Disability Psychology – University of Copenhagen

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Psychological Disability Research

Coordinator: Jesper Dammeyer, Associate Professor, PhD, DMSc 

The research unit conducts psychological research concerning people with disabilities. The main focus is on psychological issues related to sensory impairment (hearing loss and deafblindness). Other researched groups are people with autism, intellectual impairment, language impairment, and cerebral palsy.

Both general issues about psychology and disability (for example inclusion, mainstreaming, quality of life, theoretical disability models) and issues related to specific types of disabilities (for example mental health, communication support, visual communication, challenging behavior, assessment methods, ageing, family support, aids) are researched.

The research unit work within the fields of clinical psychology, educational psychology, personality psychology, medical psychology, neuropsychology, and developmental psychology. The subject area often applied with close partnership with patients associations and sector research areas.

Researchers and psychology students are welcome to contact the unit.
Mail: jesper.dammeyer@psy.ku.dk.  

Presentation of current projects 

Senior citizens with deafblindness

The prevalence of deafblindness is dramatically increasing in old age, and with the expected increase in life expectancy, the prevalence of deafblindness is presumably growing. International research has rendered probable that acquired deafblindness among senior citizens causes an increased risk of communicative, social and cognitive disabilities as well as mental illness, for example, depression. Research on the significance of different factors, and on ways of counteracting the adverse effects of deafblindness in old age is extremely sparse. Thus, the project aims to contribute with important knowledge on this subject.

With the participation of 900 citizens with acquired deafblindness, three studies are carried out:

  1. A study focusing on the prevalence of psychological, cognitive, communicative, and social problems among deafblind citizens. Through quantitative analyses, consequences of deaf-blindness and the factors mediating these consequences are examined.
  2. A study focusing on possible interventions, social support, and spouses. The effect of diverse educational and social initiatives is examined through both quantitative and qualitative analyses.
  3. A psychometric study analysing the clinical inventories used in the project. The aim is to find methods of reliable differentiation between symptoms of dementia and consequences of deafblindness.

Participating researchers: Flemming Ask Larsen, Christine Lehane, Hanna Hovalt, Jesper Dammeyer and Peter Elsass. The project is performed in collaboration with CFD Denmark. The Project is funded by VELUX with 5.1 million DKK.

Example of publication: Dammeyer, J. (2014). Deafblindness. A Review of the Literature. Scandinavian Journal of Public Health, 42, 547-553.

Associations between sensory impairment and mental and behavioral disorders

There are a number of associations between sensory loss and the risk of development of mental and behavioral disorders. The purpose of the projects is to understand the consequences of sensory impairment, improve clinical treatment, and get more knowledge about sensory processes involved in mental and behavioral disorders. One project concern for example symptoms of autism among children with congenital deafblindness.

Another project study development and psychopathology in children with Usher syndrom and Charge syndrome. Children with Usher syndrome and Charge syndrome are both characterized by congenital hearing loss, visual impairment and balance disorder. Interaction of language, cognition and motor development are studied using survey methods and case studies. 

Participating researchers: Jesper Dammeyer. The projects are funded by Center for Deafblindness and Hearing Loss.

Example of publication: Dammeyer, J. (2014). Symptoms of autism among children with congenital deafblindness. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44(5), 1095-1102.   

Hearing impairment and life outcome and Deaf Studies

Associations between congenital or acquired hearing loss and a number of life outcomes are researched. Studied life outcome themes are for instance employment, mental health, and identity which are researched using survey methodology. Outcome of cochlear implants and other hearing aid technology is another focus in these studies. Studies concerning ”deaf culture” is also in focus.

Participating researchers: Jesper Dammeyer, Janni Niclasen, Ola Hendar. The projects are funded by Center for Deafblindness and Hearing Impairment and by Scandinavian partners.

Example of publication: Dammeyer, J. (2010). Psychosocial development in a Danish population of children with cochlear implants and deaf and hard of hearing children. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education. 15(1), 50-58.

Support for individuals with severe communicative impairments

More knowledge is needed about how individuals with severe communicative disorders can be supported. Often the support has to focus at pre-lingual communication and with different means and in different modalities.

In one project is coding of video observations used to investigate the social interaction between children with severe disabilities and the caregiver. Theories and methods from the social interactionist perspective are applied in some projects, whereas the focus in other projects is on theories of communication, language and cognitive semiotics. One project investigates activities and communication among people with congenital deafblindness and their interaction with a caretaker.

Another project is “The Bodily Basis of Meaning”. Early motor and emotional developmental are studied in relation to meaning/language acquisition. Analysis of video observations are carried out. Both children with  and without severe disabilities are included. The research is cross disciplinary and integrates philosophy, developmental and clinical approaches.

Participating researchers: Flemming Ask Larsen, Emilie Strøm, Jesper Dammeyer

Example of publication: Dammeyer, J. (2008). Congenitally deafblind children and cochlear implants – effect on communication. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education. 14(2), 278-288.

The development of tactile language in children with congenital deafblindness

How deaf children develop visual sign language has been investigated, however, almost no research has been reported on how children with congenital deafblindness are able to develop tactile language. By the means of microanalyses of video recordings of children with congenital deafblindness tactile language development and tactile linguistics are studied.

Participating researchers: Jesper Dammeyer.

Example of publication: Dammeyer, J.,  Nielsen, A., Strøm, E. Hendar, O., Eiriksdottir, V. (2015).  A Case Study of Tactile Language and its Possible Structure: A Tentative Outline to Study Tactile Language Systems among Children with Congenital Deafblindness. Journal of Communication Disorders, Deaf Studies, and Hearing Impairment, 3(2).

Psychological disability research

Psychological models of disability is developed using Vygotskys “defectology” work and the concept of “developmental incongruence”. The theoretical model celebrates a bio-psycho-social view on disability and criticize both a social and medical model of disability. Book projects and empirical studies are carried out.

Participating researchers: Jesper Dammeyer and Louise Bøttcher (Aarhus University, DPU)

Example of publication: Bøttcher, L. & Dammeyer, J. (2012). Disability as a Dialectical Concept - Building on Vygotsky’s Defectology. European Journal of Special Needs Education. 27(4), 433-446.

Psycholinguistic studies of sign language and children with congenital hearing loss

In the intersection between educational psychology, language development, and cultural minority studies are special education issues about children with congenital hearing loss investigated. Language modality, the impact of early language development and inclusion are some of the themes being studied. The projects are carried out in corporation with European research partners.

Participating researchers: Ola Hendar and Jesper Dammeyer

Example of publication: Swanwick, R., Hendar, O.,  Dammeyer, J., Kristoffersen, A., Salter, J., & Simonsen, J. (2014). Shifting Contexts and Practices in Sign Bilingual Education in Northern Europe. Implications for Professional Development and Training. In M. Marschark, G. Tang, H. Knoors (Eds.). Bilingualism and Bilingual Deaf Education. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Personality, health and disability

How does individual differences and social behavior influence and affect a person with disabilities and vice versa? Personality and social behavior are important to investigate to understand why one impairment have mayor impacts on quality of life for some people but only minor impacts on others. National registers, cohort studies, and intervention studies are carried out.

One study research prosocial behavior and metacognitive strategies. More than fifty children from Denmark and Japan took part in a special designed intervention program. Focus is at children with and without special needs.

Another current study focus at prevalence of diabetes and treatment in Nigeria. 

Participating researchers: Ayumi Umino, Onyekachi David, and Jesper Dammeyer. The projects are funded by grants from Japan, Denmark and Nigeria.