Language Development in Children with Hearing Loss

Through early diagnosis, appropriate listening aids, and timely intervention, most children can acquire the spoken language skills they will need to succeed later in school and participate fully in society. But professionals disagree about what constitutes the “best” method of helping children acquire spoken language. That’s why the National Institutes of Health – National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIH-NIDCD) decided to support research on outcomes for infants and toddlers diagnosed with permanent hearing loss. Dr. Susan Nittrouer oversaw two grants that studied outcomes: Early Development in Children with Hearing Loss (EDCHL; RO1DC00637) and Spoken Language in Adolescents with Hearing Loss (SLAHL: RO1DC015992). This study followed children with and without hearing loss from age 1 to age 14, examining psychosocial development, cognition, spoken language perception and production, reading, and writing. This is one of the longest ongoing studies of language acquisition in both children with hearing loss and their normal hearing peers.

The Ontogeny of Segmental Speech Organization

Research in this laboratory is concerned with the development of phonological abilities in children developing language typically, and with what goes wrong in this process for children at risk for language problems.

The primary interest focuses on how typical children learn to extract phonemic structure from a complex acoustic signal that lacks invariant information about those phonemes. Another area of interest concerns how the development of phonemic knowledge is affected by conditions that put children at risk for language problems. This work is significant because learning to recognize phonemic structure in the acoustic speech signal is a necessary precursor to many other kinds of language skills, such as reading.

Because children with even mild hearing loss or children growing up in poverty seem to have some language delay, it may be that a child’s ability to discover the phonemic structure of language is dependent on language experience. However, many children with reading disorders have had sufficient amounts of the right kinds of early language experience, but nonetheless have difficulties with language. Thus, other perceptual deficits are the likely source of problem for these children. A long-term goal for this laboratory is to investigate what goes wrong in the development of phonemic knowledge in children who encounter difficulty learning language.

Current Research Studies

  • Temporal processing in children with histories of otitis media with effusion
  • The relationship between vocabulary, phonemic awareness, and spectral processing in young children with hearing loss
  • Speech-in-noise perception in college-age adults
  • Exploring relationships between spectral processing, temporal processing, phonemic awareness, and lexicosyntactic knowledge in school-age children