Variation in Auditory Experience Affects Language and Executive Function Skills in Children Who Are Hard of Hearing

Ear Hear. 2022 Mar/Apr;43(2):347-360. doi: 10.1097/AUD.0000000000001098.


Objective: Children who are hard of hearing (CHH) experience delays in spoken language and executive function, but the mechanisms for these deficits remain unresolved. Differences in auditory experience and language skills have been examined as contributing factors to deficits in executive function, primarily with children who are deaf and children with cochlear implants. The theoretical model of cumulative auditory experience quantifies auditory dosage as how much speech is audible and how often children wear their hearing aids. CHH with higher auditory dosage have better language outcomes than peers with less auditory dosage. However, the effects of auditory experience on executive function have not been studied in CHH. The goal of this study was to examine the influences of auditory experience and language skills on the development of executive function in CHH.

Design: We collected measures of aided speech audibility, hearing aid use, executive function, and receptive vocabulary in 177 CHH and 86 children with typical hearing who were 5- to 10 years old and matched for socioeconomic status and nonverbal intelligence. Auditory dosage was calculated by combining each child's average hours of hearing aid use with their audibility for speech to create a variable that quantifies individual differences in auditory access.

Results: CHH had lower receptive vocabulary and deficits in executive function related to working memory and selective attention compared to peers with typical hearing. CHH with greater auditory dosage had higher receptive vocabulary than CHH with lower auditory dosage. Better receptive vocabulary was associated with better scores on executive function measures related to working memory and attention. Auditory dosage was also directly associated with measures of verbal working memory.

Conclusions: CHH have deficits in language and some, but not all, areas of executive function related to working memory and attention. Auditory dosage was associated with language abilities and verbal working memory. Language was associated with individual differences in executive function skills related to attention and working memory. These results provide support for systems theories regarding the development of executive function in CHH. Interventions that improve auditory access and language may be effective for improving executive function related to working memory and attention in CHH.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cochlear Implants*
  • Deafness* / rehabilitation
  • Executive Function
  • Hearing
  • Hearing Loss*
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Language Development
  • Memory, Short-Term
  • Speech Perception*