Researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, have found that the earlier a deaf child receives a cochlear implant, the better the child's speech development. A cochlear implant is an electronic device that is implanted in the inner ear of a profoundly deaf person. It stimulates the auditory nerve and allows the individual to be aware of sounds. Researchers explain that being aware of sounds appears to help language development, although the device does not allow hearing-impaired people to hear speech clearly. This can help narrow the gap in language skills hearing-impaired children experience compared with their hearing counterparts, researchers suggest.
Although hearing-impaired kids typically show stunted or slower acquisition of language skills, cochlear implants can improve their developmental abilities. Researcher Dr. Mario A. Svirsky says that he has found that when a child receives a cochlear implant, the child begins to develop language skills at about the same rate as a child with normal hearing. As hearing-impaired children grow older in age, they fall further and further behind in their level of language ability. Cochlear implants can halt that "progressive disparity".
Despite the fact that previous studies have indicated that cochlear implants aid the development of speech perception and production in children who were deaf since birth or prior to language acquisition, cochlear implants have met opposition and criticism in some circles.
Investigators write " If it could be shown that cochlear implants enhance language development, in addition to just speech perception, this would be compelling evidence for the effectiveness of cochlear implants in the pediatric population."
Dr. Svirsky and colleagues conclude that "cochlear implants have a significant beneficial effect on the development of English language in profoundly deaf children", and that "the best performers among children with implants, not only achieved very high levels of speech perception, but also seemed to be developing an oral linguistic system based largely on auditory input from a cochlear implant".
1. Psychological Science 2000; 11: 1-6.
2. Reuters Health Information, newsstand @ thrive, march 2000.
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