Children with cochlear implants who receive positive regard and emotional support from their mothers develop language skills at a faster rate than those with less sensitive parents, almost “catching up” to children with normal hearing, according to a study by a University of Miami psychologist.
“I was surprised that maternal sensitivity had such strong and consistent effects on oral language learning,” said Alexandra L. Quittner, lead investigator of the study and director of the Child Division in the Department of Psychology in UM’s College of Arts and Sciences. The results of her study, one of the largest and most representative on the effects of parenting on young deaf children who wear cochlear implants, are published in the Journal of Pediatrics.
“The findings indicate that pediatric cochlear implant programs should offer parent training that facilitates a more positive parent-child relationship and fosters the child’s development of autonomy and positive regard,” Quittner said.
Her study investigated the role of parental behavior in language growth for deaf children. Maternal sensitivity was measured in videotaped interactions with the child and defined as the degree to which a mother expressed positive regard for and emotional support of the child.
The study included 188 children between the ages of five months and 5 years with severe to profound hearing loss. In addition to analyzing the effects of maternal sensitivity on language development, the study looked at the impact of cognitive and language stimulation. Parent-child interactions observed and coded included free play, puzzle solving, and an art gallery task with five posters mounted at different heights on the walls of the playroom.
The largest improvements in language development were observed in children whose parents displayed high sensitivity. Language stimulation was also an important predictor of language gains but was most effective when delivered in a sensitive manner. Deaf children with sensitive parents had only a one-year delay in oral language compared to 2.5 years among those with less sensitive parents.
This cohort of deaf and hearing children has now been followed for approximately eight years post-implantation. The National Institutes of Health recently funded the competitive renewal, allowing the researchers to follow them for another five years into adolescence. It will focus on their cognitive and social development as well as their academic achievement.
Contributing to the study are the UM Cochlear Implant Team, including the director of the Barton G Kids Hear Now Program; Ivette Cejas, assistant professor, Department of Otolaryngology; David Barker, assistant professor at Brown University; John Niparko, chair of the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Southern California (USC); Laurie Eisenberg, clinical professor at USC and the House Ear Institute; and Emily Tobey, professor at the University of Texas in Dallas.