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With cochlear implants, earlier use leads to better speech

"Bye-bye, bye-bye," said one 3 and a half-year old child, born deaf but with a cochlear implant that partially restored hearing nine months earlier. That's the most complex speech the child uttered during a testing session that involved play with a toy train set.

In contrast, a child of the same age who had a cochlear implant 31 months earlier made more sophisticated statements: "OK, now the people goes to stand there with that noise and now -- Woo! Woo!" and "OK, the train's coming to get the animals and people."

The testing session was part of research that indicates the earlier a deaf infant or toddler receives a cochlear implant, the better his or her spoken language skills at age 3 and a half. The research was conducted by Johanna Grant Nicholas, Ph.D., research associate professor of otolaryngology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and colleague Ann E. Geers, Ph.D., from the Southwestern Medical School at the University of Texas at Dallas.

"Ninety percent of children born deaf are born to hearing parents, and these parents know very little about deafness," Nicholas says. "They don't know how to have a conversation in sign language or teach it to their children. Many of these parents would like their children to learn spoken language."

The researchers tested the spoken language skills of 76 children, all 3 and a half years old, who had cochlear implants and compared those results to the length of time each child had his or her implant. They found that with increased implant time, children's vocabulary was richer, their sentences longer and more complex and their use of irregular words more frequent. The researchers' work was reported in the June issue of Ear and Hearing.

Nicholas notes that many of the children who received cochlear implants at the youngest ages have nearly the same spoken language skills as children with normal hearing. The researchers' further studies -- not yet published -- s
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Source:Washington University School of Medicine


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