The results stress the existence, specificity and depth of difficulties in the development of deaf children, which can be traced in the different aspects examine below.
In the mentalistic area, the situation is critical for deaf children who demonstrate a considerable delay, within which there is a significant difference between them and the control group of hearing children, at least up to the age of twelve (maximum age examined).
A situation of this sort is, at least partially, mitigated if we look at the performance of the older children aged 11 and 12 in the false belief task deceptive box test: the results do not differ significantly from those of the control group. This is symptomatic of the developmental potential of these children, provided (as in our research) that the research conditions are adapted to the group being examined (specially modified instruments, presence of a translator, etc.). This emphasises the necessity to use specially prepared procedures that take the specific development processes of deaf children into account. The results also underline how difficult these children find it to establish secure attachments: their physical impairment is undoubtedly a risk factor for deaf children when trying to build secure attachment patterns with parents and teachers.
This data, full of implications at both fact-finding and intervention levels, concerns the connection found between the mentalistic ability of children and the quality of the attachment they establish with their caregivers, whether they be parents or teachers.
The result of the relation between success in the false belief tasks and the affective tests allow us to support the idea of development of mentalistic ability as a process which is a mainly co-constructed, intersubjective process, based firmly on relevant affective relationships (Meins, 1997) This concept encourages us to abandon a straightforward standpoint to support complex causality: a specific sphere of a child's development can be enhanced (within a context), while directly or indirectly affecting the other spheres. From a perspective sensitive to the developmental potentialities of the relationships with multiple caregivers (van Ijzendoorn et al., 1992), teachers have a crucial role in shaping the course of the child's development in all its spheres, as well as facilitating cognitive development.
The school caregiver may represent an excellent emotional opportunity for the child, which interconnects with the emotional processes and ups and downs in the relationship he has established with his primary caregivers. In the light of more recent research carried out by Fonagy (Fonagy, Redfern & Charman, 1997; Fonagy & Target, 2001) and Meins (1997; Meins at al., 2003), if they are transposed from home to school, the resource represented by the school caregiver can be viewed in terms not only of the child's security, but also in terms of the mentalizing functions that the adult can carry out for, with and in support of the child. So facilitating security in the relations that are most important to the child has a series of repercussions or effects on different areas of his development: mentalistic, as in the support for and development of theory of mind, and affective, as in the integration and "repair" of relations that are not sufficiently secure.
A complex picture emerges from this work, which we hope will contribute to helping deaf children. It confirms the effectiveness of embracing an integrated conception of development (Marchetti, 1997) that cannot but lead us to consider the contexts in which a child is born and grows up, to be the source, resource and irrefutable potential for the development of deaf children.
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