A cochlear implant is a device that is surgically implanted in the inner ear in order to allow children with hearing impairment to perceive sounds. It does not restore hearing as such; it only helps in restoring auditory perception. In other words, what people with cochlear implants perceive and what we hear may not be completely the same.
A study by researchers at the University of Montreal looked at the benefits of cochlear implants and how they affect the long-term language skill development of recipient children. According to researcher Louise Duchesne, professor at the Université de Montréal‘s School of Speech Therapy and Audiology
“We don’t really know what hearing impaired children really hear with the implants. The only testimony we have comes from adults who describe the speech of the children as comparable to Donald Duck. The implant doesn’t provide the finesse of natural hearing, and even adults who once had perfect hearing, must once again learn to decode sounds and speech.”
The research study looked at hearing-impaired children who received cochlear implants before the age of two and have had the implant for two to six years. Language performance was assessed using tests that measure “vocabulary comprehension, expressed vocabulary, the understanding of concepts and sentences with subtleties like passive form and nouns in plural form.”
The results showed that the benefits of the cochlear implants vary from child to child. The results showed that
- Four out of fourteen study participants had excellent language test results with ”level of comprehension of words, concepts and sentences was even higher than the average of children without hearing problems.”
- Ten children performed poorly, with language difficulties.
- Three children had major problems in all aspects of language.
The differences observed were not associated with gender, the brand of implant, medical background, impairment severity, and education. It is noted that children with cochlear implants regardless how the severe the hearing problems were before the implant, have the same “morphosyntactic problems”, which a difficulty in hearing certain words, especially pronouns and articles which we tend to say rather quickly.
Thus, the study concludes that cochlear implants do not give the same results depending on individual child and do not guarantee linguistic success in all those who receive them. Prof. Duchesne recommends that parents and therapist shouldn’t fully rely on cochlear implants in the development of language skills in children with hearing impairment. Parents should redo speech therapy exercises at home to help children process the information. Regular assessment should be performed to determine the child’s progress.
Cochlear implants have been a subject of controversy. We will be tackling the pros and cons of cochlear implants in a later post.