Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Dyslexia: Report on Perceived Link to Deaf Children with Cochlear Implants

Eight year-old Britan and her 10-year-old brother, Carson, have been going to the same summer camp for the past two years. For an entire day, they laugh, play games, eat pizza - and then chat with scientists who literally hang on every word they say.

That’s because Britan, who can hear normally, and Carson, who hears through cochlear implants – artificial ears for deaf people - are part of a study in the speech development laboratory at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center looking at the relationship between hearing and language skills.

Even though cochlear implants have significantly improved the communication abilities of children with hearing loss, many of these children still lag behind their peers in language and literacy development.

For nearly ten years, researchers at Ohio State have been following more than 100 children with normal hearing or hearing loss, some since birth, in order to help find answers that may lead to better implant designs and educational interventions.

Now, researchers say that a surprising picture is beginning to emerge from their studies that could change the way learning problems like dyslexia are detected and treated.

In "Measuring what matters: Effectively predicting language and literacy in children with cochlear implants," published in International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology, the goal of Susan Nittrouer, director of Ohio State’s Speech Development Lab, was to evaluate how well various language measures typically used with very young children after they receive cochlear implants predict language and literacy skills as they enter school.

“We’re beginning to see similarities between the language problems of some children with cochlear implants and the language problems of some children with normal hearing who encounter barriers to language learning,” explained Susan Nittrouer.

“That’s enormously useful information because we know that the actual signal that children with cochlear implants get isn’t nearly as clear as the signal that normal hearing listeners get.

So if language and literacy problems in children with normal hearing are similar to those of deaf children with cochlear implants, maybe the difficulty rests with how they are processing the signal perceptually, even though they have normal sensitivity to sound. That would make sense since language was built on our perceptual capacities.”

With language development, timing is crucial. Most children with dyslexia, a language processing disorder that impacts somewhere between 5 to 20 percent of U.S. children, aren’t usually diagnosed until the third grade. By then, an important window of intervention opportunity has passed.

Ohio State has conducted multiple studies to pinpoint this critical window. Nittrouer’s team has been able to identify some accurate predictors of future language and literacy problems in children with hearing loss by the age of three.

“For example, a deficit in the early comprehension of spoken language is a strong predictor of later reading and writing problems,” said Nittrouer.

“Perhaps we’ll find that the measures of early language skill that we use with toddlers and preschoolers with hearing loss may actually identify children whose learning problems simply haven’t emerged yet. It would be ideal if we could step in earlier, and change the downstream impact.”

In an upcoming publication, Perspectives on Language Learning and Education, by the American Speech, Learning and Hearing Association, an article by Nittrouer suggests that some current theories of language development might need to be reconsidered, noting that the similarity of literacy problems in children with hearing loss and those with language deficits mandates taking a closer look at the role of perception in language development and new intervention approaches.

Read the full article here:

In a second article published in Ear and Hearing, "Emergent Literacy in Kindergartners with Cochlear Implants" examined the early or emergent literacy of young cochlear implant recipients.

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