Objective: This study investigated factors contributing to the comprehension and production of English language by children with prelingual deafness after 4 to 7 yr of multichannel cochlear implant use. The analysis controlled for the effects of child and family characteristics so that educational factors most conducive to maximum implant benefit could be identified.
Design: A battery of language tests were administered to 181 8- and 9 yr-old children from across the United States and Canada who received a cochlear implant by age 5. Tests of comprehension, verbal reasoning, narrative ability and spontaneous language production were administered either in speech and sign or in the child's preferred communication mode. These constituted the Total Language measures. Spoken Language measures were derived from a speech-only language sample. Type and amount of educational intervention since implantation constituted the independent variables. Characteristics of the child and the family were considered intervening variables. A series of multiple regression analyses determined the amount of variance in Total Language and Spoken Language ability accounted for by the intervening variables and the amount of additional variance attributable to the independent variables.
Results: More than half of the children (with performance intelligence quotients in the average range) exhibited language skills that were similar to those of hearing 8 to 9 yr olds on measures of verbal reasoning, narrative ability, utterance length, and lexical diversity. Significant predictors of language ability were similar for Total and for Spoken Language outcomes and included greater nonverbal intelligence, smaller family size, higher socio-economic status and female gender. Age at receiving an implant did not affect language outcome. After the variance due to these variables was controlled, the primary rehabilitative factors associated with linguistic outcome were amount of mainstream class placement and an educational emphasis on speech and auditory skills.
Conclusions: Use of a cochlear implant has had a dramatic impact on the linguistic competence of profoundly hearing-impaired children. More than half of the children in this sample with average learning ability produced and understood English language at a level comparable with that of their hearing age mates. Such mature language outcomes were not typical of children with profound hearing loss who used hearing aids. Use of a visual (i.e., sign) language system did not provide the linguistic advantage that had been anticipated. Children educated without use of sign exhibited a significant advantage in their use of narratives, the breadth of their vocabulary, in their use of bound morphemes, in the length of their utterances and in the complexity of the syntax used in their spontaneous language. An oral educational focus provided a significant advantage for both spoken and total language skills.