Ear and Hearing: August 7, 2019 – Volume Publish Ahead of Print – Issue – p
Ritva Torppa, Andrew Faulkner, Marja Laasonen, Jari Lipsanen & Daniela Sammler (2019)
Objectives: A major issue in the rehabilitation of children with cochlear implants (CIs) is unexplained variance in their language skills, where many of them lag behind children with normal hearing (NH). Here, we assess links between generative language skills and the perception of prosodic stress, and with musical and parental activities in children with CIs and NH. Understanding these links is expected to guide future research and toward supporting language development in children with a CI.
Design: Twenty-one unilaterally and early-implanted children and 31 children with NH, aged 5 to 13, were classified as musically active or nonactive by a questionnaire recording regularity of musical activities, in particular singing, and reading and other activities shared with parents. Perception of word and sentence stress, performance in word finding, verbal intelligence (Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) vocabulary), and phonological awareness (production of rhymes) were measured in all children. Comparisons between children with a CI and NH were made against a subset of 21 of the children with NH who were matched to children with CIs by age, gender, socioeconomic background, and musical activity. Regression analyses, run separately for children with CIs and NH, assessed how much variance in each language task was shared with each of prosodic perception, the child’s own music activity, and activities with parents, including singing and reading. All statistical analyses were conducted both with and without control for age and maternal education.
Results: Musically active children with CIs performed similarly to NH controls in all language tasks, while those who were not musically active performed more poorly. Only musically nonactive children with CIs made more phonological and semantic errors in word finding than NH controls, and word finding correlated with other language skills. Regression analysis results for word finding and VIQ were similar for children with CIs and NH. These language skills shared considerable variance with the perception of prosodic stress and musical activities. When age and maternal education were controlled for, strong links remained between perception of prosodic stress and VIQ (shared variance: CI, 32%/NH, 16%) and between musical activities and word finding (shared variance: CI, 53%/NH, 20%). Links were always stronger for children with CIs, for whom better phonological awareness was also linked to improved stress perception and more musical activity, and parental activities altogether shared significantly variance with word finding and VIQ.
Conclusions: For children with CIs and NH, better perception of prosodic stress and musical activities with singing are associated with improved generative language skills. In addition, for children with CIs, parental singing has a stronger positive association to word finding and VIQ than parental reading. These results cannot address causality, but they suggest that good perception of prosodic stress, musical activities involving singing, and parental singing and reading may all be beneficial for word finding and other generative language skills in implanted children.