Children who are deaf and have cochlear implants, an electronic device that provides a sense of sound, have as much as five times greater risk of suffering from developmental delays as children with normal hearing, according to a recently published study by Indiana University scientists.
Researchers found children with the hearing devices have more trouble with cognitive skills such as memory, planning and problem solving, a set of skills known as “executive functioning.”
David Pisoni, the study’s co-author and and director of cognitive science at IU’s speech research laboratory, says the study is important because most research into deafness treats hearing impairment as a physical condition, not a developmental one.
“The conventional view is that these children just have a sensory deficit because they can’t hear, but that the rest of their brain is just like a normal-hearing child’s brain,” he says. “And that’s not correct.”
Researchers note that children who receive cochlear implants early experience less developmental delays, but Pisoni says even when a child receives an implant at as early as 12 months old, the way he or she learns has already been influenced, affecting not only auditory learning but visual learning as well. Their brain has already been affected during pre-natal development.
“It’s not their ear or their eyes, ” Pisoni says. “It’s their brain that has been reorganized and has adapted to these novel inputs.”
The authors say they hope the research prompts physicians to identify and correct these deficits in children with deafness early on.