The apparatus is surgically implanted into the inner ear and allows hearing impaired kids to perceive speech and sounds. A new Université de Montréal study set out to understand how such devices affects the long-term language development of these children. “We don’t really know what hearing impaired children really hear with the implants,” says Louise Duchesne, professor at the Université de Montréal‘s School of Speech Therapy and Audiology who conducted the study. “The only testimony we have comes from adults who describe the speech of the children as comparable to Donald Duck. The implant doesn’t provide the finesse of natural hearing, and even adults who once had perfect hearing, must once again learn to decode sounds and speech.”
The study focused on 27 children who received implants at before age two and had lived with the device for at least two to six years. Duchesne tested their language performance by submitting them to tests measuring: vocabulary comprehension, expressed vocabulary, the understanding of concepts and sentences with subtleties like passive form and nouns in plural form.
Of the 14 children (age five to eight), four had excellent scores in all aspects of language. “Their level of comprehension of words, concepts and sentences was even higher than the average of children without hearing problems,” says Professor Duchesne. “However, 10 other children had major difficulties understanding sentences and three of these kids had problems in all aspects of language.”
Difficulties with cochlear implants aren’t related to sex, implant brand, schooling or even the medical background. The problem is in data treatment. “Children with less severe hearing problems who wear a hearing aid often have the same morphosyntactic problems – a difficulty hearing certain words, such as pronouns and articles. Perhaps because we pronounce those words too quickly,” says Duchesne.
Cochlear implants don’t provide the same results in all children and aren’t a guarantee linguistic success. Duchesne says parental involvement in the auditory learning of hearing impaired children is critical. “Parents must redo speech therapy exercises with their children at home, because they won’t learn how to process the information on their own,” she stresses.
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