There is a lack of clarity about whether sign language in combination with spoken language provides greater benefit from a cochlear implant than spoken language alone. Geers et al (2017) have published new research that shows how sign language exposure affects young cochlear implant (CI) recipients in the USA.

Children with CIs from a nationwide database, were assigned to one of three groups depending on the duration of early sign language exposure. The spoken language and reading outcomes were compared across the groups, namely, no sign exposure, short-term sign exposure, and long-term sign exposure. 

Children exposed to spoken language alone performed better on auditory-only speech recognition over the first 3 years of implant use. They produced speech that was more intelligible and they showed a statistically significant advantage in spoken language and reading near the end of elementary grades. However, it is important to note that parents in the long-term exposure group may have continued to use sign language because their child was slow to develop speech perception abilities. Additionally, non-signing families did not report switching to sign language use later, presumably because their child’s listening and spoken language skills continued to develop.

All families should make an informed choice about their deaf child’s communication approach. Similarly each child’s journey is different, both in pace and complexity. This research presents new evidence for the listening and spoken communication approach for young deaf babies and children. Geers et al (2017) provides support for the benefits of spoken language input alone for promoting verbal development in children implanted by 3 years of age.

You can find the paper Early Sign Language Exposure and Cochlear Implantation Benefits in the Journal of Pediatrics here.

Auditory Verbal UK has also published findings regarding spoken language outcomes and educational attainment for children on our AVT programme. Find out more here.

Post written by Auditory Verbal Therapist Sarah Hogan and Research Assistant Abi Hitchins.