No more sign language for deaf children with implants?

The language development of children with a cochlear implant who only learn spoken language is faster than that of children with a cochlear implant who are also learning sign language. This is what Leiden researcher Karin Wiefferink concludes in her dissertation. Defence 13 September.

Monolingual environment may be better for development of spoken language

Wiefferink compared the language development of Flemish children with a cochlear implant (CI) with that of Dutch children who also had a cochlear implant, but who grew up in a bilingual environment in which they were learning both spoken language and sign language. The study shows that the spoken language development of the Flemish children was faster than that of the Dutch children. What was remarkable was that the sign language of the Dutch children barely showed any signs of development once they had a cochlear implant. In addition, after a while, the Dutch children developed a preference for spoken language. These results suggest that a monolingual environment is better for language development than a bilingual environment.

Socio-emotional development

A second study from the dissertation shows that the socio-emotional development of children with a CI is slower than that of hearing children. A notable finding was that the linguistic development only played a minor role in this context. One possible explanation is that CI children are less aware of what is happening in their direct environment, because they find it difficult to follow conversations in a noisy environment. Wiefferink: ‘Access to the social environment therefore seems to play an important role in socio-emotional development.’

Towards better care

According to the researcher, it is essential to stimulate the development of spoken language in children as much as possible on an individual basis. ‘Because young children spend most of their time with their parents, it is therefore important to teach parents how they can help their hearing impaired child to learn to recognise and cope with emotions,’ explains Wiefferink.

Second cochlear implant improves language development

The placement of a second cochlear implant also seems to have a positive effect on language development. With two CIs a child can more easily understand speech in a noisier environment. This increases the possibilities of incidental learning. At the beginning of September, the Board of Health Care Providers has decided to also refund the second CI for children up to 5 years of age. Previously, only the first CI was refunded.

Intensive collaboration

Leiden University, the LUMC and NSDSK, the health care organisation for deaf and hearing impaired children where the PhD candidate works, have begun an intensive form of collaboration. In 2010, the NSDSK appointed a special chair in the ‘Social and Emotional Development in Children with Auditory and/or Communicative Limitations’ at the Developmental Psychology Department of the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences of Leiden University. This chair is held by Professor Carolien Rieffe.

Every year, 150 to 200 hearing impaired and/or deaf children are born in the Netherlands. Loss of hearing has serious consequences for their development, because they have no access to spoken language. As a result, the interaction between these children and their usually hearing parents is often impaired. Good interaction between parents and children is important for the children's development, in particular for their language, cognitive and socio-emotional development. Since the 1990s, children with severe loss of hearing have been able to have a cochlear implant (CI), which gives them access to spoken language.

(10 September 2012)

PhD Defence

Ms C.H. Wiefferink ‘Cochlear Implants in children: Development in interaction with the social context’
Date: Thursday 13 September 2012
Time: Starts 15:00 hrs
Faculty: Social and Behavioural Sciences
Location: Academy Building
PhD supervisors: Professor C.Rieffe and Professor J.H.M. Frijns

See also

Studying in Leiden





Last Modified: 13-09-2012