When Deaf People Also Have Autism

Sometimes a child will turn out to be both deaf and autistic. This combination of autism with deafness is uncommon but does occur.

Father playing with son
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Autism and Deafness

Autism is not a simple disorder. This disorder causes difficulty in interacting with people and affects language. It has a wide spectrum and usually appears by the time a child is three years old. With early identification and intervention, there is the potential for deaf children with autism to do well.

Support for Deaf People With Autism

There is the Deaf Autism group, a site supporting families of deaf children with autism spectrum disorders, and deaf parents with hearing autistic children. Family profiles are on the site. Deaf Autism holds autism retreats (Autreat).

Discussion Groups for Deafness and Autism

One small group is the Deaf Autreat group for people who have attended or are attending the Deaf Autreat.

In addition, the Autism Network for Hearing and Visually Impaired Persons (ANHVIP) is under the Autism Society of America (ASA). Margaret Creedon, who is on the Professional Advisory Committee of the Autism Society of Illinois, and on the Panel of Professional Advisors for the ASA, is a co-founder of the ANHVIP.

Research on Deafness and Autism

Research into autism and hearing loss is limited. An Eric database search turned up the following article about deafness or hearing loss and autism:

  • EJ762865. Malandraki, Georgia A., and Okalidou, Areti. The Application of PECS in a Deaf Child with Autism: A Case Study. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, volume 22, number 1, pages 23-32, Spring 2007. This article is about a deaf and autistic 10-year-old boy who was taught to use the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), and how well he did after learning the system.

Studies have also been reported in journals. For example, a study of 46 children was done by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, that found late and incorrect diagnoses of autism in deaf children negatively impacted their educational outcomes. This study was reported in "Hearing-impaired autistic children," in Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, December 1991.

A family's experience was featured in the article "Early Intervention in Deafness and Autism: One Family’s Experiences, Reflections, and Recommendations," by Katharine Beals, Ph.D., published in Infants and Young Children, Volume 17, No. 4, pp. 284–290. It can be downloaded free from the International Society on Early Intervention's website. The parents struggled to provide their deaf child with all available educational and communication options. Then, when their deaf child began to have autistic symptoms, an early intervention specialist said it was a pervasive developmental disorder (PDD). PDD is a category of disorders that includes autism.

Newspaper Articles on Autism and Deafness

We reported on an article about a deaf and autistic young man in the blogpost Deaf, Autistic Young Man Succeeds in Life. Another article was in the Ocala Star-Banner on August 6, 2007, "Deaf, autistic child like other boys." That article mentions the National Deaf Academy (NDA) in Mount Dora, Florida, as an educational facility with expertise in deafness and autism.

The NDA has an Autism Spectrum Developmental Services team. This team is comprised of professionals from a variety of fields including psychiatry and education. Children receive one to one attention from dedicated staff members.

Magazine Articles on Deafness and Autism

In its Spring/Summer 2008 issue, Odyssey magazine, published by the Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center, focused on deaf children and teens with autism. This issue, which can be downloaded directly as a PDF from the Odyssey website, featured the following articles:

  • Deafness and Autism - by Diane D. Morton
  • When Autism and Deafness Coexist in Children: What We Know Now - by Christen Szymanski and Patrick J. Brice
  • With Little Research Out There It’s a Matter of Learning What Works in Teaching Students with Deafness and Autism - by Lee Ann Bradley, Brandi Krakowski, and Ann Thiessen
  • Bringing Books To - and Sharing them With - Children with Autism: Janet’s Tips - by Janet S. Weinstock
  • Selah, a Previous Mosaic: A Mother’s Journey Through Autism with Her Deaf Child - by Stefanie D. Ellis-Gonzales
  • Brady, Our Firstborn Son, Has Autism - by Mei Yeh-Kennedy
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