantly higher on worry than deaf males, hearing females, and hearing males. These findings suggest that there are differences between deaf and hearing students who are transitioning to college with regards to their social-emotional adjustment.

Background: Adolescence, which spans the ages 11 to 19 years, now spills into ‘emerging adulthood’, a developmental period conceptualized to include the ages 18 to 25 years. This emerging adulthood shares challenges (i.e., identity exploration and risk taking behavior) with the adolescence developmental stage; however, this fundamental transitional period into adulthood has its distinct characteristics. For example, emerging adulthood is a period marked by a high degree of individual volition, high risk taking behavior, instability of residential status, emerging self-sufficiency, range of possible activities, and lack of normative behavior. It is possible that with this prolonged development that the bulk of identity exploration takes place in emerging adulthood, as opposed to adolescence. In addition, not until the end of this developmental period does an individual become autonomous with better-controlled impulses.

The research is incomplete and inconclusive regarding the differences between hearing and deaf adolescents’ overall social-emotional adjustment and coping with life stressors and life difficulties. In summary the findings suggest that there is higher loneliness, a higher frequency of depressive symptoms, more anxiety and social problems among deaf and hard of hearing children than hearing children. Having few friends, being without company, and feeling cut off from others may be a confirmation of part of the deaf experience, especially when interacting with the hearing world. Yet, there is not enough conclusive findings to make definitive claims regarding social-emotional outcomes based on school placement.

The studies that have been completed have either used self-reports limited to a single construct, such as loneliness or depression, or have used informant reported behavior rating scales. In addition, studies in which parents and teachers completed scales addressing their children’s overall social emotional functioning did not focus on deaf and hard of hearing adolescents enrolled in college. This sub-population of deaf and hard of hearing emerging adult may be unique with regards to social-emotional functioning. The purpose of this study was to investigate whether deaf college freshman students perceive their social-emotional adjustment differently than hearing college freshman students.

Findings: The current study found that there were differences between deaf and hearing students’ perceptions of their behaviors and feelings as they transitioned into college. However, there were more similarities than differences. Two of the nine social-emotional areas (context home difficulties and coping difficulties) were significantly different between the hearing and deaf groups when gender differences were not examined. However, when gender differences were examined one additional scale (worry) was significantly different between the hearing and deaf groups. The other six domains (i.e., discouragement, body image, anger/aggression, alcohol/drugs, overall trouble, context school) were not significantly different among the hearing and deaf groups.

The finding that deaf college students rated themselves as experiencing more home related social-emotional difficulties than hearing college students is consistent with the literature regarding the more apparent challenges of the individuation process for deaf. Of course, the finding that deaf students perceive their home life as more stressful than hearing students can not be interpreted that parents of deaf students perceive the situation the same way. The family environment and parent-child relationship may be critical factors to address as these may influence identity exploration, perception, and interpretation of the various life activities.

The finding that deaf students rated themselves as having significantly less coping difficulties compared to hearing students may seem counterintuitive considering the high college attrition rate for deaf students. Coping is an interactive process that is affected by situational, social support and personal characteristics. Many deaf students persevere and cope with environmental obstacles and may actually perceive themselves as having more coping skills than what hearing students perceive they have. In addition, one’s perceptions of coping resources do not necessarily translate into coping outcomes. Perhaps the participants in this study did not have a realistic insight into their ability to cope.

What is noteworthy is that female deaf students rated themselves as significantly higher on worry than the other three groups. This gender difference between deaf females and deaf males in the social-emotional domain is not consistent with most previous literature. A recent study did find that deaf and hard of hearing college freshmen women reported a significantly higher incidence of suicide attempts and that the there was an association between anxiety and self-reported suicide attempts.

Future Directions: Overall, the study provides findings that need to further explored. One relevant area to explore is the relationship of these indicators of perceived social-emotional adjustment to long-term college adjustment and retention. We know that deaf students’ retention is due to both academic and nonacademic reasons. There are also many questions with regard to the findings related to the gender differences for the worry domain, as well as the deaf students’ coping skills and the role of the home context for the deaf college student. These three domains need to be fleshed out and examined more in depth with a variety of instruments and with a variety of informants (i.e., parent, guidance counselor, teacher). Specifically, how the parents of deaf college students perceive this transition to college would be of interest. In conclusion, coping skills, home relationships, and strategies for managing anxiety need to be considered when working with deaf college students.

Jennifer Lukomski
Deaf College Students Perceptions of their Social-Emotional Adjustment
J. Deaf Stud. Deaf Educ., 2007; 12: 486-494.