Identifying Autism in Deaf Children

Posted by:gulf onMarch 25, 2017

By Dez Duran-Lamanilao

Autism is a condition that presents itself from early childhood and is marked by communication disorders, shorter attention span and inability to form relationships with other people. The number of deaf children who have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is increasing. Such condition can further complicate communication development.

According to the latest findings of psycholinguist Aaron Shield from the Miami University of Ohio, which he presented at the 2016 American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) annual meeting held on February 12, the following are specific phenomena that show new perspectives about how children with ASD acquire language.

  1. Deaf children with ASD reverse the direction of their palms while signing. This signifies the differences in their perception and imitation of others.
  2. Children with ASD do not prefer the equivalent sign language pronouns for “me” and “you” despite the fact that such pronouns point to the people they refer to, hinting of their transparency.
  3. A significant minority of deaf children with ASD also do not acquire sign, just like the case of some children who fail to acquire expressive language, suggesting that they cannot access signed or spoken language due to the social deficits of ASD.

Signs That Distinguish ASD in Children with Hearing Loss

  • In terms of relationships, deaf children with ASD may not be able to keep eye contact, pull away from hugs, and encounter difficulty with turn-taking
  • In terms of communication, they may not communicate feelings through facial expressions or signs or may show problems with pointing at objects or at people
  • In terms of behavior, difficulty with transitions is notable. Children who bang their heads or show self-stimulating behaviors such as rocking or humming also signify deafness with ASD.


Source: AG Bell

There are several tests that can be conducted to identify if a child is suffering from hearing loss such as otoscopic examination, tympanometry, pure-tone audiometry and hearing aid evaluation. There is a huge difference in the severity of hearing loss for children with ASD. An early diagnosis is important especially if the child is also exhibiting signs of autism. Because of their vulnerability, children rely on their parents to take care of both their spoken and unspoken needs. Parents should learn to act with maturity, an open mind, and patience when dealing with this kind of problem.

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