Objective: The primary purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between age of enrollment in intervention and language outcomes at 5 years of age in a group of deaf and hard-of-hearing children.
Method: Vocabulary skills at 5 years of age were examined in a group of 112 children with hearing loss who were enrolled at various ages in a comprehensive intervention program. Verbal reasoning skills were explored in a subgroup of 80 of these children. Participants were evaluated using the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test and a criterion-referenced measure, the Preschool Language Assessment Instrument, administered individually by professionals skilled in assessing children with hearing loss. A rating scale was developed to characterize the level of family involvement in the intervention program for children in the study.
Results: A statistically significant negative correlation was found between age of enrollment and language outcomes at 5 years of age. Children who were enrolled earliest (eg, by 11 months of age) demonstrated significantly better vocabulary and verbal reasoning skills at 5 years of age than did later-enrolled children. Regardless of degree of hearing loss, early-enrolled children achieved scores on these measures that approximated those of their hearing peers. In an attempt to understand the relationships among performance and factors, such as age of enrollment, family involvement, degree of hearing loss, and nonverbal intelligence, multiple regression models were applied to the data. The analyses revealed that only 2 of these factors explained a significant amount of the variance in language scores obtained at 5 years of age: family involvement and age of enrollment. Surprisingly, family involvement explained the most variance after controlling for the influence of the other factors (r =.615; F change = 58.70), underscoring the importance of this variable. Age of enrollment also contributed significantly to explained variance after accounting for the other variables in the regression (r = -.452; F change = 19.24). Importantly, there were interactions between the factors of family involvement and age of enrollment that influenced outcomes. Early enrollment was of benefit to children across all levels of family involvement. However, the most successful children in this study were those with high levels of family involvement who were enrolled early in intervention services. Late-identified children whose families were described as limited or average in involvement scored >2 standard deviations below their hearing peers at 5 years of age. Even in the best of circumstances (eg, early enrollment paired with high levels of family involvement), the children in this study scored within the low average range in abstract verbal reasoning compared with hearing peers, reflecting qualitative language differences in these groups of children.
Conclusions: Consistent with the findings of Yoshinaga-Itano et al,(1) significantly better language scores were associated with early enrollment in intervention. High levels of family involvement correlated with positive language outcomes, and, conversely, limited family involvement was associated with significant child language delays at 5 years of age, especially when enrollment in intervention was late. The results suggest that success is achieved when early identification is paired with early interventions that actively involve families.