Language development in deaf or hard-of-hearing children with additional disabilities: type matters!

Approximately 30-40% of children with hearing loss have one or more additional disabilities. 

New research by CCD researcher Professor Linda Cupples , academics from Macquarie University’s Australian Hearing Hub and other colleagues published in the Journal of Intellectual Disability Research in June reveals the importance of understanding the possible effects of an additional disability on language development. This is particularly relevant given that such a large portion of children with hearing loss have other disabilities.

The research team examined language development from 3 to 5 years of age in a group of Australian children who were deaf or hard-of-hearing and had additional disabilities. All of the children in the study had received hearing aids or cochlear implants prior to 3 years of age.

The results on language tests at 3 years of age showed that 67% of the children were delayed in their language skills relative to expectations for typically developing peers without hearing loss. Over the next 2 years, however, about 80% of children showed language growth that kept pace with that seen in typically developing, hearing children of the same age. Some children even showed a tendency to “catch up” in their language skills over this period; but others, especially those with autism, cerebral palsy, and developmental delay, had fallen a little further behind, on average, by 5 years of age.

This research underscores the potential benefits of early intervention with hearing devices for children who have additional disabilities. It also points to the necessity of providing these children with extra support in order to optimise their language achievements. This support will need to vary from child to child depending on the nature of their additional disabilities and will rely on the establishment of effective collaborations among relevant professionals with specialist knowledge of particular disability types.