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Cochlear Implants Assist in Development of Language Skills in Deaf Children

CHICAGO Prelingually deaf children who receive a cochlear implant at a young age have a greater improvement in spoken language grammar skills, according to a study in the May issue of Archives of Otolaryngology Head & Neck Surgery, a theme issue on pediatric cochlear implants and one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Children with profound congenital or prelingual deafness have been shown to experience substantial delays in their mastery of all aspects of the spoken language, according to background information in the article.

Thomas P. Nikolopoulos, M.D., D.M., Ph.D., of Athens University, Athens, Greece, and colleagues assessed the development of spoken language grammar comprehension by prelingually deaf children following cochlear implantation, and compared their grammatical abilities with those of their normal-hearing peers.

The study included 82 prelingually deaf children who were less than 7 years old at the time of cochlear implantation. All received the same multichannel cochlear implant system; there was up to 5 years of follow-up. The children were assessed using a multiple-choice test designed to measure the understanding of grammatical contrasts in the English language.

The researchers found that before implantation, only a small proportion (2 percent) of prelingually deaf children were above the first percentile of their normal-hearing peers. "This percentage increased to 40 percent and 67 percent, respectively, 3 and 5 years after implantation; and 5 years after implantation, 20 percent of the children performed between the 25th and the 75th percentile or better. In the subgroup of children who received their cochlear device before the age of 4 years, this percentage reached 36 percent," the authors write.

"In conclusion, spoken language grammar acquisition in prelingually deaf children using cochlear implants was found to be considerably delayed. However, there was a distinct trend toward the development of grammar skills following implantation. Improvement was greatest in children who received an implant under the age of 4 years, and this finding supports the trend toward device implantation at a younger age if grammatical competence in spoken language is to be achieved," the researchers conclude.

(Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2004;130:629-633. Available post-embargo at archoto.com)

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