This systematic review is designed to (a) describe measures used to quantify vocal development in pediatric cochlear implant (CI) users, (b) synthesize the evidence on prelinguistic vocal development in young children before and after cochlear implantation, and (c) analyze the application of the current evidence for evaluating change in vocal development before and after cochlear implantation for young children. Investigations of prelinguistic vocal development after cochlear implantation are only beginning to uncover the expected course of prelinguistic vocal development in children with CIs and what factors influence that course, which varies substantially across pediatric CI users. A deeper understanding of prelinguistic vocal development will improve professionals’ abilities to determine whether a child with a CI is exhibiting sufficient progress soon after implantation and to adjust intervention as needed.
We systematically searched PubMed, ProQuest, and CINAHL databases for primary reports of children who received a CI before 5 years 0 months of age that included at least one measure of nonword, nonvegetative vocalizations. We also completed supplementary searches.
Of the 1916 identified records, 59 met inclusion criteria. The included records included 1125 total participants, which came from 36 unique samples. Records included a median of 8 participants and rarely included children with disabilities other than hearing loss. Nearly all of the records met criteria for level 3 for quality of evidence on a scale of 1 (highest) to 4 (lowest). Records utilized a wide variety of vocalization measures but often incorporated features related to canonical babbling. The limited evidence from pediatric CI candidates before implantation suggests that they are likely to exhibit deficits in canonical syllables, a critical vocal development skill, and phonetic inventory size. Following cochlear implantation, multiple studies report similar patterns of growth, but faster rates producing canonical syllables in children with CIs than peers with comparable durations of robust hearing. However, caution is warranted because these demonstrated vocal development skills still occur at older chronological ages for children with CIs than chronological age peers with typical hearing.
Despite including a relatively large number of records, the evidence in this review regarding changes in vocal development before and after cochlear implantation in young children remains limited. A deeper understanding of when prelinguistic skills are expected to develop, factors that explain deviation from that course, and the long-term impacts of variations in vocal prelinguistic development is needed. The diverse and dynamic nature of the relatively small population of pediatric CI users as well as relatively new vocal development measures present challenges for documenting and predicting vocal development in pediatric CI users before and after cochlear implantation. Synthesizing results across multiple institutions and completing rigorous studies with theoretically motivated, falsifiable research questions will address a number of challenges for understanding prelinguistic vocal development in children with CIs and its relations with other current and future skills. Clinical implications include the need to measure prelinguistic vocalizations regularly and systematically to inform intervention planning.