The primary goals of this investigation were to examine the speech and language development of deaf children with cochlear implants and mild cognitive delay and to compare their gains with those of children with cochlear implants who do not have this additional impairment.
We retrospectively examined the speech and language development of 69 children with pre-lingual deafness. The experimental group consisted of 19 children with cognitive delays and no other disabilities (mean age at implantation = 38 months). The control group consisted of 50 children who did not have cognitive delays or any other identified disability. The control group was stratified by primary communication mode: half used total communication (mean age at implantation = 32 months) and the other half used oral communication (mean age at implantation = 26 months). Children were tested on a variety of standard speech and language measures and one test of auditory skill development at 6-month intervals.
The results from each test were collapsed from blocks of two consecutive 6-month intervals to calculate group mean scores before implantation and at 1-year intervals after implantation. The children with cognitive delays and those without such delays demonstrated significant improvement in their speech and language skills over time on every test administered. Children with cognitive delays had significantly lower scores than typically developing children on two of the three measures of receptive and expressive language and had significantly slower rates of auditory-only sentence recognition development. Finally, there were no significant group differences in auditory skill development based on parental reports or in auditory-only or multimodal word recognition.
The results suggest that deaf children with mild cognitive impairments benefit from cochlear implantation. Specifically, improvements are evident in their ability to perceive speech and in their reception and use of language. However, it may be reduced relative to their typically developing peers with cochlear implants, particularly in domains that require higher level skills, such as sentence recognition and receptive and expressive language. These findings suggest that children with mild cognitive deficits be considered for cochlear implantation with less trepidation than has been the case in the past. Although their speech and language gains may be tempered by their cognitive abilities, these limitations do not appear to preclude benefit from cochlear implant stimulation, as assessed by traditional measures of speech and language development.