Previous research has shown that children with cochlear implants (CIs) encounter more communication difficulties than their normal-hearing (NH) peers in kindergarten and elementary schools. Yet, little is known about the potential listening difficulties that children with CIs may experience during secondary education. The aim of this study was to investigate the listening difficulties of children with a CI in mainstream secondary education and to compare these results to the difficulties of their NH peers and the difficulties observed by their teachers.
The Dutch version of the Listening Inventory for Education Revised (LIFE-R) was administered to 19 children (mean age = 13 years 9 months; SD = 9 months) who received a CI early in life, to their NH classmates (n = 239), and to their teachers (n = 18). All participants were enrolled in mainstream secondary education in Flanders (first to fourth grades). The Listening Inventory for Secondary Education consists of 15 typical listening situations as experienced by students (LIFEstudent) during class activities (LIFEclass) and during social activities at school (LIFEsocial). The teachers completed a separate version of the Listening Inventory for Secondary Education (LIFEteacher) and Screening Instrument for Targeting Educational Risk.
Participants with CIs reported significantly more listening difficulties than their NH peers. A regression model estimated that 75% of the participants with CIs were at risk of experiencing listening difficulties. The chances of experiencing listening difficulties were significantly higher in participants with CIs for 7 out of 15 listening situations. The 3 listening situations that had the highest chance of resulting in listening difficulties were (1) listening during group work, (2) listening to multimedia, and (3) listening in large-sized classrooms. Results of the teacher’s questionnaires (LIFEteacher and Screening Instrument for Targeting Educational Risk) did not show a similar significant difference in listening difficulties between participants with a CI and their NH peers. According to teachers, NH participants even obtained significantly lower scores for staying on task and for participation in class than participants with a CI.
Although children with a CI seemingly fit in well in mainstream schools, they still experience significantly more listening difficulties than their NH peers. Low signal to noise ratios (SNRs), distortions of the speech signal (multimedia, reverberation), distance, lack of visual support, and directivity effects of the microphones were identified as difficulties for children with a CI in the classroom. As teachers may not always notice these listening difficulties, a list of practical recommendations was provided in this study, to raise awareness among teachers and to minimize the difficulties.